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Men Have No Reproductive Rights

I’m not a lawyer. This article contains no legal advice.

An interviewer from ‘It’s Complicated’ asks:

If we give a woman the right to opt out of motherhood, should we also give a man the right to opt out of fatherhood […]?

If the answer is ‘yes’, it means equality in at least two regards: not only would both men and women have (roughly) the same reproductive rights, but women would be held accountable for the consequences of their sexual acts just the same as men.

If the answer is ‘no’ in an effort to keep reproductive rights as is, as I suspect most feminists would answer, then they do not want equality as they claim. Instead, they want special privileges for women at the expense of men and children.

A bit later on in the video, one woman comments on men’s inability to refuse children they do not want:

I don’t think it’s right. I think the whole system’s fucked.

The interviewer then says:

We spend so much time talking about a woman’s choice […]. What reproductive rights does a man have?

Her response:


As I understand it, she’s right. The reality of the situation is that, as a guy, you have no reproductive rights. If you get a woman pregnant, intentionally or not, whether she has the baby and whether you’re on the hook for child support is completely up to her.

Conversely, if you want to keep the baby and she does not, I believe it’s still up to her to abort or give it up for adoption (it appears to be up to men to enforce their rights in the case of adoption, see below). She has zero responsibility and all the decision-making power while you potentially carry all the responsibility and have zero decision-making power. This imbalance is perverse: normally, a lack of choice implies a lack of responsibility.

On the topic of abortion: I’m pro abortion but I don’t think a man should be able to force a woman to have one. Nor should a man be able to force a woman to carry a child to term. But the point is that she shouldn’t be able to force him to be on the hook, either, if he didn’t agree to having a child. It is right to protect women from men’s arbitrary power over women’s bodies – and it would be just as right to protect men from women’s arbitrary power over men’s finances.

If the woman can force the man to provide for a child he does not want, he is a slave. Laws that heavily favor one side create incentives for bad actors to take advantage of that slavery.

Since women carry the physical burden of pregnancy – a burden men cannot carry – I’d potentially be in favor of laws which slightly skew in favor of women. Then again, in recognition of that burden, women have sole control over abortion. It could also be argued that women control access to sex, so they already have more power in that regard. It also follows that ‘arguments’ along the lines of ‘he should have kept his dick in his pants’ apply the same to women and their private parts. And, as Karen Straughan points out, it’s a lot easier for women to verify contraception than for men, so the responsibility for getting pregnant generally lies more with women on that point alone.

An obvious exception is rape, where I think it’s right to hold a man accountable for his actions and force him to pay child support if she decides to keep the baby. But here, too, the law should be as neutral as possible. The burden of proof should be high enough that bad actors can’t just falsely claim to be victims of rape to avoid accountability and get men to pay (so no, don’t just ‘believe all women’). And it should hold women to the same standard: if a woman steals a man’s seed, becomes pregnant, gives birth but then decides to walk away from the baby, either the man should be able to force her to pay child support if he wants to keep the child, or neither party should be able to force anything. That’s equality.

The World Health Organization says “[r]eproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely […] the number, spacing and timing of their children” and that reproductive rights “include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of […] coercion […]” (emphasis added in both quotes). As this article concludes, “[t]he WHO says reproductive rights require that no person be coerced into parenthood, meaning that men do not have reproductive rights, as long as that coercion exists.” The same article also says:

Women are also under no legal requirement to identify the father of their child and if the father is not listed on the birth certificate, he has no legal rights at all. Certainly men can pursue legal rights by establishing paternity, but it is up to men to enforce their rights. Women can, and do, surrender infants for adoption without notifying or identifying the father of the child. These are very high risk adoptions for the adopting couple, because there is always a chance the father will appear and attempt to assert his rights, but the fact remains that women can, once again, relieve themselves of all social, legal, financial and moral responsibility for a child they do not want.

Men cannot do any of those things.

Note that the rights the author speaks of can be pursued by fathers only after the child is born, so I’d hesitate to consider them reproductive rights. And, as I understand it, women basically still have complete power to override them if they choose to.

One perspective that’s usually conspicuously absent from this discussion is the child’s. Reproductive rights as they’re currently set up seem to heavily favor the mother, not the child. If anything, the child is favored only by proxy, financially speaking. It’d be one thing if both the woman and the man were on the hook for child support, but, as I’ve said, that doesn’t seem to be the case. This again creates an incentive for bad actors: to have a child just so they’ll get money from the father, without any obligation to spend it on the child. It’s not unheard of that those same mothers later expect financial support from their adult children, which is disgusting. And the fact that women can “relieve themselves of all social, legal, financial and moral responsibility for a child they do not want” can’t be good for the child, either. It encourages reckless behavior at the expense of the child.

I have mentioned adoption, which I imagine to be traumatic for the child. But there are also wonderful adoptive parents, so in some scenarios, adoption could be better than growing up with parents who do not want the child or who are unfit to be parents. In light of these difficulties, I don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution. But what I do know is that women can’t continue to reap all the upside without consequence while men and children are forced to pay the price for reckless behavior. Women need to be held accountable the same as men.

The fundamental asymmetry between men and women as it relates to reproductive rights is this: nobody can force a woman to be a mother, but a man can easily be forced to be a father. It’s always ‘my body, my choice’, but then why isn’t it ever ‘my body, my responsibility?’ Again, when you make a choice, you are responsible for that choice.

So, to answer the question I quoted at the beginning:

If we give a woman the right to opt out of motherhood, should we also give a man the right to opt out of fatherhood […]?

Yes, but not in the sense that men should be able to just up and leave like women. Either way, I appreciate that the question points out the double standard. My work-in-progress answer is that it should be non-trivial and roughly equally hard, but also equally possible, for both men and women to opt out of parenthood. That probably involves making it easier for men and harder for women than it currently is, resulting in roughly equal responsibility. Alternatively, if women want to retain control over men in this regard, they will need to accept more responsibility. Or they could give up some control in exchange for less responsibility. Either way, the degree of responsibility should be commensurate with the degree of control.

I think women, especially feminists, should take a long hard look at the presented facts as they seem to be and ask themselves: do they want equality, which implies equal accountability? Or do they want to have their cake and eat it, too? And men should ask themselves if they even want to have sex when the culture is so heavily skewed against them and they could so easily be taken advantage of – after all, birth control isn’t fail-safe. I think men would be well-advised to have sex less, particularly with women whose clock may be ticking.


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