A prenatal blood test makes it possible to link a woman’s partner to her pregnancy, according to University of Richmond law professor Shari Motro. A potential ramification, she writes for the New York Times, is that men might be asked to support their partners before a child’s birth. “They might be asked to chip in for medical bills, birthing classes and maternity clothes, to help to cover the loss of income that often comes with pregnancy, or to contribute to the cost of an abortion,” Motro writes.
Most states frame men’s pregnancy obligations as an element of child support or as part of a parentage order that takes effect after the birth of a child, she says. Motro suggests men should have financial responsibility even if there is no birth. “Former spouses are often required to pay alimony; former cohabiting partners may have to pay palimony; why not ask men who conceive with a woman to whom they are not married to pay ‘preglimony’?” she writes.
Motro considers, then discounts a criticism. “The most frequent objection I hear to this idea is that it will give men a say over abortion,” she writes. “A woman’s right to choose is sometimes eclipsed by an abusive partner who pressures her into terminating or continuing a pregnancy against her will, and preglimony could exacerbate this dynamic. But the existence of bullies shouldn’t dictate the rules that govern all of society. In the name of protecting the most vulnerable, it sets the bar too low for the mainstream, casting lovers as strangers and pregnancy as only a woman’s problem.”
But preglimony could deter a different kind of sex abuse, Motro says. Men who pressure partners into unwanted sex would be liable for the consequences. And men will also benefit, especially those who want to help but are turned away.
Unsurprisingly, this proposal has whipped up a huge debate in the NYT comment section – 264 comments and counting. A typical response:
I completely disagree that men have any legal responsibility to support a pregnancy financially, until such time as a child is actually born. I am a supporter of choice, and the pro-choice view has traditionally been that a fetus is not a “child” or a legal person until it’s actually born.
Children have legal rights in the US, such as the right to financial support from both parents. Under our current laws, fetuses are not legal persons with any rights to financial support.
Granting additional rights to fetuses would just be ammunition for abortion opponents to argue that a fetus is a legal person. What the author is proposing would set a very dangerous precedent, and might be used to chip away at abortion access. I don’t think this is a road that most pro-choice people (like myself) want to go down.
It’s true that women often bear more financial costs than men during pregnancy. I’d certainly argue that it’s morally right for men to offer support to their pregnant partners; however, they should not be *legally required* to support a fetus financially. I would add that pregnant women are not legally required to support the pregnancy, either- they can obtain an abortion (at least up to a certain point), or pursue adoption.
I cannot help but point out a dichotomy between the rights and privileges of women versus those of men. When a man and a women engage in sex, they are both equally choosing to do so, and at that point they still have control over whether the woman has a chance of becoming pregnant. However, once conception occurs, our current law places all of the power into female hands as to what happens to the fetus. If a woman wants an abortion, fine, and if she chooses to give life to someone, that’s also fine. However, requiring men to pay assistance without having the same choice as women-namely, to end the pregnancy and avoid further struggles and financial strain-is unfair to men. If a women does not feel ready to raise a child, then all she need to do is have an abortion. But if a man does not feel ready to raise a child (albeit indirectly through child support or “preglimony”), he has no similar choice.
Once a man impregnates a woman, the man loses the ability to choose whether he will be financially responsible, although the woman keeps this ability for months to come. I don’t care what you call it, but from a male perspective, this seems decidedly skewed. I propose that if you obligate men to provide support before and after childbirth, at least give them the same choice that women have-ending the pregnancy if they do not want to go through with it.
To some extent, mothers-t0-be in Nova Scotia already have this right. She can commence an application under the Maintenance and Custody Act for “lying-in expenses” before the child is born (though, in practice, this usually arises after the birth, in combination with an application for child support). Expenses related to an abortion, however, are not included – and, given that the federal and provincial governments are terrified to even touch that issue, I doubt we’ll see it come up any time soon.