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« My Father: A Veteran's Story - The Battle of Graignes, Normandy, France, June 6-13, 1944 | Main | Psychology's Quest for Scientific Respectability (Norman Costa) »

June 08, 2012


I may have more to say on the actual content of the post later. For now, I will just note that this is the 2000th post to appear on Accidental Blogger since its inception in November, 2005. (Sorry Prasad, we don't have a door prize to mark it :-)

@ Prasad,

Why don't you pick an easier topic, just for a change? There is only so much cognitive and emotional complexity I can deal with in any calendar season. I have to think about this one a bit more. However, can see at least two ideas I want to discuss.

1. “Well, I am asking people to put aside their feelings and think in a more rational way.” This quote is from the Slate article. I do not like the absolute lines of demarcation between rationality and feelings, and the implicit view (sometimes a very explicit view) that rationality always trumps feelings, especially for difficult problems.

2. The 'rights' of the father could be played out in such a way as to rule out any discretion by a woman. More fodder for the war on women, children, and families is what I am afraid of.

Also, Congrats on breaking the 2,000 mark for AB.

A worthy 2000th post -- very difficult! Let me try...

A woman who wants an abortion, for any reason, does not need more incentive to abort than she already possesses. So, this would be a non-necessity, ethically.

A man who intends not to support the child he would biologically father if the pregnancy were brought to term does not need more incentive, or legitimization, to blow off the responsibility. If he is legally pursued for child support, it is because he effectively HAS blown it off. Should he 1.) say he's gonna blow it off, then 2.) blow it off, and then 3.) get sued for it? Three steps where two steps would do, it seems to me.

Also, men have ways to give women a disincentive to bring a pregnancy to term: physical violence to bring about miscarriage; threats of physical violence or death; threats of abandonment or divorce; actual abandonment or divorce; reprisals against existing older children of the union -- the list goes on. Perhaps we should focus on taking those off the table??? If a man were legally encouraged to announce in trimester one that he planned to financially abandon his pregnant partner and their (potential) child, he would -- in many instances -- merely be stating for the record what he already says every day to the woman. We should give him a megaphone???

Men, I believe, need every incentive to be careful whom they sleep with or seduce. And careful how they do it. If they overlook these precautions, bad things like money loss to child support might happen to them, if the woman cannot or will not abort. And women? Women should be extremely careful whom they sleep with, and when, and how. When they forget this, accidental pregnancy is one of the tragic results. This can lead to single parenthood, or to a hasty marriage followed by single parenthood, or to abortion. The best disincentive for men is risk that they understand and pay attention to -- not increased legal entitlement to abandon women they have made pregnant. You have a more just society when risks and benefits are spread, I believe.

2000! I hadn't realized we were that close to a milestone or I'd have waited. Ruchira, surely it is time for a retrospective!


I agree people assume that being emotional or taking them into account is somehow "irrational" or automatically suspect. It is very annoying. The relationship between rationality, emotion, desire and such is complex, and we don't always know how we should relate to our emotions in any given situation, but surely the answer cannot be to become Spock and acquire his "logical" mode, whatever that means.


I guess I am less interested than you are in making people more careful before sex, or in making them pay the price needlessly if they aren't. At least I think that approach has long since hit diminishing returns. Mistakes happen, there is the heat of the moment, and some mistakes lead to pregnancy. My native impulse in this situation is to be more "forgiving" than tough, and so would desire to *minimize* consequences for everyone at that point. I would very much prefer not to do more "muscular" things of the holding people accountable/conducting shotgun weddings/shaming sluts variety. Of course, there are good reasons people have resorted to such approaches, relating ultimately probably to the social interest in child welfare. Still, while that interest makes such approaches understandable, it still should leave them as sad necessities - there is no intrinsic value to being unbending and moralistic about unplanned pregnancies.

Given that we have a lever (abortion) that hasn't been available safely for most of history, that gives us an alternate solution that bypasses saddling people with "consequences" by nullifying them in advance. Sometimes such arguments have a painfully circular character - it is bad to sex indiscriminately because that leads to children, followed by contraception/abortion etc are bad because they encourage people to sex indiscriminately.

