Squishy Smallholder, Abortions, And “The Rights Of Man”

(With all due apology to Charles Sumner)

The Lovely Ally, newly promoted to loyal minion of the Mike World Order, has directed our attention to an abortion essay by Darren of “Right on the Left Coast.”

Ally also purports to be shocked, just shocked, that a man can write unequivacably on abortion. Well, as someone who has written equivacably about abortion - you must remember that squishy and Smallholder begin with the same letter - I’ll stick in my two cents.

As an aside, people on both sides of the abortion issue have very strong feelings on the topic. There feelings are not based on empircal evidence. As I discussed in my previous post, there is no factual basis on which to base a conclusion about when life/humanity/the soul begin(s). The decision about when life begins is the crux of the whole matter. Without recoruse to science and evidence, perhaps everyone should be a bit more tenative about their conclusion. One could argue, as I will whenever I get the gumption to continue my abortion series, that one ought to err on the side of caution is not a particularly satisfying middle ground.

If we accept that the humanity of the fetus is the moral center of the abortion issue, Darren’s ruminations about a man’s role are irrelevent.

I’d like to be able to make that last statement softer, but lack the vocabulary. Losing a child is the most unspeakably unimaginable thing that can happen to a person. Darren, believing that life does indeed begin at conception, believes that he has lost a child to abortion. I sympathize with the pain he feels. As a parent, I can even muster empathy by contemplating how I would feel if my lovely wee ones were gone. So I want to tread carefully here. Darren is fully entitled to his feelings of grief.


Wherever you come down on the “when life begins” issue, a man’s feelings about the procedure are morally irrelevant.

Possibility One: The fetus is human.
If the fetus is human, ALL abortion is murder. Period. Abortion wil always be wrong, no matter what the father feels or thinks. Some pro-lifers reveal their moral incoherance when they want to carve out exceptions for rape and incest. If the fetus is human, you can’t murder her just because her dad is a criminal. And you can’t murder her just because her gestation is a daily reminder to the mother of the rape - her life has more moral standing than the admittedly horrible mental state of the mother.

Possibility Two: The fetus is not human.
If the fetus is simply part of the woman’s body, the man has no moral claim at all. A man has no moral claim to stop a woman from popping a pimple. If one concludes that the fetus is not human, than the nonhuman fetus is directly analogous to a pimple.

Darren does raise an interesting point when he discusses child support. Since Darren believes life begins at conception, he ought to simply think about possibility one:

Possibility One: The fetus is human.
The child, not the mother, has a moral claim on support. One is morally required to support your child, whether or not you wanted a child.

Things get messy if you can contemplate the flip side.

Possibility Two: The fetus is not human.
Life does not begin at conception, a conception that took place due to a mutual decsion between the man and wman. If the woman decides to carry the child to term, thus bestowing it humanity at birth, she has made the decision to create human life, not the man. If one believes that the fetus is not a human, than the man has never consented to parenthood. However - we also have to weigh the interests of the child against the invoiluntary nature of fatherhood. Society does have a stake in making sure that children are provided for. So one could make a claim that the man does have a monetary obligation to his unwanted offspring. This claim can’t attain the same moral absolutism that possibility one envisions. Perhaps the man could claim tort damages against the woman since her choices placed him in the position of having to pay child support.

I’ll readily grant that this solution is unsatisfactory. One way a man can avoid the situation is by not having sex. Having sex, whether or not the conception creates a human instantaneously, leaves one open to the possibility that the woman’s choices will force you to become a father. Some folks would object to this, but it is an interesting flip on the morally hollow position of some pro-lifers that some girls ought to be forced to be mothers as punishment for their sexual depravity (which doesn’t address the issue of the fetus’ humanity and is generally stupid as social policy: let’s force motherhood on someone too stupid to use a condom. Excellent plan. Either a fetus is a human or not, and that is not affected by the sluttiness of the mother). Posit a person who stupidly lends his car to a drunk. The drunk is the one who kills an innocent pedestrian. The lender did acted irresponsibly, and certainly didn’t intend for the pedestrian to die. The drunk did the deed, but the lender is still likely to be held responsible in a civil court. So sexual irresonsibility may put one in a situation in which another person lays a financial burden on you through their own actions.

Risking eigteen years of financial support for a fling seems rampantly irresponsible (and also very, very human). Even more irresponsible would be someone who believes that life begins in conception engaging in intercourse. If one believes in the humanity of the fetus, lives in a society in which legal recognition of that that human status is not forthcoming, and knows that a woman could choose to end the pregnancy in complete autonomy, he is risking being a party to negligent homicide - allowing a life to be lost through irresponsibility.

While we are talking about the man’s roll in abortion, I’ll give you a window into my marriage. Mrs. Smallholder is a bit to my left. When I was defending Alito’s ruling in Casey, I argued that he had fairly applied the O’Connor reasonableness standard. It is not an onerous restriction to require that a woman notify her husband if she is having an abortion. If one is pro-choice, one does not believe that the fetus has moral standing, but the decision to end even a non-morally significant pregnancy is one that has implications within the marriage contract.

