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July 11, 2013

Should Fathers Be Allowed to "Opt Out" of Supporting Their Children?

Asks Neo-neocon, in a thoughtful essay. Though you owe it to yourself to read her entire post, here's a quick summary of her points. Anything in brackets was added by me and should not be attributed to Neo:

1. When it comes to the consequences of unplanned pregnancy, biology makes men and women unequal.

2. Widespread availability of birth control hasn't reduced unplanned pregnancies. [They've increased, though other factors may also be at work].

3. Legally, the mother decides what to do about unplanned pregnancies because women bear 100% of the physical impact of pregnancy. [This is true, by the way, regardless of whether a woman decides to bear the child].

4. But the emotional and financial impacts of unplanned pregnancies are shared by both parents. [Note - I expanded slightly on her point here.]

5. Abortion laws give full legal weight to the mother's wishes and completely ignore the father’s wishes.

6. The law is designed to deal with reality, not the wishes of mothers/fathers. In an ideal world, consequences would be equal and/or "fairly distributed". In the real world, they can't be. [Possible corollary - if nature distributes consequences unfairly and the law seeks to even things up, then it stands to reason that the law itself cannot be perfectly evenhanded. The only question then is, 'by how much'?]

7. Allowing men to refuse to support their children may result in both intended and unintended consequences:

More fatherless kids
More abortions [added by me]
State picks up support tab
More women might decide to behave responsibly
Men definitely have LESS incentive to behave responsibly [added by me]
Unless married men are allowed same "opt out" in name of fairness, marriage will be even less attractive to men. Thus, fewer couples will marry.

She concludes:

Whenever I wade into these topics I find it depressing. There doesn’t seem to be any good solution to the problems of love gone bad and the resulting turf wars over children. And the comments sections of various blogs (including this one) for posts dealing with these questions often devolve into rageful shouting matches. I see many of the problems, but (as in this post) the solutions that come to mind are fraught with other problems, many of them even worse for children and society.

Life isn’t fair, sad and difficult choices must be made, and you can’t always get what you want—and although the law can change, it can’t change that basic fact. Nor can it change the law of unintended consequences.

I'm actually far more sympathetic to the opt out suggestion than one might think. During a 2005 blogging hiatus, I noted the legal absurdities of our present system:

As we are constantly reminded, the abortion debate is all about something called reproductive choice. Of what does this reproductive choice consist? If a man and a woman, married or unmarried, conceive a child together, both are on the hook financially to support that child until he or she is grown. But there are rules. If the woman decides to rid herself of a fetus that she does not want (but the man does) she may kill it and this is perfectly legal. If the man decides to rid herself of a fetus that he does not want (but the woman does) - perhaps by slipping her an abortifact that does not otherwise harm her - this is murder, and he will go to jail.

Thus, two utterly contradictory things occur at the moment of conception:

Legally, from the point of view of a woman: the fetus is a lump of tissue which may be excised at will if she subsequently regrets having conceived a child. It imposes no obligation or legal duty unless she chooses to accept it.

Legally, from the point of view of the man: the fetus is a human being which must be allowed to live, even if he subsequently regrets having conceived a child. It imposes an absolute and irrevocable legal duty, regardless of his wishes in the matter.

That post has stood the test of time fairly well.

So what do you think? Should men (married, single, or both) be allowed to opt out of supporting their children? The fairness argument suggests they should. But the law isn't always and only about consequences and fairness to individuals. It's also about the relative rights and responsibilities of individuals and the societies they live in.

What bothers me so much about this debate is the twisted points raised by both sides. Though I'm mostly unimpressed by fairness arguments (biology is profoundly unfair), I'm disturbed by the fundamental contradictions in the way the law views unborn children. And the legal status of the unborn is really what's at the heart of this issue: not men's rights, or women's rights, or even society's rights.

Their legal status can't magically change depending on whose rights and responsibilities we're legislating this week, and without addressing this fundamental question we cannot hope to craft laws that are humane (much less fair to all three human beings in this tortured triangle). Abortion laws that allow no limit to so-called abortion rights don't merely insult and infantilize adult women. They insult and infantilize men and make society party to the brutal torture of the weakest and most helpless among us:

It is because I understand women's lives have value and because I respect their intelligence - because I am a woman - that I expect them to behave like adults rather than overgrown children whose lapses in judgment must always be paid for by someone else: a convenient man who can be tapped by the court whether he happens to be the biological father or not (if she wants the child), a helpless fetus who can be vivisected without anesthesia if she puts off an unpleasant "choice" for too long. Sometimes, other people's rights - other people's lives - have value too.

Though I do support limited abortion rights, there is no doubt in my mind that we got where we are today because we are afraid to contemplate the simple truth of what our laws allow us to do to each other:

“It seems as though it is okay to talk about the issue in general, but when you actually put a face to the discussion, then it becomes controversial,” Heroic Media Executive Director Joe Young told the National Review.

Maybe it's time we did just that - confronted and openly embraced the principles embedded in our current laws. This may be the only way both squabbling sides will ever see the ugliness and selfishness behind their respective arguments.

Let them look into the eyes of children abandoned by their fathers. Make people who have acted responsibly pay for the maintenance of unwanted children and then by all means, let's talk about "fairness"! In the posts linked earlier, I outlined the flaws in the abortion rights platform. The underpinnings of the "male abortion" platform are equally pathetic and irresponsible. Let's walk through them one by one:

1. "Men shouldn't have to take even simple precautions to avoid pregnancy. We should be able to have sex with anyone we want, and trust women to take care of birth control!" This one is so transcendently, asshattedly stupid that it's hard to know where to begin. Birth control is a two way, non-delegatable responsibility. And here's a news flash: we can't trust everyone in life. In particular, we can't trust people we don't know well, or whose character we haven't bothered to examine. Adults used to understand this.

