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Jul 10 2010

In Support of “Pre-Conjugal Agreements” and “Financial Abortion”

Last week The Root, an online magazine focused on African-American issues reported on a topic raised by Sociology Professor Frances Goldscheder who teaches at Brown University. She put out the idea whether men should be able to seek a “financial abortion” if their unmarried girlfriend has a baby that the man specifically told her he didn’t want.  After all, she reasons, why should the “choice” in “pro-choice” be exclusively the woman’s?:

“While I thought I was a feminist all my life, when I started studying the family and fatherhood in general, I realized that I was really an egalitarian. I want a level playing field in the family for men and women.”

Here is the present scenario:  Two young people, age 18, fall into love or like or lust. Right now, even if the man had previously been assured that the woman had used birth control; had advised her he did not want a baby right now; and had been told that even if the woman got pregnant she would not keep the baby because she wasn’t ready either, if she changed her mind and kept the baby he would have to pay child support for the next 21 years.  In most states, he would face jail time for falling into arrears in those child support payments.

So what if there were a legal way he could opt out right at the beginning? What if the law allowed a written contract before any child was conceived, a preconjugal agreement (we can call it a pre-con , like a pre-nup)? Would it be permissible? Would it stand constitutional scrutiny?

I think it would and I have to admit, I think it could be a powerful tool that would make young people think twice about having babies. Many men are scoundrels, lying to woman that they will always be there, be supportive and that they want to be a responsible father, then become deadbeats. But many men are also trapped into relationships they never wanted and financial responsibility they never signed up for.  We have  a remedy for the first situation, through mandatory child support and strict enforcement. Isn’t it time we provide a remedy for the second situation? Pre-cons could be framed in simple language (and distributed in high schools along with condoms!) States could require notarization of signatures and two originals so each participant has their own.

Other Sociologists think  that financial abortion may actually help reduce the  incidence of fatherless families  in low-income communities by balancing the scales:

It’s all punitive — be a good father or else,” says Maria Kefalas, a sociology professor at St. Joseph’s University who, along with her colleague from Harvard Kathryn Edin, wrote Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage. “It’s a completely insane policy that says, ‘By the way, when you fail to contribute [to your child] economically, we’ll lock you up. And when you’re locked up, you still have to pay the money you owe, and you don’t get to see your kids.’ “

It certainly would be constitutional, in fact one could argue that being put into prison for failing to meet a financial responsibility which you never agreed to deprives you of Due Process under the 14th Amendment. As long as the law involves those over 18, if they sign on the dotted line, then they would be bound.

So let’s put this on the table:  What’s good for the goose, should be good for the gander. Let’s make choice balanced.

1 comment

  1. Diana

    I don’t see why feminism and equalitarianism have to be mutually exclusive. In the past (and somewhat in the present as well) women did not share the same status, privileges, freedom, etc. that men had, or have. Therefore, I believe feminism was, and is, about equaling out the playing field. Hence, feminism is really just a form of egalitarianism, anyway.

    Further, the justification for child support is about making sure that innocent child is taken care of, not supporting the mother. Therefore, I don’t understand the “men’s rights” argument. I agree that it’s completely immoral for a woman to lie to a man in that way. However, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that women, and men, lie and can be very good at it. If you really want to have fun with no risk then get sterilized, use protection, or don’t have intercourse. Our species should be evolved enough to realize this. “Pro-choice” is the right of both men and women. Either can “choose” whether or not to have intercourse (except in the case of rape which is a completely different circumstance).

    While the idea of a pre-con sounds somewhat enticing (ie., the man can sign a contract stating that if the woman “lies” about taking birth control, for instance, she is fully responsible) there are real problems here. For instance, what if the birth control pills are taken faithfully and pregnancy still ensues? When reading medical literature, there is a very small percentage of ineffectiveness even when taken regularly. Thus, in this case, the woman would be solely responsible for caring for that baby (assuming she does not have an abortion). The attachment and bonding (and hormonal and instinctual drive to care for that baby) during pregnancy and afterwards is not something that can be foreseen by someone that has not previously been with child. Thus, if the condom breaks, or the pill fails, and the woman becomes attached, the man is off the hook so long as he signed a contract? Hmmmm. That doesn’t totally sound egalitarian to me.

    I’m all for mitigating the propensity for fatherless families, preventing teen pregnancy, and protecting the right to choose. I also am not usually a fan of “punitive” discipline. I.e. jail time for men that don’t doesn’t help at all to inspire or create child-support. Passing out condoms? Sure. But, pre-cons? I’m not sold on the idea.

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