Two to Conceive, One to Abort

Should fathers have no equal rights?

5 mins read
woman reading pregnancy test result

How do you reconcile unequal burden with equal rights? Does it require the denial of equal rights of one party over another? This is the conundrum we face when women have the burden of pregnancy, which is not borne by men.

Whether spousal consent in the 1976 decision Planned Parenthood v. Danforth or spousal awareness in the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey (I had nothing to do with it), today, men have no rights or responsibilities during pregnancy in our country. Some states in the U.S. have attempted to enact laws requiring spousal consent for an abortion, but all of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional.  

photo of a man in a judge's robe holding a book
Justice Harry Blackmun. Photo: Supreme Court

In the Danforth decision, Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun stated in the majority opinion that spousal consent was unconstitutional because “the state cannot delegate the authority to prevent an abortion to anyone but the physician and the woman during the first trimester of pregnancy.”

And Justice Potter Stewart went so far as to state, “The woman’s right to make the decision outweighed a father’s right to associate with his offspring.”

In the Casey decision, the Court found the spousal notification requirement to be an undue burden that impeded a pregnant individual’s decisional freedom.

“The woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy before viability is the most central principle of Roe v. Wade. It is a rule of law and a component of liberty we cannot renounce,” stated the majority opinion written by three Supreme Court Justices (O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter).

However, with the Supreme Court decision announced in Dobbs v. Jackson (2022), the Constitution no longer conferred a right to abortion to anyone. And the majority opinion stated that the authority to regulate abortion was “returned to the people and their elected representatives,” delegating control over abortion rights to state legislators.

In stark contrast, by 2011, there were thirteen countries, including Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Turkey, all requiring an abortion first to be authorized by the woman’s husband, except in cases where maternal health is a concern.

Opting-Out of Pregnancy

In fact, in the U.S., women have opportunities to legally opt out of pregnancy, such as the morning-after pill and abortion (not in every state, however). Whereas women can reside in or travel to states where abortion is safe and legal, men have no opportunities to opt out of pregnancy.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade led to total bans on abortion for women in some states, such as Alabama and Texas. However, a man’s rights have not been addressed at all, even if conception was without his knowledge or consent, such as birth control sabotage, sperm theft, or sexual assault of the man.

Armin Brott, the father of the Fatherhood Movement, said, “A woman can legally deprive a man of his right to become a parent or force him to become one against his will.”

So, what are we to do regarding a father’s rights and responsibilities during pregnancy?  

We reached out to Pasadena Planned Parenthood and received no response to our questions. The National Planned Parenthood Web site has this 2010 blog post regarding father’s rights: 

“My girlfriend is pregnant at 15, and I just turned 17. What are my rights as the father of the child?
It all depends on what your girlfriend decides to do. If a pregnant young woman chooses to have an abortion, she can make that decision without talking with her partner. In some states, if she decides to place her child for adoption, she will need the birth father’s permission. In most states, if a young woman chooses to parent her child, the birth father will have some economic responsibilities. If the couple does not marry, other responsibilities that the father might like to take on — child visitation, for example — can be decided through legal agreements. Your responsibilities depend on which state you live in. Since the laws vary from state to state, you should talk with a counselor or lawyer about the laws in your state.”

The Right to Life League of Southern California (with a PO Box in Pasadena) replied (belatedly) to our inquiry. Sophia Sariego from their media office sent us a lengthy response:

“The unfortunate truth is that legally, a father has no rights to prevent the abortion of a child he wants. The mother can terminate their child’s life with or without his consent or even knowledge, and there are many testimonies of men who lost a child they very much wanted or who were devastated to find out that the mother of their child had ended its life without even notifying them. The best thing a father can do is provide unwavering support to the mother of their child, and promise to take on custody of the child and provide for both of them, if possible. If their child has been conceived out of wedlock, marrying the mother is one of the best things he can do to help them all stay out of poverty.

“In regard to a father’s responsibilities: an active, present father can change a person’s life completely, and so can an absent father. Many young men today know this from their own lack of a father’s influence, which means they understand the effect they can have on the life of their children. However, the other side of that coin is that they may not know how to be a good father.

“Men need to hear that they make a difference and that they are important, especially in the lives of women around them. Their support is life-changing for women especially. The father’s support is often what provides a woman’s ability to thrive during pregnancy. If he is by her side and supports her, they grow together as their child grows. A father has a responsibility to the child he gave life to, and to the woman who he made a mother. His action is life-changing and necessary, just like it was in conceiving the child.

“Fatherhood programs have seen that man-to-man encouragement in fatherhood is most effective, and thus provide mentors and guidance to help them succeed. Pregnancy clinics and maternity homes often offer these training programs, as well as everything mothers and fathers will need to be the best parents they can, from therapy and relationship counseling, to assistance with job or housing hunts, to training in professional skills.

“I would like to encourage men to take the opportunity to change the lives of the people around them just by their active presence. All they need to contribute is their support, but they are needed. They are necessary.”

Jacob Appel, a bioethicist, asked, “If one grants a man veto power over a woman’s choice to have an abortion in cases where he is willing to pay for the child, why not grant him the right to demand an abortion where he is unwilling to provide for the child?”

In other words, like the mother, the father would have a right to abort the unborn child based on financial affordability. I call that “financial abortion.” It is also possible to take the stance that one must opt-in and agree to undertake those responsibilities to be compelled to follow them, just like an adoption.

Not to mention (but to mention) the health benefits of paternal involvement, code for “father,” during pregnancy. In fact, studies have revealed that increased father involvement during pregnancy helps lower the risk of premature birth and low birth weight.

A study of fatherhood during pregnancy concluded, “Individual, family, community, societal and policy factors play a role in barring or diminishing the involvement of fathers during pregnancy.”

Talk about the odds stacked against you!

And if we ban abortion under penalty of law and expect women to embrace the extraordinary responsibilities of pregnancy, should we demand the same of men as fathers?

The law has decided we should not, for now.

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Casey Coss

Casey is an Emmy-winning television producer and entrepreneur. A proud gay man, he hosts the "Casey's Cause" podcast on Pasadena Media. When he is not solving the issues of the day, he is walking his dogs, Mac and Rudy. Email: [email protected]

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