I realize I am recasting your words to make them seem rather more "moralistic" (in the pejorative sense) than you intend them to be! I am in a sense trying to see what our policies would look like if we didn't see a) early abortions and b) non-marital / purely pleasure-based sexual activity as morally suspect. The left doesn't claim to believe such things any more, but I don't think those views have been quite shaken off, or we'd see in such situations abortions conducted in time as blessings, not as "tragic" or "unfortunate".

With that in place, I think it's clear that I am more interested in steering men and women to minimize the number of unwanted children (subject to constraints on treating them well once born), instead of just treating their being born or not as a given, and then steering how men and women behave given unwanted babies.

Prasad, you are as you admit spinning my argument, albeit fascinatingly. I am not at all personally interested in whether people are more careful before sex than they are, or more punished than they are for not being more careful. I am not even personally interested, on behalf of the unborn, that they should either be desired or aborted. I am personally interested in women keeping absolute autonomy over whether to bring a pregnancy to term. By absolute autonomy, I mean: no one else's input legally matters. I recognize that, extra-legally, the input of many other people matters, for good or ill.

High on my list also is spreading the risk of difficult binds -- whether the kind of bind that old men who have worked hard for low wages and can no longer afford the cost of living get in, or the kind young women who become accidentally pregnant, in the absence of some combination of the the will and the financial support necessary to bring the pregnancy to term, get in. So I believe in public assistance to the indigent elderly, and free abortion on demand. It matters not at all to me whether the hypothetical elder should and could have been thriftier, or whether the young woman was careless in her sexual behavior. Legally mandated child support payments from men who did not want to become fathers, but in fact became fathers, are a good thing, because they spread the risk of one outcome of unwanted pregnancy -- parenthood like it or not, that is -- among the parties who created the pregnancy. I do not see how making legally consequential and binding a man's intention not to support his (potential) child helps to spread the risk of unwanted pregnancy among all parties responsible. By "all parties" I mean also Society aka the taxpayer. Indeed, a man legally opting out financially minimizes only his own risk. Why is this a social good?

Prasad, decisions regarding child birth, child care, child custody and women's pregnancies were left to the fathers for most of history. The current situation where at last the mother has the last word on whether or not to take a pregnancy to term is the right one, regardless of who pays for the child. As for child support laws making fathers responsible for part of the expense of child rearing, even if the child was born after a one night stand is legitimate. Once a child is born, it is no longer a "mistake," it's a human life that is in balance. I understand what you are saying about decisions to abort an unwanted pregnancy early may benefit everyone financially and emotionally. But that is if both parties agree. However, if a woman does not want to go through with an abortion for whatever reason, the father's unwillingness to pay is irrelevant. There is nothing wrong with sex for pleasure alone but there are ways to ensure that. Most unwanted pregnancies where the mother has little recourse other than to give birth happen overwhelmingly to poorer women, some of them very young. (Educated upper class women rarely are in such quandaries) To let the father off the hook from the possible consequences of "sex for pleasure only" will be disastrous for both mother and child. The legal provision to make the father pay is no longer a moral or shaming social custom like shot gun weddings of the past. It is a purely economically sound measure and an ethical one.

If you need more reasons not to let men have much say in women's reproductive choices, just watch the Republicans in action.

I am on the other hand, much more sympathetic to men's rights and desires in custody and visitation rights in cases when parents divorce and where the father is non-abusive and pays child support. Some women can and do manipulate that emotional situation to punish their exes.

@ Prasad,

From your essay: "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."

I understand your rationale in raising this idea. Personally, I think this is very dangerous for women. But, first I need to digress (seemingly) and then return to your proposal.

Not too many years ago some jurisdictions would burden divorced men with unreasonable alimony and child support obligations. His income was divided in the following way: one-third for him, one-third for his wife (alimony,) and one-third for the children (child support.) The result was, for many, fathers in alimony jail, and mothers and children in financial straights.

Subsequent reforms made things a bit more fair and and easier for everyone. Various elements of the Women's Movement achieved advances in equality for women in many areas of life, society, and work. In recognition of equality in parenting and parental rights, a new invention was created in the area of child custody and support. Fathers and mothers would no longer have to battle things out over support payments. Custody, visitation, obligations of support and parenting were to be shared equally. The invention is JOINT CUSTODY. Can't argue with that. Is it any surprise that men opted for joint custody in a divorce? No! In the end, joint custody was a way for many fathers to get out of paying and parenting their fair share for the raising of their children. Contrary to intent, mothers, on average, got the short end of the stick.

