Many who are staunchly pro-choice about abortion also support holding fathers accountable for their children. That is, they believe that fathers should be legally obligated to provide for their children even if they didn’t want children. The law agrees, holding fathers financially responsible for their offspring regardless of their interest in having children. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to such men as “unwilling fathers”. Is it fair, however, for pro-choice advocates to hold unwilling fathers responsible for their children? I will argue that it isn’t.
To see why, notice that, on the one hand, pro-choice advocates argue that the fetus has NO right to its mother’s body unless its mother CHOOSES to give it this right. On the other hand, they argue that a fetus has FULL rights to its father’s wallet REGARDLESS of whether the father chooses to give it this right. On this view, a fetus has rights over its unwilling father but not its unwilling mother. This is especially peculiar because, according to pro-choice advocates, the decision to abort is entirely the mother’s. In other words, on the standard pro-choice view, a fetus has full rights over its father, who has no control over the fetus’s destiny, and NO rights over its mother, who has complete control over the fetus’s destiny. On the standard pro-choice view, the father has no rights and no power but much of the responsibility. This is puzzling because we typically think that individuals are responsible for what’s within their control and not for events beyond their control – but not according to the standard pro-choice view.
One might argue that the father is obligated to his child because he had sex in full knowledge of the possible consequences. But this argument is not available to a pro-choice advocate because, after all, the mother too had sex in full knowledge of the possible consequences (in most cases). If the father should be held responsible because he knowingly took a risk, then the same goes for the mother. And since a pro-choice advocate will not accept the latter, she cannot argue that an unwilling father should be forced to pay child support because he knowingly took a risk. Perhaps there’s some other reason why unwilling fathers ought to be held accountable for their children that’s compatible with the pro-choice view, but I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out what that reason may be.
If holding unwilling fathers responsible for their children is incompatible with the pro-choice view, then I suggest that the only intellectually honest resolution is to extend a right of choice to the father. Specifically, a pro-choice advocate should allow fathers to choose, prior to birth, their degree of involvement with the fetus. On this view, the fetus would have no automatic right to its father’s wallet unless the father gives the fetus this right. Similarly, the fetus would have no right to use its mother’s body unless the mother chose to give it this right. Presumably, some legal mechanism could be devised to implement this proposal. I should point out that, like the mother, the father would have to make up his mind prior to birth. If no one demurred prior to birth, then, once born, both parents would be equally obligated to the fetus, and the infant would have a right to his father’s resources.Powered by Sidelines