By Glenn Sacks
On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court eliminated a checkerboard of state laws on reproductive freedom and guaranteed American women choice throughout the country. Thirty years later, American men are still waiting for the same right.
When a woman gets pregnant she has the right to decide whether or not to carry the baby to term, and whether to raise the child herself or to give it up for adoption. In over 40 states she can even terminate all parental responsibility by returning the baby to the hospital within a few days or weeks of birth. Yet if she decides she wants the child, she can demand 18 years of child support from the father, and he has no choice in the matter. When it comes to reproduction, in America today women have rights and men merely have responsibilities.
Certainly nobody should be able to dictate to a woman what she can and cannot do with her own body, thus the feminist slogan "My Body, My Choice." Yet our current laws allow a woman to dictate to a man what to do with his body. The average American father works a 51-hour work week, one of the longest in the industrialized world. It is men, overwhelmingly, who do our society's hazardous and most strenuous jobs, and nearly 50 American workers--mostly men--are injured every minute of the 40-hour work week. Can anybody deny that the sacrifices required to pay 18 years of child support take a heavy toll on a man's body, too? Where's his choice?
Feminists are legitimately concerned that, if abortion were banned, the government would be exercising control over a very intimate and important part of a woman's life. But when a woman forces a man to be responsible for a child only she wants, and when the state child-support apparatus takes a third or more of his income and jails him if he comes up short, isn't the government exercising control over his life?
The "Choice for Men" movement seeks to give fathers the right to relinquish their parental rights and responsibilities within a month of learning of a pregnancy, just as mothers do when they choose to give their children up for adoption. These men would be obligated to provide legitimate financial compensation to cover pregnancy-related medical expenses and the mother's loss of income during pregnancy. The right would only apply to pregnancies which occurred outside of marriage, and women would still be free to exercise all of the reproductive choices they now have.
Advocates of Choice for Men note that over 1.5 million American women legally walk away from motherhood every year by either adoption, abortion, or abandonment, and demand that men, like women, be given reproductive options. They point out that, unlike women, men have no reliable contraception available to them, since the failure rate of condoms is substantial, and vasectomies are impractical for young men who plan on becoming fathers later in life.
Since there are long backlogs of stable, two-parent families looking for babies to adopt, there is no reason why any child born out of wedlock to unwilling parents would be without a good home. In addition, if women knew that they could not compel men to pay to support children they do not want, the number of unwed births (and the social problems associated with them) would be reduced.
Some of those who fought for women's reproductive choices support choice for men. Karen DeCrow, former president of the National Organization for Women, writes:
"If a woman makes a unilateral decision to bring a pregnancy to term, and the biological father does not, and cannot, share in this decision, he should not be liable for 21 years of support ... autonomous women making independent decisions about their lives should not expect men to finance their choice."
To date, courts have refused to respect men's reproductive rights even in the most extreme cases, including: when child support is demanded from men who were as young as 12 when they were statutorily raped by older women; when women have taken the semen from a used condom and inserted it in themselves, including from condoms used only in oral sex; and when a woman has concealed her pregnancy from her former partner (denying him the right to be a father) and then sued for back and current child support eight or ten years later.
The National Abortion Rights Action League (renamed "NARAL Pro-Choice America" on January 1 of this year), has been in the forefront of the struggle for choice for women for over three decades. They explain that "the essence of America is the right to determine the course of one's life, to make one's own choices and shape one's own destiny. A woman's freedom to choose is integral to that concept of liberty." Fine words, but is there one of them which does not apply equally to men? Shouldn't men have a choice, too?
Shouldn't men have a choice, too?
"Virginia Declares War on Deadbroke Dads" (& Moms)
By Jeffery M. Leving and Glenn Sacks
A laborer. A cashier. A carnival hired hand. A construction worker. All with children. Are they the featured men and women in a newspaper article about hard times in the state of Virginia? The hopefuls for a local job training program? The applicants for emergency relief? No—they are the “deadbeat parents”
who top the list of Virginia’s “Most Wanted” for falling behind on child support. These three men and one woman together somehow owe well over a quarter of a million dollars in back child support.