2. "But... but... she lied to me!" Guess what: any time you become intimate (and we're not just talking sex here) with another person, you have just made yourself vulnerable. People you associate with can lie to you or about you. They can steal from you, ruin your reputation, and run up your phone bill or your credit cards. The biggest reason they have the ability to hurt you is that you decided to let them close enough to. In light of this undeniable truth, shouldn't we expect adults to exercise prudence and caution in their associations with others? Have some standards, and take responsibility for the choices you make. This goes equally for men and women.

Repeat after me: There is no legal right to consequence-free casual sex. Pregnancy and STDs don't care one bit about your feelings.

3. Birth control sabotage works both ways, even though you won't hear about it from the "it's not fair!" crowd. It happens to both men and women. See item 2, and protect yourself.

4. For God's sake, stop with the historical revisionism on no fault divorce, abortion, and child support:

No fault did not cause the divorce rate to skyrocket:

The effect of legalized abortion on illegitimacy rates is at best unclear (extrapolation lines and legalization of abortion reference added by me):

abortion_extrapolation.png

And finally, child support laws predate feminism by literally hundreds of years. If the State was going after men who refused to support their children back in the 1600s, it's a fair bet that significant numbers of men were shirking their responsibilities long before feminism and the Nanny state came along to provide convenient excuses for the postmodern cad.

It's depressing to watch grown men and women argue over responsibility for an event they both have the ability to prevent unilaterally. And the saddest thing of all is that the only thing that may bring either side to its senses is to give them exactly what they want. Then - maybe - we'll relearn something we should have known all along.

Two wrongs don't cancel each other out. And other people's misdeeds don't relieve us of our own responsibilities in life. Especially when the harm of "adult" (I use the term loosely) irresponsibility is visited upon an innocent child who had no say in any of the decisions that will come to shape his or her life. Or death.

There are no illegitimate children- only illegitimate parents.

- Leon Yankwich

Discussion note:
Because I'm human, and eminently fallible, (and also in a hurry), before responding to any of Neo's excellent points, please take the time to look up what she actually said. Don't rely on my summary unless you're only interested in arguing the point as restated by me.

Posted by Cassandra at July 11, 2013 12:55 PM

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Comments

Your post is framed with sections of an old post of mine. You quoted my conclusion, which I also think has worn well:

...feminists insist that abortion be seen as a medical procedure that is the woman's business and no one else's. The child has no rights that ought to bind her, because the advocates for the woman's position in our law insist on that point. The masculine understanding, however, holds that the man's rights are overwhelmed by his responsibility for the child. The men who have ruled the discussion, men like me, feel that fathering a child is an awesome duty and one that ought to bind you. The compromise position gives both sides what they want: the leading thinkers of the women's position have demanded freedom for women; the leading thinkers among men have demanded responsibility for men.

I still agree with that, but I think I'd like to add: I don't want to see this issue balanced with any less responsibility for men. I'm convinced, more and more, that the right way to resolve the disconnect is 100% in shifting the balance so we treat women more like men, and not men more like women.

It's not important to me that we get to a situation where we have one single standard that applies evenly to both. There are real differences here that are significant. But insofar as we do have some ground to cover, I'm sure I don't want to cover any of it by shifting away from male responsibility for their children.

Posted by: Grim at July 11, 2013 05:46 PM

First thought?

No.

But then I think the time for choice, or even "choice", was prior to creating a child.

For both parents.

It ain't always about you.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 11, 2013 05:47 PM

Your post is framed with sections of an old post of mine. You quoted my conclusion, which I also think has worn well:

If I recall correctly, I only wrote that post in response to yours! I'll have to go back and check (man, was that a long time ago!)

I'm convinced, more and more, that the right way to resolve the disconnect is 100% in shifting the balance so we treat women more like men, and not men more like women.

I think I may agree with you there, if what you mean is that we should hold women equally responsible for their decisions instead of treating them like oversized children who need to be protected from themselves :p

insofar as we do have some ground to cover, I'm sure I don't want to cover any of it by shifting away from male responsibility for their children.

That would not be my preferred solution either. The only reason I am entertaining this is that:

1. I suspect we long ago reached the screeching stage at which we're no longer arguing about the central issue, but rather about who got the raw-er deal.

2. I have a possibly deluded hope that maybe what we really need is to race all the way to the bottom. Because that's were suggestions like this lead - to the abyss.

Posted by: Cass at July 11, 2013 05:55 PM

I think the time for choice, or even "choice", was prior to creating a child. For both parents.

Amen.

Posted by: Cass at July 11, 2013 05:57 PM

OK, Grim. Having gone back and read your original post, I'm going to have to respond to a part of it that I didn't, earlier.

But it will have to wait until after I've gotten dinner going!

Posted by: Cass at July 11, 2013 06:30 PM

Ah! That means I'll have to dig it up and reread it. I just re-read the parts you quoted in your post. :)

Posted by: Grim at July 11, 2013 06:56 PM

Good topic Cass!

1. No, both men and women are responsible for the life they created, and both should be held accountable.

2. Quite agree w/ your analysis of the quandary wrt abortion law, but admit I lack the wisdom to improve the situation. For a variety of reasons, I still fall back to basically pro-'choice' 1st trimester, pro-life third trimester, and generally favor some limitations/restrictions but no outright ban.

3. The one concession the law should make to modern technology is to allow a husband to opt out of supporting a child that is not biologically his.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at July 11, 2013 09:44 PM

Touchy subject!! IMO a man and a woman should absolutely be responsible for bringing up a child they conceive. I am not unsympathetic with those women who wish to abort an unwanted pregnancy because it will "Ruin" their life; but absent forcible rape; they were a participant in the process willingly.

Maybe a partial return to the "Bad" old days where out of wedlock pregnancy was seen as a disgrace to the person involved and their family is in order.

