Taking responsibility for babies: Where are the men?

You have seen them on the news, on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court: women wearing modest red gowns and white bonnets silently protesting the loss of reproductive rights. This is nothing new. Women have been trying to gain control over their own bodies for thousands of years.

It doesn’t take much looking to discover that unwanted pregnancies have existed as long as humans have. “Just say no” to your hormones has proven to be a dismal failure as a method of birth control. A prohibition against sex is not likely to be any more successful than a prohibition against alcohol was in the 1930s.

Women don’t get pregnant on their own. Ever. So where are the men in all this? If a woman’s responsibility begins at conception, as in Alabama, Iowa and numerous other states, then so does the man’s. Some men evade their responsibility by denying their part. Now, through the miracle of DNA testing, it should soon be possible to determine paternity right from the beginning. Paternity testing could be instituted as a part of pregnancy testing. It would save time and money.

Women are currently the only ones to carry the burden. Yes, some men will offer to “do the right thing.” But there is some debate as to whether an unwanted marriage based solely on a momentary lapse in judgment is the “right thing” for anyone. The other option is adoption, if the woman and child survive the pregnancy. It seems like the perfect solution. Women give up nine months of their lives and someone gets a shiny new baby.

Pregnancy is a 50/50 proposition; one egg and one sperm. If women are required to carry the physical burden of unwanted pregnancies to term, the man should be required to shoulder the financial burden. Pregnancy isn’t cheap if the goal is to produce a healthy, adoptable child. There are doctors’ visits, special vitamins, nutritious food, maternity clothes and, too often, lost employment. It can all be expensive as well as physically difficult (and in some cases fatal.) Someone has to pay for those things.  The responsible parties should be responsible from the moment of conception.

On the bright side, this is a capitalist country and a policy of finally holding men accountable can offer business opportunities as well as fairness. We will need expanded DNA testing to ensure the correct person is billed. And that is just the beginning!

An entirely new arm of law enforcement will be needed. Their job will be two-fold. First, to track down those sperm donors who flee hoping to evade responsibility. Second, the Paternity Police will need to protect the fetus by protecting the woman from suicide or murder. They might need to do what Wisconsin did when they ordered a woman into “civil confinement” to protect the fetus.

Of course, not all men (or women, for that matter) are up to the task of seeing a pregnancy through to the end. Unwanted pregnancies are often not only inconvenient, but disastrous or even deadly. In Indiana a woman was charged with manslaughter and infanticide for attempting suicide while pregnant (despite the fact that both suicide and abortion were legal.) Women will need to be protected from themselves as well as their partners.

There will also be new banking opportunities for paternity loans for those who have little or no income to draw on. These would work like student loans and could be repaid over the course of the man’s whole life if necessary. This is, after all, a learning experience.

Adoption services and orphanages will also offer growth opportunities. They will both need to be greatly expanded; especially those with services for the medically challenged. It is sad but true that not all babies are born healthy. Some will need care for the rest of their lives. Would the father and mother have to bear those costs, too?

There are effective methods of birth control that might alleviate the problem, but they would require comprehensive sex education and easy access to contraceptives. That, unfortunately, appears to be even less likely than requiring men to support the pregnancies they caused. Until then, we will all be seeing a lot of red dresses.


Lisa Wright divides her time between her home in Lakeville and Oblong Books in Millerton where she has worked for more than 35 years.