Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Roe v Wade at 40: Paternal Rights, Human Rights


I am not a feminist. I am a humanist. The phrase “Roe v Wade” has historically endorsed a discussion of maternal advocacy by the pro-choice population and fetal advocacy by pro-life supporters, but much less airtime has been allotted to the equally important topic of paternal rights, without whose contribution the mulling over of whether to keep or not to keep would be irrelevant. In a century where individualism is often prioritized more highly than collectivism, and an inward focus is the trendy impetus for many decisions, I feel inclined to approach the benefits of Roe v Wade from a human rights rather than a women’s rights standpoint.

The four-decade-old Supreme Court ruling means that both contributors to conception may ponder over the options, brainstorm alternatives, and make a decision without the burden of federally inflicted duress. It is an opportunity to collaboratively consider factors such as financial stability, competing academic and professional goals, emotional readiness, and most importantly, the viability of keeping patent a maternal-paternal link for the foreseeable post-partum future. Freedom to decide is an industrial strength upgrade from government imposed mandates, but it means that the ownership of responsibility belongs to individuals who then cannot lament accusingly that they were not offered a choice. Being at liberty to exercise one’s Roe v Wade rights means that it is incumbent upon both individuals to ensure that they have invested enough thought into whether their present circumstances are suitable for acquisition and maintenance of a new, potentially multi-decade responsibility.

Consider the situation of an unplanned conception that takes place between two thirty-three-year-olds recently acquainted over the past six weeks following a dinner party introduction and subsequent afternoon tea interlude. Barring the very realistic possibility that the news may prompt the couple to promote their interaction to a more permanent association, there is also the alternative probability that one or both will conclude, for various reasons that a long-term association is impractical or even painfully undesirable. Perhaps the imposing obstacles are superficially limited to business school debts, a dilapidated apartment with the effluvium of a swamp, and a mid-range income insufficient for buying a diaper pail and some very tiny shoes. Enter cultural, religious, or staunch political differences, and suddenly the prospect of a perpetual, even intermittent relationship is horrifying to imagine.

But where the specifics of paternal rights are most fit to be resurrected is in the context of an accidental fusion of haploid gametes that occurs following a prophylaxis malfunction on an inebriated Tuesday night. In this vignette, the paralyzing outcome of an intoxicated insemination is no longer at the mercy of a federal directive owing to the ability to discuss collectively and seriously consider alternatives. With the man positioned convincingly as a well-meaning romantic with a merely passing interest, the woman may well concede to the idea that a formal embossed-invitation arrangement would be better saved for someone else. Likewise, the man is not imprisoned by an obligation to engage in a fiduciary or matrimonial relationship with a woman for whom he has had only a transient affinity.

To me, as a feminine humanist, the hallmark of Roe v Wade lies in its opportunity for both individuals to candidly enumerate concerns for a decision that affects them equally without the confines of government directives so wholly unconnected to them. After all, it is the essence of such a discussion that may support and sustain future progeny.

Hana RenorHana Renor is a poet, essayist, and conjurer of fictitious vignettes at the Benghazi Project. She lives in San Francisco.

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