Posted by: CAPY Mongo at July 12, 2013 09:45 AM

Suppose your child were stolen from the hospital. Ten years later the police bring the child home to you. He needs expensive surgery. Do you turn him away because it was completely unfair how the baby-stealers took your choices away at birth?

Posted by: Texan99 at July 12, 2013 09:54 AM

If the question is 'should I be allowed to cut sling load on my moral duties if they impose some sort of cost on me?', I fear the answer Americans will give.

Posted by: Grim at July 12, 2013 11:55 AM

Touchy subject!!

It definitely is. I followed the dust up over at Ann Althouse's place. She has turned off her comments now. One reason I haven't written on this topic much over the years, though I can hardly be said to avoid contentious issues :p

But I think the problem with this issue is that we DON'T talk about it - really talk - enough. People retreat into their corners, and I see very little recognition that anyone on the "other side" has anything valid to say.

I can disagree with someone's conclusion, but still admit the validity behind some of their reasoning. The link Grim just posted is an excellent example of that. One comment (that I disagree with) ridicules the notion that pregnancy imposes real costs on women. I hear that far more from men than I ever do from women, mostly because a lot of us have actually carried a baby for 9 months and then given birth. Or we've had friends who had to have reconstructive surgery after giving birth (and not the cosmetic kind), or who were left with life long health problems.

I completely understand how a conservative can look at that physical cost and still say, "OK, but if you weren't raped then suck it up and live with the consequences of your decision".

I completely understand how a conservative can say, "OK, but all that doesn't - in my view - outweigh the life of the child". These are both reasonable points.

What I can't understand is when people can't even admit the cost at all. It's real.

"I'll get less nooky", on the otter heiny, isn't a point I can respect :p What a toad.

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2013 01:08 PM

I followed the dust up over at Ann Althouse's place.

Yeah, I saw that too. I actually liked her "stance" (she took exception to it being called "advice"). I just think it should apply to women as well where she seems to think it applies to only one gender.

"OK, but all that doesn't - in my view - outweigh the life of the child".

This is basically where I come down. The risks to the mother are very real and should not be minimized, but injury to one person does not warrant death to another. When you get to the mother being, to borrow an analogy, "in reasonable fear of death of grave bodily injury" then the calculus changes. It's no longer really a question of *whether* someone dies, but whom.


As an aside, I do want to address something else you briefly mentioned: That this whole issue revolves around 3 people, not just two. It's so easy to overlook this reality. Look at this statement (I don't know if this is properly Neo's statement or your "restatement" of it): Legally, the mother decides what to do about unplanned pregnancies because women bear 100% of the physical impact of pregnancy.

It is true that the father bears 0% of the physical impact of pregnancy, but where, in this statement, is the recognition of the physical impact to that third human being?

It's just so easy to overlook even among fine, upstanding, moral people.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 12, 2013 01:48 PM

The problem, I think, is that, as it stands, men are fathers from the moment of conception, and women are mothers when and if they choose to be. I for one have no problem with the responsibility that comes with procreation. I do have a problem with standing powerlessly around, for months, checkbook ready, to find out if my child will be allowed to live. I don't think I'm alone in this.

Posted by: Robert M Mitchell Jr. at July 12, 2013 01:49 PM

"I'll get less nooky", on the otter heiny, isn't a point I can respect :p What a toad.

Well, at least this scumbag recognizes he shouldn't be breeding. Someone should send him a link to a good urologist. A fairly simple procedure will take care of that for him.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 12, 2013 01:50 PM

Robert,

Keep in mind that there are two issues here. The first is what you can control singularly and the second is a policy which governs in the plural.

The singular you does not really have a problem waiting around to see if your child is allowed to live. You, in the singular, should not be having sex with a woman for whom that is even a question. And if you are, you need to stop and find another woman.

But we all know that in the plural "you" case, that this advice will not always be followed and that those failures must be dealt with.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at July 12, 2013 02:00 PM

I actually liked her "stance" (she took exception to it being called "advice"). I just think it should apply to women as well where she seems to think it applies to only one gender.

Me too, Yu-Ain.

I do want to address something else you briefly mentioned: That this whole issue revolves around 3 people, not just two. It's so easy to overlook this reality.

That's essentially the problem that I have with the "fairness" argument. It conflates two separate (and mutually exclusive!) outcomes:

1. Pregnancy, mother decides to abort.
2. Pregnancy, mother decides to keep the child.

What the fairness argument mostly comes down to is, "It's not fair that I should have to pay PART (not all) of the support for this child that she could have aborted (but didn't, because no one's asking for child support for children who aren't born). It's really a dumb argument that - like the pro-abortion version - ignores the well being of that innocent 3rd party.

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2013 02:07 PM

I do have a problem with standing powerlessly around, for months, checkbook ready, to find out if my child will be allowed to live. I don't think I'm alone in this.

I understand that feeling, and no, you're not alone. But as Yu-Ain notes, does that outweigh duty or responsibility? Abortion isn't an option for many women, realistically. I lived that decision, and even as someone who's pro-choice, it wasn't an option for me.

Let's look at the other side. It's a pretty helpless feeling to realize that you are pregnant and that your own body is about to be completely taken over. It's no longer "yours". My mom longed for a baby for 7 years, and still describes being utterly overwhelmed when she finally got pregnant with me. This was a joyous, hoped-for event.

And it is also deeply, deeply scary to anyone whose brain hasn't flat lined. I felt the same way more than a few times. I had nightmares about having to have a c-section the entire last month I was pregnant. Both times. And I'm not a fearful person, or one who worries a lot. Labor didn't scare me a bit. Being a Mom did. Watching my body morph out of any semblance of anything I recognized did. Throwing up every day for 2 months did.

To be pregnant makes you vulnerable: physically, economically, emotionally. For the next 18 or so years, you will NEVER be able to just go out and get a job without *first* arranging for someone else to care for your child. Most men have absolutely no idea what that feels like. Choose wrongly, and you put your child's life in danger. Also, child care takes a huge cut out of your pay. The reality is that it's very hard to live on a single salary if you have to pay child care. If anything happens to your husband, you're in big trouble financially. That's scary. Really scary.

