• Tue, Nov 5 - 9:00 am ET

I’m Beginning To Question What I Thought Was Absolute Truth: A Woman’s Choice To Become A Mother

shutterstock_116954440 (1)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.

(photo: zimmytws/Shutterstock)

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  • val97

    When I was 23, I got pregnant. My boyfriend and I were in a committed relationship. We discussed abortion, but in the end, he left the decision up to me and I kept the baby. I should have known then what that meant. He wasn’t fully on board. But I was young and stupid and in love. Had he verbalized his wish for me to have an abortion, like in the previous article, I don’t know that I would have changed my mind, but at least things would have been clear and less messy. I would have known that I would be on my own.

    I had my son. My ex hasn’t seen him since he was 2. He’s 14 now. I never went to court to get child support. I never referred to him as sperm donor or dead beat or any of those terms, and I’ve explained the history with my son as best as I could without making my ex sound like a bad guy. In my mind, we both made a decision. I wanted a baby and he didn’t. I don’t blame him one bit. We were both 23, but we acted like we were 16, and I wanted to grow up but he didn’t.

    I kind of feel bad for the men who are forced into parenthood (and the flip side – the ones whose partners have abortions whether they like it or not). Yes, they should exercise their right to choose BEFORE conception, but let’s be honest, that doesn’t always happen. Birth control fails. And after that, the men have no say in what happens. I don’t know what the answer is though.

  • shellytk2000

    Men can make their choice about whether or not to have a baby by wearing a condom or getting a vasectomy. If they choose not to do this, then they are making the informed choice to potentially let someone else make the decision for them.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    “But sometimes a woman’s choice should be a man’s choice too.”

    OH HELL NO.

    That just gives rapists and abusers one more tool to keep women under their control.

    If he genuinely wants the child, he should be able to adopt it, BUT only if the woman decides, on her own, to carry to term.

    He should not, now or ever, have any kind of “say” in what happens to (or in) a woman’s body. It is HER choice. ALWAYS.

  • h

    This is very thought provoking. I’ll admit that my first thought was, “he’ll no, it’s her body!!!” But then I thought again.

    The author is not talking about a rape. She is not talking about a consensual one night stand that results in pregnancy. Either of these situations are absolutely up to the woman.

    In the context of a committed relationship, if a woman becomes pregnant unplanned and the man does not want a child, we say too bad, it’s the woman’s choice.

    But if in a committed relationship a woman is deceitful and skips bc etc, then gets pregnant, we don’t say it was her choice, we say she was deceitful.

    Both situations are an illustration of “it’s her body.” But if a woman decides to have and keep the child despite her partners objections, she is praised (as she also is if she decides to abort against her partners wishes) either way it is all good on her for making the CHOICE.

    but if she gets pregnant and has a baby through lies, she is seen as terrible.

    I would not ever suggest that a woman be forced to abort, or to put her child up for adoption, simply because her partner did not want to be a father. If she wants to be a mother then she should have and keep the child. But should a father have to pay financially?

    It opens a slippery slope. What if a man wants to be a father but the woman does not want to be a mother? It is his child too, but her body. Even if the father absolved the mother of all responsibilities, she would still have to be willing to go through the pregnancy.

    It is interesting that if a woman becomes pregnant and does not want to be a mother, she (usually) has options in the form of abortion or adoption.. but if a man fathers a child, he is liable regardless of his wishes to be a father (except in cases of full adoption).

    It is also interesting that we view a man who does not want to be a father as a scumbag, but a woman who does not want to be a mother is exercising her choice.

  • Claire

    I’ve been reading through these posts and they are all very interesting. I love an intelligent discussion. Here are my two cents. My current situation is that I am at the end of the first trimester of my pregnancy. I’ve broken up with my now ex-boyfriend because after three years of dating and a child together (now 19 mo.) I realized he was manipulating me.

    He always begged for sex, every convo had something to do with sex. I finally got fed up with him trying to sabotage my birth control by insisting we don’t use it because he didn’t feel my sex drive was compatible with his as long as I used BC. I stopped using it. Next he started controlling condom usage. Every time we had sex I had to practically argue with him to use protection because I didn’t want more children and wanted to finish my prereqs for my PharmD.

    I finally agreed to not using condoms one time on vacation this summer, and here we are. We discussed what the consequences were for not using protection and he was fine with that because he was going to get sex without “boundaries”, but as soon as the pregnancy test was positive, he told me he would help raise our son, but I was on my own for this pregnancy. (Plan B was not available where we vacationed or I would’ve taken it. I had a box of condoms in my suitcase because I knew he’d ask about sex.) Needless to say I broke up with him. (He is a father of 6 going on 7 when this one is born. He supports them all financially. I am a mother of 1 going on 2 with this child.)

    We both chose to have sex unprotected knowing what the consequences were and did it anyway. This situation is as much of my fault as it is his. I blindly let him control my rights to contraception because I wanted keep our “family” together and stop the constant fighting about sex. Because of my poor judgement in a mate, I am a single parent who is going to be co-parenting. I now believe that what happens with a pregnancy is completely a woman’s choice and that you don’t always know how your partner will react until you are faced with the situation.