Virginia’s Division of Child Support Enforcement is stepping up its campaign against low income non-custodial parents
like these by publishing newspaper ads with their photos and mug-shot-like listings of their height, weight, home city, and amount owed. Officials have justified these humiliating tactics by their contention that Virginia’s unpaid child support currently totals $2.1 billion. This claim is extremely misleading.
Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement data shows that two-thirds of those who owe child support nationwide earned less than $10,000 in the previous year.
According to the largest federally funded study of divorced fathers ever conducted, unemployment, not willful neglect, is the largest cause of failure to pay child support.
A US Government Accounting Office survey of custodial mothers who were not receiving the support they were owed found that two-thirds of those fathers who do not pay their child support fail to do so because they are indigent.The driving force behind child support arrearages is not bad parents, but instead rigid child support systems which are mulishly impervious to the economic realities noncustodial parents face, such as layoffs, wage cuts, and work-related injuries.
According to the Urban Institute, less than one in 20 non-custodial parents who suffer substantial income drops are able to get courts to reduce their child support payments. In such cases, the amounts owed mount quickly, as do interest and penalties.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the federal Bradley amendment bars judges from retroactively forgiving child support arrearages, even when they determine that the arrearage occurred through no fault of the obligor.
Bradley is so problematic that Congress will be conducting hearings on the amendment this fall.
In announcing the newspaper ads, Nick Young, Virginia's Director of Child Support Enforcement, claimed that 125,000 parents are behind on child support. Yet of the top "deadbeats" on Virginia's most wanted list, not one has a white-collar job and an education.
And Virginia’s most wanted list, however ludicrous, is no aberration.The top “wanted parents” lists put out by most states are almost exclusively comprised of poor and working class men who do low wage and often seasonal work, and who owe fantastic sums of money which they could never hope to pay off.
A person with a college degree—not to mention an accountant, lawyer, businessman or banker—is a rare find on these lists. The pot of child support gold which Virginia officials profess they’ll find if they get tough on deadbeats simply does not exist.
Despite this, Virginia officials brag that last week's newspaper ad was so powerful that two of the delinquents “paid support within a day.” What’s unmentioned is how much of their support they paid and are able to pay.
It is true that, when threatened with jail, some of those behind on child support do sometimes pay some of what their arrearages
. However, this is usually not because the low income dad they’ve arrested has decided to sell his Lexus and his vacation home, but instead because his senior citizen parents have dipped into their savings to keep him out of jail.
Defenders of the new lists point to the precedent of Virginia papers running similar ads with video photos of bank robbery suspects. It is illustrative of the hysteria over child support that this type of ad is reserved for two groups of people—violent criminals and low-income dads.
Another problem with these lists—and with child support in general—is the hideously unequal treatment dished out to mothers and fathers.
According to Young, 70% of the delinquent child support cases regard children whose parents never married
. In other words, both mom and dad were poor, they split up (or were never together for a meaningful period of time), the mother kept the children and applied for welfare. The state seeks to recoup its welfare costs by collecting child support from the purported fathers. Yet many of these fathers would have been happy to care for or raise their children if they had been allowed the chance. Low income mothers get welfare and sympathy. Low income fathers get unrealistic child support obligations, and when they fail to maintain payments, are persecuted and jailed.
While Young’s lists no doubt contain a few bad actors, the larger problem lies not with non-custodial parents, but instead with Virginia family courts and child support enforcement.
Instead of public humiliation and strong arm tactics, what’s needed is an overhaul of the child support system so that low income parents aren't turned into criminals because they’ve failed to pay obligations which are beyond their reach.
I feel so good and fair about this situation....women get Welfare and sympathy and men get public humiliation, arrearages they can never afford, & turned into criminals.....Isnt that great for this great nation??????