The decision to have a baby or not is never an easy one, no matter your circumstances. Anonymous Mom gave us a heart-wrenching story yesterday about getting pregnant with a second child by her boyfriend and struggling to convince him and his family that she didn’t want to have an abortion. Most readers were supportive of her position, many reacting as you would expect from a Mommyish reader: it’s your choice. But I couldn’t help think, in the context of the story, isn’t it his choice too?
When I think of pro-life or a woman’s choice, I’m typically thinking of a woman in a position to make the choice on her own — a bad, unstable or new relationship where the woman is essentially on her own. Or if the man is in the picture, perhaps they are on the same page — a health issue for the woman, they aren’t financially able to support the child, etc. I didn’t think much of a committed couple like the one Anonymous Mom described who are just completely on opposite ends of the spectrum. As I read, I started to wonder why she had more of a say in the future life of this fetus than he did. Yes, it’s her body. That’s true. But should a woman bring a child into a house, into a relationship, into a family if her partner is vehemently opposed to it?
I know, I have had my own experiences with this. Abortion wasn’t on the table because my husband and I were talking about having more children proactively last year. I was ready for another (and another), while he was happy with the two we already had. We were at a complete impasse. Obviously I couldn’t have made the argument that it’s my body and so if I want to get pregnant it should be my choice because pre-conception it’s simply not true — his participation/consent was 100% necessary. Except that was exactly what I wanted — to just get pregnant. I wrote about the dilemma of making a decision that deeply affects two people:
After a decade together, we are no stranger to compromise. But it’s simply not possible in the debate of whether or not to have more children. No amount of understanding, empathy or cooperation will allow us to meet halfway. Nor is there a “choose for yourself” option here, as there can be when deciding whether to go to temple or church or vote Democrat or Republican. This is a yes-or-no question that requires consensus.
Thinking about my own situation in the context of Anonymous Mom made me wonder when during the act of sex exactly it changes from a family decision, to a woman’s decision. The easy line to draw is to say “it’s my body,” and I wouldn’t disagree. But in real life, decisions are often far more nuanced than just the body the fetus inhabits.
Even more complicated is when a woman’s choice leads to eighteen years (plus) of a man’s responsibility. A recent Salon article enticingly entitled “Make Fatherhood A Man’s Choice!“, dissects the choices (and lack thereof) that men have in deciding whether or not to produce offspring.
In her article “Is Forced Fatherhood Fair?” for the June 12, 2013 edition of the New York Times, Laurie Shrage echoes Kerrie Thornhill’s sentiment when she opines, “In consenting to sex, neither a man nor a woman gives consent to become a parent.” She argues that if one believes that women shouldn’t be penalized for sexual activity by limiting options such as birth control, abortion, adoption, and safe haven laws (laws that provide a safe space for parents to give up babies), then men’s options shouldn’t be limited either. These writers all point out that motherhood should be a voluntary condition. Shrage and Thornhill agree that the construct that fatherhood after birth is mandatory needs to change.
Abortion, marital decisions, child custody — these are all very nuanced subjects and also present a myriad of different issues. I don’t intend to lump them all together for the sake of coming up with one answer, solution or conclusion, except this: as much as I would love to just say “it’s a woman’s choice,” the truth is reproduction is extraordinarily complicated. I am by no means saying a woman shouldn’t have a choice — and it most certainly should never be up to the government or any unrelated third party to decide her entry into motherhood (whether for the 1st or 5th time). But sometimes a woman’s choice should be a man’s choice too.