And employers don't like hiring women with babies or small children. They don't like hiring pregnant women either.

During my first pregnancy, my boss LITERALLY harassed me every single day, asking when I was going to quit, asking me why I was working when I was pregnant (ummm... because we are below the federal poverty level, maybe? Because my husband is a college student working two jobs? Because we have no medical insurance? Because we want to have plenty of money in savings in case we hit one of those speed bumps life is famous for handing out when you least expect it? Because once I have the baby, I won't be able to work FT?)

When our son was about 8 months old, we needed money and I tried to get a PT night job so we could take less in student loans. I ended up moving to another state and didn't live with the father of my children for a year because I couldn't get a job where we lived. Again, this is a problem men aren't even asked about when they apply for a job:

"Who will watch your baby while you're at work"

"His father"

In the city, where people actually know what the law says about discrimination (laws a lot of conservatives poo-poo as "unnecessary"), I had no trouble getting a job.

None of my views on any of this have changed over the years, but honestly when I listen to a lot of conservative politicians, I completely understand why liberals think they are clueless and hate women. Because too often, conservatives sound that way, even to women who agree with us.

The truth is that neither "side" is very good at imagining what it is like to be in the other side's shoes.

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2013 02:32 PM

But as Yu-Ain notes, does that outweigh duty or responsibility?

Robert, I meant to add, "...and as you have already stipulated". Please forgive the omission.

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2013 02:35 PM

Just pointing out that "opting out" is loaded language, if you really want to have a discussion. The fact is, men are not allowed to "opt in", are they? There is no legal way a man can stop a woman from "aborting" his child. You can speak of "knowing the woman", but there are an awful lot of divorces out there, many of them done while the husbands, better, smarter, stronger men then me, were serving our country and the cause of Freddom overseas. Seen way too many of those little morality plays to have any confidence in my ablity to "know a woman". The only choice, if you cannot stand idly by and watch your child murdered is to not deal with women at all (because there is no point of "diminished capacity" that will cost you the Responsibility of Fatherhood). At which point you are back to talking about "men-children" who "refuse to man up", yes?

Given the many, many ways a woman can delegate her child rearing rights, it seems odd that the worry is that men might follow suit.....

Posted by: Robert M Mitchell Jr. at July 12, 2013 03:53 PM

There is no legal way a man can stop a woman from "aborting" his child.

Again, you're running together two mutually exclusive scenarios. I'm asking if men should be able to opt out of child support. The question doesn't even arise if there's an abortion.

The only choice, if you cannot stand idly by and watch your child murdered is to not deal with women at all (because there is no point of "diminished capacity" that will cost you the Responsibility of Fatherhood). At which point you are back to talking about "men-children" who "refuse to man up", yes?

Well, you could simply use birth control. I realize that's a radical step, but it's an option.

If you insist on only considering the worst possible outcome (or if you're so risk averse that you don't care about the actual probabilities of good vs. bad outcomes), then yes - you have no "choice".

Although I would say you have made a choice: you have decided that you're so afraid of a bad outcome that you're not willing to take a chance.

Given the many, many ways a woman can delegate her child rearing rights, it seems odd that the worry is that men might follow suit

I'm not worried, because there are a gazillion ways men evade/avoid their responsibilities already. You are acting as though every woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock (or divorces) sues for/receives child support. They don't.

Here's a list of the actual stats for 2009:

http://singleparents.about.com/od/statebystateresources/p/child_support_statistics.htm

54.9% of custodial single mothers were awarded child support in 2010.

30.4% of custodial single fathers were awarded child support during the same year.

This, of course, only describes the bad outcomes. It doesn't consider all the times people stay married, don't fail to support their kids, etc.

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2013 04:21 PM

Women have known since time immemorial that they take their lives in their hands, and risk losing control over some of the issues dearest to their hearts, every time they marry or even form a sexual liaison. Have men never had to face this truth until confronted with the woman's power of abortion? If so, it's time they woke up and integrated some hard truths into their philosophy about how well they should know and trust a woman before risking procreation with her.

All men's experience with women who seemed OK and turned out wobbly doesn't change this necessity: it only emphasizes it. Why else have women traditionally been so stand-offish about sex? They always knew it was essential to have a good grasp of the potential father's character. Now that women can abort, some of them have taken to adopting something more like the traditional male attitude: if it's fun, do it.

Men who find this new attitude hard to take should perhaps reflect on the other side of the coin that presented itself for the last few hundred thousand years. When they can look that problem square in the face and still shoulder their duties to their potential future children, they'll be conservatives who don't risk driving off liberal women at the polls.

Posted by: Texan99 at July 12, 2013 04:32 PM

Tex, this is exactly what I mean by "both sides aren't terribly good at imagining what it's like to be in the other person's shoes".

I married a good man, and over the years we've both sacrificed and worked extremely hard at our marriage.

But during the years my boys were small, I was very nervous about my ability to support them if something happened to my husband. I put off going back to school to be a FT wife and mother, and by the time I got back into the work force with any regularity I had a 20 year gap in my resume.

Try getting a job as a 39 y/old adult with no visible work experience and brand new degree.

The problems Robert describes are real. But women have *always* faced those problems. We still do, albeit to a far lesser extent than we formerly did.

It's amazing what being allowed to vote, allowed to own property in your own name, etc. will do for a person.

I know so many stories about women who gave up everything for their husbands and children, only to be casually tossed aside like yesterday's garbage. I have seen women who couldn't collect any child support at all after staying home and doing what everyone wants us to do.

And I've known these women to keep trying, and some found good men who took them in, kids and all, and were decent and responsible and dependable and loved their kids as though they had fathered them.

What if, all those centuries when women had far fewer legal rights than today's men, we had just given up on the other half of the human race?