Let's return from this digression to your proposal. My point is that what sounds like a reduction in the encumbrance of women may actually make things worse for women.

1. Allowing prospective fathers to disclaim their rights, presumes they have rights to disclaim. If the idea is to HELP prospective mothers to make a decision to abort, contingent upon a release by a prospective father, then the question is begged about the prerogatives of the man to begin with. The man can hinder (even indirectly) a decision to abort by claiming his rights and obligations for financial support of his child.

2. The practical matter is that so many women with unwanted pregnancies do not want to have anything to do with that no good creep who impregnated her and then took off. Women themselves will go through multiple pregnancies in unsuccessful attempts to obligate a potential partner only to abort with the plan doesn't pan out.

3. Varied anti-woman, anti-child, and anti-family State legislation want pregnant mothers to identify the fathers before making any decision on paying taxpayer money for support, caring, and the health of mother and child. There are many reasons why women do not want to identify a father. Incest, rape, and being impaired by alcohol and drugs are some of the reasons.

I'd like to restate Elatia's second paragraph this way. There should be no encumbrance on a woman's right to choose. Regarding society's financial obligations to its citizens, Women, Children, and Elderly first! If the father is known and identified, then the State has a right to recoup its outlay.

Elatia: "By absolute autonomy, I mean: no one else's input legally matters."

Ruchira: "The current situation where at last the mother has the last word on whether or not to take a pregnancy to term is the right one, regardless of who pays for the child."

I thought I explicitly said as much in the post. I'm not talking about any changes to *abortion* law. Actually, I'll put it this way - all this stuff about indirectly steering women toward abortion only makes sense in a framework where the legal situation is clear-cut. If I wanted to say, "forcible abortion unless both parents agree to raise the child" I'd have said so :) As things are, since babies are grown in wombs and not state-owned industrial incubators, that's not on the cards.

Elatia: "I do not see how making legally consequential and binding a man's intention not to support his (potential) child helps to spread the risk of unwanted pregnancy among all parties responsible. By "all parties" I mean also Society aka the taxpayer. Indeed, a man legally opting out financially minimizes only his own risk."

Ruchira: "However, if a woman does not want to go through with an abortion for whatever reason, the father's unwillingness to pay is irrelevant..To let the father off the hook from the possible consequences of "sex for pleasure only" will be disastrous for both mother and child."

Right, let me put it in a different way. It's basically bastardy-lite, with rather less of the stigma and none of the anti-sex moralizing. Bastardy-proper would clearly reduce unwanted births (through contraception, abortion, abstinence, infanticide, what have you) but I can't stomach actually returning to that. Essentially, I'm wondering if fathers being able to "disown" children early in pregnancy would would still steer more pregnant women toward abortion, despite state financial support being available for the child in such cases. It's an empirical question - if the main outcome of such a scheme is to affect abortion rates not at all, and simply shift childcare costs from the man to the state, that's a big loss with nothing accomplished. If instead there's significant increase in abortion, then something good will have been accomplished. If half-forgotten cultural norms about 'fatherless' children continue to have power, so that many more women have abortions in such situations, then it might work. I am unsure, as I said in the last para of the post.


I didn't understand your first point. Your third point is orthogonal to mine, I think. In cases of incest and rape, the woman already has plenty of incentive for her own sake to abort. I'm trying to think of ways to increase the suasion upon women to abort in cases where she's leaning against it.

