Jewish World Review March 31, 1999 /14 Nissan 5759
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These cases make it clear that we will never have true reproductive equality until the law treats both men and women more fairly. That means, among other things, revisiting our notions of a man's reproductive obligations and rights.
Miscovich's ex-wife, Elizabeth, got pregnant soon after they married. In 1989, when the boy was 2, she left her husband, and they reached an agreement on child support and visitation. Two years later, a DNA test showed Miscovich was not the father. But he is still forced to pay child support. Under Pennsylvania law, dating to the 16th century, a child born to a married woman is her husband's child, tests or no tests.
Now, Miscovich is challenging this principle before the U.S. Supreme Court. Will he have any luck?
In 1989, the high court upheld a similar California law in a very different case - in which the plaintiff wanted to be a dad. Michael Hirschensohn fathered a child in a long-term relationship with a woman who was legally married but separated; when she eventually went back to her husband, Hirschensohn was barred from seeing his daughter. The courts rejected his lawsuit, despite his bond with the girl and DNA test results, on the grounds of "the state's interest in preserving the integrity of the matrimonial family."
Whether they assert the right to be parents or not to be parents, men aren't getting much sympathy. Biological fathers who challenge adoptions are often reviled for seeking to rip the child from a loving family after failing to take paternal responsibility. Men seeking relief from paternal obligations are seen as selfish cads. Men who don't want to be fathers are told they should have exercised their choice (through contraception, sterilization, or abstinence) before they had sex.
Ironically, these are precisely the arguments pro-lifers make about women.
When directed at women, "You play, you pay" is widely seen as callous and punitive; when directed at men, it's widely accepted.
Even many abortion foes make an exception for victims of child abuse or rape. Men aren't allowed even these excuses. If a woman seduces an underage boy and has a baby, the boy, legally a victim of statutory rape, is still liable for child support. In a bizarre Alabama case, a woman deliberately got pregnant by having sex with a male acquaintance who had passed out after drinking; she later bragged to friends that it saved her a trip to the sperm bank. The courts ordered him to pay up.
And then there's Miscovich, who not only didn't intend to father a child - he says he was "paranoid" about birth control - but didn't father one. The point isn't that he has no genetic link to the boy (neither do adoptive parents); it's that he is a victim of a painful betrayal compounded by the legal system.
One could argue that in these disputes, the fathers' claims conflict with children's needs - for economic support or, in the case of disenfranchised biological fathers, for a stable family. But surely fairness to the man counts for something, too. (Why, for example, does Miscovich have more of an obligation to provide for his ex-wife's child than her current husband?)
And there are other issues at stake. If we want to promote responsible fatherhood, which is ultimately in the best interest of children, is it wise to tell men that their rights as fathers can be arbitrarily denied? Is it wise to give women incentives to engage in reproductive fraud and produce children who may get the money but won't have a father's love?
For years, the biology of reproduction placed an unequal burden on women. Today, technological and social progress has given women control over their fertility, and in many ways, it's men who are at a disadvantage.
They are less able to escape the consequences of sex; their bond with their children is fragile. We hear a lot about irresponsible fathers who abandon women and children. But in many cases, it's irresponsible or egotistic mothers who victimize men and children, and they are equally blameworthy.
No social or legal change can bring about true reproductive equality as long as only a man can become a parent without his knowledge. If we want fathers to respect the father-child bond, society - and women - must respect it as
03/26/99: Left refuses to let bygones be bygones