I just don't understand this at all.

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2013 05:00 PM

Now that women can abort, some of them have taken to adopting something more like the traditional male attitude: if it's fun, do it.

And they're finding that attitude has some pretty nasty consequences. As it should.

Posted by: Cass at July 12, 2013 05:03 PM

Ah, if only. But the ways men evade their responsibilities are illegal, and some of the ways they want to live up to their responsibilities are illegal. On the woman's side, there is Adoption, Foster Homes, Family, and "Baby Drops", all of which are legal. Since you brought up discrimination, why is it ok for women to use "Safe Havens", but not men (Which is really the topic under discussion)? The baby has been born. Abortion is not an issue. Women can toss the child away with no legal repercussions, not even a record. Why shouldn't Men have the same privilege? Particularly odd given why we have "Safe Havens", yes? Men go to prison because they can't pay child support, Women get help and sympathy for leaving children in dumpsters?

Posted by: Robert M Mitchell Jr. at July 12, 2013 09:29 PM

And, birth control? I am to trust my Soul to such a imperfect thing, so easily circumvented by Nature and Spoofed by the dishonest? It is to laugh, darkly.....

Posted by: Robert M Mitchell Jr. at July 12, 2013 09:32 PM

Since you brought up discrimination, why is it ok for women to use "Safe Havens", but not men (Which is really the topic under discussion)? The baby has been born. Abortion is not an issue. Women can toss the child away with no legal repercussions, not even a record. Why shouldn't Men have the same privilege?

Who says it's not OK for men to use safe haven laws?

The Nebraska man who abandoned his nine children under the state's Safe Haven law last year is expecting to become the father of twins, FOXNews.com has learned. Gary Staton, 37, became a single father in February 2007 when his wife, RebelJane, died of a cerebral aneurysm shortly after giving birth to the couple's ninth child. Unable to handle the burden alone, Staton made national news more than a year later on Sept. 24 when he dropped off his children — ages 1 to 17 — at a hospital in Omaha.

You need to find out the facts on safe haven laws, Robert:

In most States with safe haven laws, either parent may surrender his or her baby to a safe haven.

Only four states out of 50 limit safe haven to the mother.

Source: https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/safehaven.pdf#Page=2&view=Fit

Posted by: Cass at July 13, 2013 09:41 AM

And, birth control? I am to trust my Soul to such a imperfect thing, so easily circumvented by Nature and Spoofed by the dishonest?

And yet you expect women to "trust their souls" to it. What's sauce for the goose isn't sauce for the gander? That doesn't seem "fair" to me at all.

You haven't addressed the points I made earlier. It sounds to me as though you've made up your mind based on a whole lot of anecdotal "evidence" and Internet outrage.

Do the facts on any of this matter to you? What do you have to say about the facts I've presented?


Posted by: Cass at July 13, 2013 09:45 AM

Only four states out of 50 limit safe haven to the mother.

Hypothetical question: let's say an unmarried couple disagrees about wanting a child who has been brought to term, and one parent drops the baby off at a safe haven without the other's knowledge or consent.

Do you disagree that the cases will be handled quite differently depending on whether it was the mother or the father who made this decision?

My expectation -- totally without evidence, just my intuition about it -- would be that a mother who made this decision would be said to be within her rights (though the father might be allowed to reclaim the child), whereas a father who made this decision would be subject to arrest for kidnapping.

The reason my intuition points this way is that in the case of an unmarried couple, the baby is thought to 'belong' to the mother, who is free to dispose of it; the father has no rights except in cases of marriage, even if paternity is undisputed.

If they were married, would it be different? Maybe, but not obviously: a father who chose to determine the disposition of a child without the mother's permission would normally be subject to kidnapping charges. Would the mother, if she did? It doesn't seem as likely to me.

If that is true, is that a problem? I'm not making any claims about whether or not it is; I'm not sure myself. However, it strikes me as a way in which the apparent evenhandedness of the "4 states out of 50" standard may mask a much deeper and wider division.

Or does your intuition differ about what would probably happen?

Posted by: Grim at July 13, 2013 10:37 AM

The reason my intuition points this way is that in the case of an unmarried couple, the baby is thought to 'belong' to the mother, who is free to dispose of it; the father has no rights except in cases of marriage, even if paternity is undisputed.

Yes, my intuition is very different. It's amazing to me how you see this, Grim. Not in a bad way, just surprising to me.

I would have said something very different - that there's no "belong to" involved (a baby belongs to itself - humans are not property), but rather a presumptive and empirically well grounded sense that the vast majority of the time, men don't choose to care for infants. They just don't, even in happy marriages where the man wants children more than the woman (and that happens a LOT).

So if a man drops off a child, he's already a statistical anomaly. It's natural to ask, "Where is the mother, and has she consented to this?", just as it ought to be natural to ask, "Where is the father, and has he consented to this?" when a woman drops off a child.

At the individual level, the man may actually be the one who cares more for the child than the mother. But in the aggregate, men don't volunteer to assume the lion's share of parenting responsibilities. They just don't. I don't know why this is.

Given this reality, I was actually quite surprised to see that safe haven laws are as gender-neutral as they are. But then the same really is true of child custody laws (not that you'll ever see anyone refer to the actual laws when they're complaining about sexism - they ignore the actual law and cite the results, which is a disparate impact argument).

Posted by: Cass at July 13, 2013 11:03 AM

The reason my intuition points this way is that in the case of an unmarried couple, the baby is thought to 'belong' to the mother, who is free to dispose of it; the father has no rights except in cases of marriage, even if paternity is undisputed.

Grim, this simply isn't true. I don't know where you get these ideas, but it's not from actual laws. "People" may think as they wish, but that has nothing to do with what laws actually say.

I know a little about this - when I was younger, I worked as a paralegal intern at a base we were stationed at. I worked with the family law section, and as part of my work I wrote a guide to adoption and guardianship that was later adopted by several nonprofit foundations outside the base.

