The following is more of a set of musings than an argument, which musings I come by via this Slate article about giving men a choice in supporting children they didn't want in the first place. My interest in that question itself as an ethical issue is not great, though I do think there's something a bit off about giving a man no voice in whether a pregnancy is brought to term, but holding him equally responsible after birth, in the sense that this is a moral cost, not a moral benefit. My interest is in the existence of children who aren't wanted by their parents, not abortion or child support per se. But here's the baroque, not thought-out scheme I'm brought in mind of, more to stimulate talk than anything else.
The collection of ideas/presuppositions I'm working with is:
- Single parent families are on balance bad for children, and impose fairly large costs upon society.
- Abortion reduces the number of such unwanted babies and benefits society, via the Freakonomics type mechanism.
- The woman's right to choose is morally valuable, and should not be legally restricted by other people's views.
- Early abortion (till the development of a nervous system, for example) is morally neutral, and we shouldn't particularly care how many or few there are.
- The chief existing constraints upon abortion come from people who want fewer abortions, not from those who want to encourage them.
What I'm thinking of, is the idea of giving men a legally recognized way of disclaiming all rights/responsibility toward their would-be baby in the early stages (say first couple of months?) of pregnancy. The legal right to abort or not would continue to reside solely with the woman, but if a man indicated through this mechanism his unwillingness to support the child, the woman (together with some state monetary support, see below) would bear sole legal responsibility for the child, with no expectation of any legal or financial support from the father from then on.
What would follow? The chief outcome of such a scheme, it seems to me, would be to reduce dramatically the number of births where both parents are not invested in the child being born. Currently a pregnant woman who doesn't on balance want a child can abort, so that children born are likely to be wanted at least by one parent (the mother). Under such a scheme the legally valid statement of a father to disown the child gives the mother extra incentive to abort in such situations, reducing the number of children born who aren't wanted by both parents.
Now I don't really want to actually deprive any father-unwanted child of financial support (though conceivably if the drop in the count of such children is sufficiently large that might be a cost worth incurring?). I want to say thus that the state should pay the tab in such situations. This leads to many further issues. The potentially tractable question is where-does-the-money-come-from. I really do think reducing the number of unwanted single-parent kids has such large social and economic benefits that it could be made to pay for itself and then some. A more tricky problem is that this gives men an incentive to disclaim interest in a child, as a way of attracting state support. To me the cleanest handle on this issue is that with the divorce rate at near 50%, there are difficulties with disclaiming interest in a child unless you mean it, e.g. for custody situations. The hardest objection might be: since the scheme is based on dissuading mothers from having children fathers don't want, providing state support merely exchanges a dissuasion with its removal. I have a vague sense that the "net pre-natal dissuasion" would continue to be strongly positive, that people don't emotionally regard the state as a complete substitute for their romantic partners. In other words, the strongest impact of the scheme is to have it be legally "out there" early in pregnancy that one person wants nothing do do with the child being born, and won't take interest in it thereafter.
I'd assume people of "tender hearted" dispositions want to have nothing to do with such schemes, but I've never been one of 'em. More concretely, what are the good/bad reasons in both directions here?