Los Angeles Times
Imagine if laws like abortion bans could target men
Imagine if men were held responsible for pregnancies they cause. Wouldn’t that be just simple equality? Consider: The state should require listing the genetic father on every birth certificate — not at the discretion of the mother — so each parent, biological or relational, can be held equally responsible for the child.
All that’s needed is for the government to collect DNA from all sperm-producing individuals, create a national registry against which to match all babies when they’re born, and then garnish wages from anyone who procreates but isn’t actively involved in rearing their child, unless that child has been placed for adoption.
Consider this a “modest proposal” for our times. If states can force girls, women, transgender men and nonbinary people to give birth — regardless of age or consent, and despite the perils of lost freedom, health and dignity that bring irreversible legal, political, social and financial consequences — then surely the government can take a cheek swab from all males.
Genetic testing would serve many public interests. If the sudden disappearance of abortion access leads to more births, states may wish to identify new sources for financial support, other than single mothers and taxpayers. Men who father multiple children and try to evade responsibility could be required to pay into an insurance fund that would help cover the costs of unwanted pregnancies.
If you’re finding it hard to imagine any politician or most citizens going along with all of this, that’s exactly my point.
Why does it seem improbable that the state would interfere with bodily autonomy, sexual freedom and financial independence? Because this effort would mostly affect cisgender heterosexual men. Somehow, their rights do matter.
Nearly half the U.S. now has draconian restrictions on women’s bodily autonomy. Yet governments continue to recognize that men have a right to privacy. Pregnant people should have that right too.
The DNA database proposal is a thought experiment, virtually guaranteed never to happen given men’s political dominance. But it’s useful to show society’s assumptions and injustice. The fact is, men who sire children and try to avoid responsibility have long been able to get away with it — while the costs and risks are put on the mothers.
However you feel about abortion rights, surely everyone can agree that having men take responsibility for their offspring is the fair thing in our current environment. If we’re going to force women to have babies, we cannot allow men exemption from parental responsibility.
If a pregnancy were as life-altering for men as it is for women, men would immediately have to take charge of their reproductive lives, just as women have since the dawn of time. No more carefree sexual encounters for heterosexual men. Let’s welcome men to the Supreme Court’s brave new world, one without reproductive choice.
Perhaps this government interference in their private lives would inspire empathy in some men and change how they think about not only abortion but also social supports like parental leave and other family programs. Alternatively, new laws affecting men might lead to an uprising against those new laws. Either scenario underscores my point: Men would be forced to deal with constraints on their freedom as they never have before.
I’ve imagined this thought experiment in a deliberately radical fashion. What would it look like for men to bear even a fraction of the responsibility and to suffer a fraction of the invasion of privacy that pregnant people face? Equality could come through this imposition on men’s sexuality — or we could restore the rights of pregnant people that have been chipped away for years and struck down this summer.
Our politics and law should reflect what people want: A solid majority of U.S. citizens already support the right to privacy in reproductive matters and believe abortion should be legal. We need a return to respect for full bodily autonomy for all sexes.
It’s precisely because we can’t imagine men being affected by such laws that some Americans think abortion bans are a reasonable policy option.