You need to tease out parental rights from custody, for instance. A custodial mother cannot put her child up for adoption without notifying the father. He has to reliquish his parental rights IN WRITING before the adoption can proceed. I'm not sure why you think safe haven laws trump parental rights, but they do not.

The practical difficulties arise when the father isn't at all involved in the child's life: he cannot be found, isn't listed on the birth cert, doesn't support the child. It's hard to notify someone who doesn't want to be found, but the legal requirement doesn't go away.

If they were married, would it be different? Maybe, but not obviously: a father who chose to determine the disposition of a child without the mother's permission would normally be subject to kidnapping charges. Would the mother, if she did? It doesn't seem as likely to me.

Again, where do you get this stuff? Married men are presumed by law to be the legal and biological fathers of all children borne by their wives. It's a bit much for the mens rights types to complain about this, and then turn right around and pretend this isn't the case when it doesn't support their arguments. They can't have it both ways! :p

Here's a perfect example of either outright dishonesty or willful ignorance on this topic. This man asserts that under his state's safe haven laws, "no effort is made to locate/notify the father".

A simple Google search shows that's not true, though:

What about the father's rights?
This Act makes no changes in Illinois law as to fathers' rights. The Putative Fathers' Registry will be searched to identity a putative father after a newborn infant has been relinquished. Notice will be given to any potential putative father discovered in such a search of the registry.

I am often surprised when I take the trouble to look up the facts.


Posted by: Cass at July 13, 2013 11:32 AM

By the way, putative father's registries are a legal mechanism for unmarried men to assert putative fathership of children born to women they sleep with.

Married fathers are already assumed by law to be the fathers of children born to their wives.

Posted by: Cass at July 13, 2013 11:35 AM

The one concession the law should make to modern technology is to allow a husband to opt out of supporting a child that is not biologically his.

I tend to agree with this, though I'll admit that I have not completely thought it out.

I've always been rather surprised that paternity tests aren't routinely performed (or offered) at all births. Paternity is an actual fact with medical ramifications. I'm not so keen on the law requiring such a test, but I'm a little surprised it's not a best practice.

Posted by: Cass at July 13, 2013 12:39 PM

Grim, this simply isn't true. I don't know where you get these ideas, but it's not from actual laws.

I said that myself. This is how I would expect it to work. I told you I wasn't looking at the laws, just my intuitions about how it would be handled.

Now that may or may not be right, but intuitions about what the law will support are far more powerful social influences than what the law really says. We have so many laws in this country that most of the time, when you are trying to decide how to behave, you're operating off an informal intuition or understanding rather than a real understanding of the law and the supporting caselaw. And of course, in cases that end up before a jury, the prevailing social standards will end up influencing any decision.

Now, having said that, I am just now looking it up. It looks like, in Georgia, the law is specific to the mother, and it makes no distinction about custody or father's rights at all. Here's the actual text of OCGA 19-10A-4:

"A mother shall not be prosecuted for violating Code Section 16-5-70, 16-12-1, or 19-10-1 because of the act of leaving her newborn child in the physical custody of an employee, agent, or member of the staff of a medical facility who is on duty, whether there in a paid or volunteer position, provided that the newborn child is no more than one week old and the mother shows proof of her identity, if available, to the person with whom the newborn is left and provides her name and address."

So here at least, a mother shall not be prosecuted for dropping the kid off and cutting sling load. The father can try to get it back from state custody.

If the father does the same thing, he's guilty of abandonment (which is OCGA 19-10), which is a misdemeanor unless he leaves the state, at which point it becomes a felony. He may also be guilty of kidnapping.

Posted by: Grim at July 13, 2013 01:14 PM

So anyway, it sounds like my intuitions are really closely aligned to the law of my home state. By the way, the other code sections mentioned are Cruelty to Children, and Contributing to the Deliquency of a Minor. Whether the father might be guilty of kidnapping is hard to say, because the definition is so vague: "when such person abducts or steals away another person without lawful authority or warrant and holds such other person against his or her will."

It sounds like 19.10A gives the mother "lawful authority" to move the baby for this purpose, and the child's 'will' at this point may be at her discretion, since she has the right to give up the baby; but explicitly this is not true of the father. However, the law on kidnapping is vague enough that I have no idea how it would shake out if it went to court. A good lawyer should be able to get any mother off here, I would think, but whether the father would be guilty or not I couldn't guess. Depends on the jury and the facts of the case, probably.

Posted by: Grim at July 13, 2013 01:23 PM

Well, if the good citizens of Georgia think their laws are unfair or sexist, I think they should change them :p Any Georgia citizen is free to make that case, and I think they should make it if they feel strongly about the matter.

I also think we need to be VERY careful about falsely conflating situations that are different, and also confusing custodial vs. noncustodial parents. In most cases, it's not really a case of male vs. female, but custodial vs. noncustodial.

Most safe haven laws are narrowly tailored to cover only newborn babies. How many situations can you think of where a father would be providing sole care for a newborn without the mother around? I can't think of many. So, as I said, though I have no problem with the law being gender neutral, it's actually a bit odd that it is, given the purpose of the law.

Abandonment is something different - it usually covers older children whose murders would be far harder to cover up. That's the purpose of safe harbor laws, by the way. They're not there to "help" women, but rather to protect babies from being murdered by their mothers. I doubt the same danger exists from fathers, mostly because they are almost never the ones who are caring for newborns.

That this somehow gets twisted into a "fairness" argument by the MRA crowd is really pretty perverse.


Posted by: Cass at July 13, 2013 02:31 PM

Now that may or may not be right, but intuitions about what the law will support are far more powerful social influences than what the law really says. We have so many laws in this country that most of the time, when you are trying to decide how to behave, you're operating off an informal intuition or understanding rather than a real understanding of the law and the supporting caselaw. And of course, in cases that end up before a jury, the prevailing social standards will end up influencing any decision.

