Dear Mr. Dad: My girlfriend and I talked many times about children and mutually decided not to have any. However, without telling me, she changed her mind and got pregnant. I have absolutely no interest in being a father or raising children, but she’s threatening to come after me for child support. Is there anything I can do to stop her?
A: The short answer to your question is no, there’s nothing you can do to stop her. Society’s reaction to any man who gets a woman pregnant—even if he was lied to about her intentions—is basically, “Tough #$!%, buddy, if you didn’t want kids, you should have used a condom or had a vasectomy.” The legal system’s reaction is pretty much the same: If you and your girlfriend break up (and I can’t imagine how you could possibly stay together after such a major breach of trust), and she chooses to keep the baby, you’re on the hook for 18 years of child support for a child you never wanted. Plus, as an added bonus, you’ll be forced to have an ongoing relationship with a woman you’d probably just as soon never hear from again.
Bottom line: She can do whatever she wants and you have no say in it at all.
Let’s be clear. I’m in no way suggesting that you should have the right to force your girlfriend to have an abortion—that would be barbaric. Nor am I suggesting that you should have the right to force her to have the child if the situation were reversed and you wanted the baby but she didn’t. I’m just pointing out that in all the politically charged debates between the Pro Choice and Pro Life camps, we’ve forgotten (or, worse, maybe never even realized) that men, too, are deeply affected by the reproductive choices women make. The phrase “a woman’s right to choose” usually means her right to have an abortion. But having the right not to become a parent includes the right to become one if she chooses.
Neither of these seemingly fundamental rights, however, apparently applies to men. The same laws that protect your girlfriend’s parental choices also allow her to either force you to become a father against your will or deprive you of your right to become one if you so choose.
So what can you do? One possible answer comes from Sweden. A group called the Liberal Youth of Sweden recently proposed legislation that would give men the right to what you might call a “legal abortion.” Under the proposed law, a man would have until the 18th week of the pregnancy to give up any right to visit his child—and he would be legally exempt from paying any child support. In situations like yours, this approach seems quite fair to me. But it’s meeting with a lot of resistance in that otherwise-very-progressive country.
Because pregnancy, childbirth, and abortion physically affect women more than men, ultimately, women should have 51% of the votes. But you should have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process, to express how having—or not having—a child will affect you, and to try to convince your girlfriend that you’re right while also giving her a chance to convince you that she’s right.
I doubt that either of you will change the other’s mind. But perhaps you can convince her to try the Swedish approach. If she’s open to the idea, you’ll need to see a good lawyer to determine whether such an agreement would be legally binding in your state.