Saturday, December 03, 2005

Right to "Choose"

I never thought I'd start reading Salon again, but Broadsheet has sucked me back in. (FYI, I will sometimes post comments there under my first name.) Salon seems to attract a lot of jerks to their letters page, and Broadsheet is no different. The conversation in response to Dalton Conley's atrocious NYT editorial (latest installment in Broadsheet found here) has been no exception. The numerous comments about women sabotaging birth control and trying to get into their lovers' pockets by having a baby (seems like a pretty poor plan to me, but) aside, I think that the comments about the unfairness of a woman being able to absolutely decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term (and when she elects to carry it to term, indebt the father of the child for child support) are not completely unsympathetic. Anyone advocating that a man should be able to absolve himself of obligation to an unintended child, however, is missing a few important points.

As has been pointed out by a few very smart posters in the Broadsheet comments, child support is not owed to the mother, but to the child. Another misconception (no pun intended) is that the right to an abortion is derived from a woman's control over a fetus; the right to an abortion is derived from a woman's control over her body and her pregnancy. Were she not physically stuck to the fetus, her power in this situation would not exist.

I am not about to say that a man paying child support for a child he did not intend or want to father doesn't have anything to complain about. It's expensive, and for someone living on minimum wage, potentially crippling.

But, as my parents would remind me when I was put out about something I could not control, you have to remember what Mick [Jagger] says: you can't always get what you want.

No one can have heterosexual sex and be absolutely confident that a pregnancy will not result. Birth control works well enough for many, and many others could stand to use it more consistently and correctly. Obviously any individual who does not use birth control (no relying on the other partner accepted here) can't claim that they exercise all precautions against an unwanted pregnancy.

The thing is, even when one does use all precautions against unwanted pregnancy, the possibility still exists. In any situation at all, there is the possibility for things to go awry, even tragically. I think everyone would agree that's the downside of the whole living thing.

So I wonder why any man feels entitled to 100% certainty that a child will not result from copulation. I think that most women are better aware that there is the outside chance that having sex, no matter the precautions that are taken, is potentially life-altering, maybe even life-ruining. You accidentally become pregnant, and you can elect to have an abortion or elect to bring the child to term. Neither abortion nor pregnancy is without major physical risk to a woman. It sucks, and is one of the unfair things biolgy has dealt women. Still, women have to accept these risks if they're going to live normal lives, and in general, they do.

If men are going to accept that a woman has the right to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term by virtue of it being her body, they are also going to have to accept the essential unfairness of the fact that they may be responsible for underwriting the existence of a child they did not want to create. Insofar as sex is a part of human life, this is a risk that men run just as they run the risk of being hit by a bus or accidentally running over a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

It's not fair, but I think it's as fair as it possibly can be, given the way biology works, and that we have to accept that life can really really suck.
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