Are you really suggesting that police, hospitals, etc. (IOW, legally designated safe haven drop-offs, which are the ONLY ones covered by these laws) are unaware of their own state laws?

Or that prosecutors, judges, and trial courts would inexplicably "forget" what the law says?

Posted by: Cass at July 13, 2013 02:34 PM

One final point.

You have often said that you don't think the law has to treat men and women equally because there are very real differences that should be taken into account. I generally agree with this, but think those instances fewer than you do, I suspect.

Safe haven laws seem to fit that description. They are narrowly tailored laws designed to create an alternative to abandoning a helpless newborn who will likely die if not found and cared for quickly. It's really not apparent to me that there is a problem with large numbers of fathers providing sole care for newborns, who would murder their own children "but for" such an alternative.

I think you pretty much stipulated that you weren't suggesting such laws were undesireable in your first comment, but I just thought I'd take the opportunity to note that this is the kind of situation where your preference that the law take gender into account makes a whole lot of sense.

Posted by: Cass at July 13, 2013 02:45 PM

Cass:

I want to restate three points, just to be sure we're clear about where I'm coming from here.

1) My first guiding principle, as you just said, is that 'equality' is often a false star. I believe with Aristotle that political justice lies in treating relevantly similar cases similarly. That means it is unjust to refuse to treat relevantly similar cases similarly, but also that it is unjust to refuse to recognize a relevant difference. Sex strikes me as a very relevant difference, especially to cases like this.

Thus, in questions where sex is relevant, the existence of separate standards for men and women is more likely the mark of justice than injustice. We can argue about when and where it is, but I think we both agree that this is a clear-cut example of a relevant case. A standard that didn't take sex into account would be unjust.

2) My second guiding principle, which I stated at the beginning of this discussion, is that I don't want to see the grip of duty loosened for men at all. I feel that 100% of any necessary adjustments we decide upon should be in terms of making women more subject to duty, not men less so.

3) Finally, I'm not sure I have any objection to this particular question anyway. I'm not floating my intuitions to suggest they point to a problem. I'm floating them just to see how they align with your intuitions, and to see what you think. I'm not suggesting a solution, or even that there's a problem that needs a solution. I just want to test your conviction a bit, to see what shakes out of it.

So with those three things said, here's the question about which I want to hear what you think: Sometimes it has been said of me, by you, that my readiness to forgive women is the mark of not taking them completely seriously as moral agents. Now here is a case where the state of Georgia may be making the same error as a formal legal principle -- if it is an error, and not a wise standard, as it may be. Do you think we should tighten the screws on women a bit here?

I mean that the state looks at a new father and says, "We understand that you may be feeling overwhelmed by the new responsibilities you have just gained. To make sure you live up to them, then, we are instituting severe legal penalties including time behind bars. We further understand you may feel inclined to flee the state, so to prevent that we have a law that requires you to spend a minimum of a full year in prison if you do that. We understand your concerns, and that's just why we have instituted severe laws to hold you to your duties."

Yet it says to mothers, "We understand that you may be feeling overwhelmed by the new responsibilities you have just gained. We really just care about the welfare of the baby, so if you can't take it, just go to one of our safe havens and turn the child over. We'll take care of your child, and there will be no penalties. We understand how you may be feeling, so we've taken steps to ensure that you're protected at this vulnerable time."

This difference in standards could be an example of them doing what you sometimes think I am doing. On the other hand, the same difference in standards could be a highly just and wise recognition of the reality of postpartum depression in women, which is a relevant difference. It could be justice, or it could be injustice. I'm not sure which I think it is, but I'm sure I don't want to move the needle on the standard for fathers.

Posted by: Grim at July 13, 2013 04:11 PM

Hi again Cass,
The (modern) English common law standard that assumes fatherhood for the husband of any woman that becomes pregnant date back to the time that being a bastard pretty much automatically made life awful for both mother and child.
As no one would usually be able to really know anyway, it was considered the lesser of two evils, and I have great sympathy for that notion.

Interest of the child ought to come first.
That doesn't make it ok for a woman w/ multiple sexual partners to 'pick' who she wishes to tag for child support though.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at July 13, 2013 10:42 PM

Grim:

Thanks for the clarifications. I always like understanding something better, so I truly appreciate your taking the time to spell them out. FWIW, I think they align fairly well with where I thought you stood but it's nice to have the confirmation.

Of course you *do* realize that I'll probably screw up eventually and you'll have to remind me :p

And now, a clarification of my own:

Sometimes it has been said of me, by you, that my readiness to forgive women is the mark of not taking them completely seriously as moral agents.

I have said that, with the clarification that I wasn't saying I *know* you don't take women seriously as moral agents; only that - no matter how hard I try - I can't think of another explanation that fits/explains some of your positions. I hope you realize that I really don't claim to know what you think. I can only explain how things seem to me, and ask if that's correct interpretation or not?

FWIW, I think that holding women less accountable probably made sense throughout the many thousands of years when women were legally treated as chattel or children. But now that we have rights pretty much equal to those of men, I think we must be held to a commensurate standard. Rights and duties are linked, and should be proportionate.

I truly believe that some of the moral confusion we've seen with feminism is very similar to that we've seen with the black community. Freedom is not easy to handle, and in some ways women have a lot of adjusting to do.

I'm going to intersperse my reactions with your comments/questions:

Do you think we should tighten the screws on women a bit here?

Possibly. I would want to know more about why the Georgia law "is the way it is", though. States that are faces different conditions should be free to tailor their laws to the reality on the ground.

I mean that the state looks at a new father and says, "We understand that you may be feeling overwhelmed by the new responsibilities you have just gained. To make sure you live up to them, then, we are instituting severe legal penalties including time behind bars. We further understand you may feel inclined to flee the state, so to prevent that we have a law that requires you to spend a minimum of a full year in prison if you do that. We understand your concerns, and that's just why we have instituted severe laws to hold you to your duties."