One element of a marriage contract is that two people decide, together, whether or not to become parents. If a man wants to have children, he may be willing to forgo the joys of fatherhood if his wife is infertile. He may be willing to forgo the joys of fatherhood if his wife is opposed to being a mother. But he ought to be able to make that choice. Imagine a man, believing that he and his wife are trying to have a family, is blissfully unaware that his wife is terminating pregnancies. He is no longer able to make an informed judgment about his life. If the wife chooses to abort a fetus, he ought to be informed. He can now make a decsion about whether he wants to remain married without kids, remain married to a murdered (if he believes abortion is murder), or, even if he does not believe the fetus has moral weight, whether he wants to dissolve the marriage and find another woman with more compatible life goals.

My wife thinks this is ridiculous. She believes that the Pennsylvania law’s exceptions in te case of feared abuse are not enough. She want absoulte female sovereigjnty. I did not argue against sovereignty - just allowing the husband to know whether a pregnancy was being ended, not that he should be able to prevent the abortion. I would take the same position if the roles were reversed. A man ought to be required to inform his wife if he has a vasectomy so that she can make an informed decision about the marriage.

Brian B said:

I’m left eondering how your wife weould react if you decided to get a tattoo or visit a hooker or start doing heroin without discussing it with her. A fter all, it’s your body, it’s your choice, right?

But I’m wondering where you find the pro-lifers you must be hanging out with. I’ve never heard the argument that a girl should be forced to be a mother as punishment for being a slut. I’ve heard the argument that he should have thought about the consequences of pregnancy before having sex, but this is a secondary argument and is not used as the reason abortion is opposed, merely as a rebuttal of the equally hollow argument “If you make her have the baby she’ll suffer”. But if we accept that a fetus is a human, then the rebuttal is valid — you don’t let someone commit murder just because their only other option is to suffer unpleasantries.

Brian - you are right.

The only thing that matters in the abortion debate is the moral status of the fetus. The mother’s comfort or mental state, the likelihood that the child will grow up to be a criminal (a la Levitt), moral acceptance of promiscuity, and the father’s character are all meaningless.

If the fetus is human, nothing else matters.

If the fetus is not human, who cares?

As to the body modification, heroin, and hookers, shhhhh!

Dang, Brian, I thought we made a secrecy pact.

And besides, it was all your idea.

Don’t make me bust out the photos of you, the Maximum Leader, and the Eskimo triplets.

Kevin Kim said:

I think Brian has a point: to say it’s totally up to the woman– as if a man’s role in fathering a child, and subsequently BEING A FATHER to the child, were irrelevant– would be to deny males any voice in the discussion at all.

Men have a definite role and responsibility that extends far beyond the act that led to conception. Men who abandon their responsibility– as so many do– are reprehensible cowards. But men who are ready to face the challenges of fatherhood SHOULD have a voice in the fate of their children.

If I’m reading Brian right, he’s talking about the webs of responsibility that bind lovers synchronically (i.e., person to person, right now), as well as the webs that bond them diachronically (i.e., in terms of the child’s gestation, birth, and future).

No woman, pro-abortion or anti-, will claim that abortion represents a “pleasant” solution. But I think it’s incumbent on men to face up to their responsibilities to their lovers and BE there when the time comes to make a fateful decision.

I understand why a woman would say, “It’s my body and ultimately my decision.” It’s partly male behavior that’s led many women to believe they have to fend for themselves. A greater sense of commitment and responsibility among men might lead to an interesting change, though: “It’s my body, but it’s OUR child and therefore OUR decision.” That, to my mind, would be ideal.



NB: Just to be clear, this comment isn’t addressing the question of the fetus’ ontological and moral status. My focus is specifcally on the issue of male responsibility and what it may imply regarding a decision to abort. For women who find themselves pregnant, it’s often a cold, cold world because men absent themselves from important and immediate questions. Which reminds me: hats off to all you fathers and mothers who take your parental responsibilities seriously. I admire that.

Brian B said:

Mmmm…. Eskimo Triplets….

Ally said:

I agree - if abortion was illegal - or at the very least immoral - there would be little option for men and their roles. You did the deed, now do the payments. (hm….doesn’t rhyme). Anyway, I am a firm believer that if women have a choice in which to be responsible or irresponsible, then men should have the same choice. It is absolutely ridiculous that women can hold men hostage by having a baby, when she can ditch his kid even if he wants it. He is just as much a part of that child as she is. And he didn’t get to choose not being able to carry children.

I think we are probably on the same side on this?

Mo said:

+1, Ally.

As for myself, I’m so tired of the phrase, “But it’s my body.” A decaying tooth is your body. This is a nascent (and yes, human) life you’re wanting to “extract”.

The whole “culture of death” movement in this country is troubling.

Darren said:

I’m just as concerned about the LEGAL inequities in our laws as I am the life, or lack thereof, inherent in the child. This should have been clear when I wrote this paragraph:

This is not a topic I usually address on this blog, but I’ve read two articles on the topic recently and thought I’d share them. And I’m going to share them because our current laws regarding abortion, a woman’s so-called right to choose, and support for children remain among the last overtly biased laws on our nation’s books. They’re clearly biased against men.

Darren said:

I’m just as concerned about the LEGAL inequities in our laws as I am the life, or lack thereof, inherent in the child. This should have been clear when I wrote this paragraph:

This is not a topic I usually address on this blog, but I’ve read two articles on the topic recently and thought I’d share them. And I’m going to share them because our current laws regarding abortion, a woman’s so-called right to choose, and support for children remain among the last overtly biased laws on our nation’s books. They’re clearly biased against men.

The liberal-leaning posts I quoted dealt with inquality and law, not with whether or not abortion is right. I think you misrepresented my views here.

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