succumbing to peer pressure

Friday, March 17, 2006

In comments to an earlier post about reproductive rights, Steve poses the following question:

But at some point if we're going to actually fix this issue, we have to have a broader strategy - a goal that we can get almost everyone to buy into (if not on the means to get there). So, what would it look like to be in a place such that the emotional, financial, and biological issues of parenthood (or not) were handled reasonably, and both men and women could have meaningful rights and responsibilities?

Well, in my idea of a real utopia, every kid would be a wanted kid, and would be born, literally, into a whole community of people who would love and nurture him/her. But a slightly more realistic utopia? (is that an oxymoron?) I'll limit my ideas to heterosexual couples who produce a child from a consentual relationship. First, there would be a mechanism in place to nearly immediately establish fatherhood. Laws to enforce paternity tests and methods to track down potential fathers for paternity tests would be improved/created/enforced (in my liberal tax-and-spend ways, of course, I'd want the state to pay for these services so that women without their own resources would not be at a disadvantage for tracking down fathers). Of course, this mechanism would work both ways - the trade-off for women being able to establish paternity would be that it would be harder for women to hide/deny their pregnancies from the biological father (of course, there would need to be a loophole for women with abusive partners). In a utopia, I suppose at this point both parents would reach some sort of agreement about what to do next/their desired level of involvement. My first inclination, for cases where agreement couldn't be reached, was some sort of third party mediation, but that level of government or private sector involvement in such a personal decision makes me a little queasy. Realistically, it also seems that tying financial issues to these decisions is the most logical and available mechanism, (for example, a woman who had an abortion against the father's wishes would forgo any financial assistance from him for the procedure or any further medical needs) but that really seems to cheapen the level of moral and emotional complexity involved.

Beyond that, when the decision is to keep the child, but the parents are estranged, I think custody and child support issues are being decided in a more equitable way these days, but there's obviously still a lot of room for improvement, primarily through more gender-neutral court proceedings. Men who want custody or visitation rights shouldn't get the shaft just because they are assumed to be the less nurturing parent. Likewise, women shouldn't be assumed to be the 'natural' caretakers. Decisions should be made on an individual basis and genuinely place the child's best interests first - which parent can provide a more stable life (emotionally, geographically, financially)? Child support should be determined based on the level of support one would expect were the two parents to remain together and raise the child together. These laws would need to be updated to more equitably account for a parents' income (one of the main complaints/reasons for not paying child support is that income totals are unfairly calculated, including resources that individuals claim shouldn't really count as 'income.' I don't have any good examples off the top of my head) but likewise should close loopholes that allow people to 'hide' income by claiming to be broke on paper because resources belong, in name only, to a relative or company. Mechanisms to track down deadbeat parents and force payment of owed child support need to be improved/enforced.

And, I suppose, to work backwards, in a utopia education and communication would be improved such that every couple discussed the potential situation of creating a child together and knew the best way to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and had reliable access to those methods. Pro-choice women would never sleep with pro-life men. Pro-choice men would never sleep with pro-life women. etc.

So, those are my rather underdeveloped thoughts...I guess the bottom line is, I don't know how to set the goal of meaningful rights and responsibilities regarding child bearing between the sexes. Because it comes down to personalities - how do you change people to not lie to each other, to respect each other, to work together to reach the best possible solution to a (potentially) crappy situation?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A topical article in the NYTs:


7:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Realistically, it also seems that tying financial issues to these decisions is the most logical and available mechanism, (for example, a woman who had an abortion against the father's wishes would forgo any financial assistance from him for the procedure or any further medical needs)"

That seems a bit asymmetric: A woman doesn't have a child the man wants - she loses out on maybe a couple hundred dollars. If a woman has a child the man doesn't want - he is liable for tens of thousands of dollars of child support.

Even in a utopia there are likely to be cases where, through no foolish riskiness of their own, an individual (man or woman) is now going to be having a child that they don't want (and presumably the other does) - how do equitably balance the decision rights and financial responsibilities of the "man wants, woman doesn't" version and the "woman wants, man doesn't"?

-- Steve

9:55 AM  

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