Are we talking about safe haven laws here? Or abandonment? Or neglect?

What we're talking about here is a situation where the father of a newborn less than 7 days old takes the infant to a shelter with the intent of abandoning it. The intent of these laws is NOT to serve as an easier substitute for adoption/formal relinquishment of parental rights.

The purpose of safe haven laws is to prevent new mothers from killing their children or dumping them in unsafe places. Most new mothers don't do this - I checked into the numbers of safe haven babies and it isn't all that common an occurrence. In Illinois, for instance, the number of safe haven babies for one year was in the 30s. The number of just plain abandoned babies was in the 20s.

I don't think simply "feeling overwhelmed" is quite the same for a father unless he truly is the only one left to care for the child. And the reality is that that is almost never the case (but if it is, as you say, "like cases should be treated similarly").

Yet it says to mothers, "We understand that you may be feeling overwhelmed by the new responsibilities you have just gained. We really just care about the welfare of the baby, so if you can't take it, just go to one of our safe havens and turn the child over. We'll take care of your child, and there will be no penalties. We understand how you may be feeling, so we've taken steps to ensure that you're protected at this vulnerable time."

I don't think that's what safe haven laws say at all. I think they say (to the people who are actually left holding the bag pretty much all of the time), "There's an alternative to dumping your child in a dumpster or smothering it". I don't think the law says anything about feelings to either men or women. What it does is say, "Before you commit murder, consider this alternative".

This difference in standards could be an example of them doing what you sometimes think I am doing.

I don't think so. Like the MRA advocates, you are focusing all your attention on the mother's or father's feelings. But the law isn't written to "help" the mother. It's written to protect the child from being murdered. The proper focus here is on the baby, not either parent's feelings.

On the other hand, the same difference in standards could be a highly just and wise recognition of the reality of postpartum depression in women, which is a relevant difference.

I don't know whether it's wise or not. One could argue that if 30+ babies are alive in Illinois that would be dead otherwise, the law has served it's purpose.

It could be justice, or it could be injustice.

I don't think justice actually comes into this. Justice would be for the mother to be prosecuted for abandonment. This is more akin to mercy, but the mercy is not intended to help the mother but rather to protect the baby. Any interpretation that takes the focus off the stated purpose of the law ("protect newborns") and places it on the parents' feelings or rights misses the mark.

I'm not sure which I think it is, but I'm sure I don't want to move the needle on the standard for fathers.

I think Georgia's law could be strengthened to provide more protections for fathers who want their children. I also suspect strongly that we're not talking about a lot of fathers here, and the father's rights need to be balanced against protecting the lives of babies and not making it freaking impossible to place them in loving homes.

In many ways this story reminds me of the biblical tale of Solomon and the two mothers. Unable to tell who was telling the truth, Solomon decreed that the child should be cut in two and one half given to each woman.

When one immediately relented and said, "Give the child to the other woman but for God's sake, don't kill it", Solomon knew who really cared about the child.

Posted by: Cass at July 14, 2013 12:59 PM

One more note, and this is a crucial point.

I really don't think it makes any sense at all to compare the burden of parenting for new mothers or fathers.

Unless the father is left ALONE, there is no way that the burden of parenting will ever be anything even close to that of the mother. The mother can't get a job, or even go anywhere without first finding another person to watch her child. There is no such restriction on fathers.

And the burden of support is shared. Fathers often pay more support, but only if they earn more. This is a crucial point because motherhood severely impacts the ability of women to work. It affects the kinds of jobs they can get. Ignoring this (as the MRA types just love to do) requires a willful blindness to reality.

Finally, I know few fathers who provide hands/on care for their children 24/7. They have the freedom to. No one's preventing them. And yet few make that choice.

Ignoring that makes absolutely no sense.

Posted by: Cass at July 14, 2013 01:06 PM

Cass,

I can only explain how things seem to me, and ask if that's correct interpretation or not?

I raise the point because I don't know what I'm doing. I know what I'm trying to do, and what seems right, but I don't know myself what I'm really doing. I listen to you and to your critique because there's a chance you might be right. I take you seriously, because if you're right I'm not doing justice to women, and I want to.

Now it seems to me that it may be the case that the law here is doing right -- it may be a good law. And that's an important thing. The greatest accomplishment in the world, for Aristotle, is to be a good lawgiver. To set laws that can be the standard for good government is the ultimate achievement for political science as he sees it. And he sees political science as sitting in a very high place, above almost every other science and every other philosophy, because it is the science that governs human life. This is what we should really care about: how to build a world in which humans can live good lives, with laws that support them in doing so.

So what does it mean to be a moral actor? One thing it might mean is that when you do wrong, we punish you -- because we accept you are responsible for doing wrong. If I am wrong, and if Georgia is here wrong, it is a function of not giving you enough credit for being punishable for your own wrongs. We'd have to say something like, "We recognize that it is morally wrong to do what you have done; and so you must be punished, regardless of what motivated you."

I don't think Aristotle would have been satisfied with that, though, and I'm sure I'm not. There's a real difference in play here. And there's something else, which you and I have both said, which is that our real motivation has nothing to do with righting moral wrongs in the adult in any case. Our real end -- the Greek word is telos, and it motivates every aspect of Aristotle's moral philosophy -- is to protect the child. Maybe it doesn't matter, if that is the real end, how we treat the adults. Maybe they are accidents to the real end.

If that's so, well, it may be just. I do think justice is at the heart of what we are discussing. Justice pertains especially to the human, and that means man and woman and child. It may be the child's welfare is the right end here, for the future end that the child can become an adult and assume adult duties. But if so, we might punish or forgive as easily one as the other, so long as that end was furthered.

Posted by: Grim at July 14, 2013 08:55 PM

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