So Does He Have To Be A Father?

The rise of assisted reproductive technology (ART) as a social practice and as an industry has introduced new tensions into the law defining parents. I’m thinking particularly here about the arrival of “intended parent” as a legal construct. Add in heightened demands for recognition of a diversity of family forms, and you can see that we live in a time of legal uncertainty. This may help to explain why, as I’ve said before, the law on parentage varies dramatically state to state.

Given all the tensions and inconsistencies it’s a fine time to re-examine some of the old assumptions. So let’s think about why, in the scenario I described yesterday, the man might be a father at all.

To recap briefly, imagine a man and an unmarried woman meet at a party and spend just a few hours together. They engage in intercourse and pregnancy results. The woman elects to carry the pregnancy to term (for the moment I’m going to assume that she has a meaningful choice) and so a child is born. Under virtually all existing legal doctrine, the man would be identified as the legal father of the child. (Note that it may be important that she is unmarried, because if she were married, her husband would start with the presumption of fatherhood.)

Should we just assume that he is the father? Why should he be?

I want to be clear at the outset–Questioning his entitlement to the status “father” is not the same as completely denying his importance. Maybe he should have some obligation to support the child because his actions helped to create the child. Maybe his identity should be filed away somewhere so the child could locate him in the future. This does not mean he should be accorded all the rights/obligations (as well as the social status) that go with being a parent.

It is terribly tempting to start with the assumption that he really is the father and that the law ought to recognize that. That’s because of the weight we accord the genetic link. Indeed, we might even call him the “natural” father–the implication being that he is the father just in the nature of things, rather than by operation of some legal regime.

But in fact, we can ignore the genetic link when we want to. We do that with ART, where a donor is not a parent and in the husband-is-father cases. Why not at least consider doing it here?

Of course we could do this. The real question is whether we should do this. To do that one should probably think about this idea systematically, from different points of view–from the perspective of the child, from the perspective of the woman, from the perspective of the man, and from the collective perspective of “society.” And I’ll try to do just that, starting tomorrow.


2 responses to “So Does He Have To Be A Father?

  1. Two people get together for one night and a baby results. The woman wants the baby, the father doesn’t. Why can’t he make her have an abortion? Or vice versa, the woman doesn’t want the baby, but the man does. Why can she have an abortion without his consent?
    In your story: Why doesn’t the man get all the status of being a father? They both had consensual sex, why does the woman get to decide everything that happens? You women get every damn thing you want. God, I wish you would just stop all this bitching. Of course the workplace is male dominated. In the History of the world, MEN WERE THE WORKERS. That’s about the only claim to fame you feminists have got. Everything else, and I mean EVERYTHING, swings your way. Custody rights, abortion, TAXES, everything. And the workplace argument is wearing really damn thin! It’s no longer a social stigma to have a female boss. NO ONE FUCKING CARES ANYMORE. You don’t have to work any damn harder than anyone else, now. So what if someone doesn’t want to give you a job at their company, just because your a woman? It’s their company. You had no part in starting that company. You didn’t toil endlessly trying to make a buck for your business. No, but you’re a woman. That’s enough right there, isn’t it? Well, we hear your roar. Feminism will fall.

  2. N. A. Pienkowski

    ^ So what if someone doesn’t want to give you all the status of being a father just because you’re a man? It’s the woman’s body, and she’s the one that will toil endlessly with 40+ pounds of extra weight, morning sickness, and many hours of grueling and tiring labor. You have no part in bringing that baby into the world, EXCEPT for one brief orgasm in the beginning. You aren’t working hard to keep yourself healthy so the baby is born without abnormalities. You aren’t living with constant restrictions because now you are worrying about two people instead of one. Until that baby is born, it is a part of HER body and and it depends on her to survive. Not you. If the father doesn’t want the baby, he can just pretend it doesn’t exist. Most single mothers will accept this, as long as the father never gets involved again because he is in fact giving up that right. That’s what we call a deadbeat father, and to become one takes very little effort at all, trust me. How many deadbeat mothers are there compared to the alarming number of deadbeat fathers? Hmm?

    Men have rights, and they have choices. Women have rights, and they have choices. Don’t get pithy because they aren’t necessarily the same ones. When have they ever been?

    Also, your logic is not very sound. You complain about extreme affirmative action in favor of women, which is a valid issue. Yet you also seem to think it’s okay to blame all women for this, even so far as to punish them by saying it is acceptable for companies to discriminate against them. Affirmative action is so strong because of situations like that. THAT situation would only make your situation, having fewer rights and laws in your favor because you are male, only 10 times worse than it is now. Ironic isn’t it? I mean, if you think about it, the woman who isn’t hired simply because she is a woman is really in the same boat as you.

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