Prasad: All this talk of 'rationality' regarding apportioning the responsibility for children born accidentally of unprotected sex sounds good on paper. But the man's responsibility in the whole thing is sealed when he chooses to indulge in sex for pleasure without guaranteed contraception (condom, vasectomy, whatever he is capable of.) This means he has to exercise caution and not believe her when she says she uses contraception etc. Less unborn, right there, no quandaries.
The legal modality of disclaiming the fruits of his action would not lead to less unborn children. It would merely make things lopsidedly more difficult (as if it always hasn't been this way) for the vast majority of women.
Maybe instead of legal documents to be signed before sex, men can concentrate on guaranteed methods of male contraception, so they wouldn't have to deal with the aftermath of sex for pleasure. I would suggest that females take their own precautions (don't believe the guy when he claims to have had a vasectomy.)In fact with all this believing and disbelieving, maybe they wouldn't even have sex :)
Regarding Bastardy-lite, there was already once a system that worked: I'm thinking of the matrilineal system followed by the Nairs of Kerala. One woman could have multiple partners, but the children born to her all bore the mother's family name and lineage was passed on through the mother, not the father. Maybe the current laws could be changed to reflect that kind of system. Then there would be no stigma. In fact, marriages for Nairs were/still are to some extent, quite literally contracts which can be broken by either woman or man, with children born of it cared for by the money paid in advance by the man when he 'marries' the woman.

"But the man's responsibility in the whole thing is sealed when he chooses to indulge in sex for pleasure without guaranteed contraception"

Substitute 'woman' for 'man' and I think you have the essence of one pretty important pro-life argument. At any rate, I'm thinking mostly about welfare, not rights (not mens rights or any other kind). I am all about mitigating the consequences of peoples' irresponsibility (which can be certainly be minimized, but not to zero) where possible, instead of just 'holding them to account'

"The legal modality of disclaiming the fruits of his action would not lead to less unborn children."
My hope was that it would lead to there being fewer *born* children, not fewer unborn ones. I don't care much about the latter! It IS possible as you say that such a scheme might lead to more *pregnancies* and so more babies - just as you incent (yes, it is too a word) women to abort, you incent men to unprotected sex. One more nasty wrinkle :)

Re Nairs - isn't a system where women can have multiple partners and lineage passes thru the mother likely to *increase* single-parentage, not decrease it?

Oops, meant to say 'fewer unwanted children', not ' fewer unborn children'. My bad.

If your starting point is an ideal world that would have less single parentage, what's your beef against single parents? Yes, I know there are studies that show it is better for a kid to have unhappily married parents than be raised by single parents (probably from the same think tanks that have studies showing that women who abort are unhappier than those that do).
But putting the onus of caring for a child on the mother, by allowing the father a legal disclaimer out isn't fair,no matter how you slice the issue. The mother always pays the heavier cost. The day when men can be implanted with artificial wombs to bear their own children will be the day that your suggestion of legal disclaimers would pass muster. Maybe that isn't such a far fetched scenario in the future, maybe some similar scenario could come up with a pair of gay fathers, for instance.
In the Nair system, there is some increase in single parentage,not saying that it leads to more solid marriages, just easily broken ones. But you did seem concerned about the stigma of 'bastardy', I was just pointing out that is already avoided in some societies.

Meant to say 'women who abort are unhappier than those that don't'

@ Prasad,

In general, I don't like the idea of finding ways to increase the suasion upon women to abort in cases where she's leaning against it. I wouldn't want to persuade a woman to have a baby nor to have an abortion. Personally, I believe that neither the discretionary actions of the father nor the State should figure in a woman's choice.

In China, the provisions of the one-family-one-child policy do not forbid couples from having more than one child. Rather, a hefty financial charge is levied upon the couple who have another child. [In practice there is a lot of non-financial pressure, harassment, threats, and bullying to have a woman abort.] Today, many couples are having more than one child, but the law has not changed. The only thing that has changed is that many couples can now afford to pay the State for the privilege. The prerogatives of the State should have no role in the control of a woman's reproductive rights.

In my view, a father is responsible for his children should a woman carry a pregnancy to term. The identification of the father is a prerequisite for your proposal. Let's say a woman will carry a pregnancy to term if the father will step up and support his child. Otherwise, she will abort. This puts the father in the position of making a decision, in part, to abort or give birth. So far, the courts have held that a man cannot interfere with a woman's decision on the sole basis of being the impregnating father or wedded husband. HOWEVER, THIS COULD CHANGE.

Under our Constitution, a person cannot sign away their rights without being duly compensated. Also, a person cannot abrogate their responsibilities by affidavit without being accountable for the consequences. The State has a responsibility to enforce the obligations of its citizens, support its citizens in need, and promote the welfare of our democracy, society, institutions, and economy.

Let's sum up.

A woman's right to choose is unassailable.

No person or institution should offer any incentive to influence the choice of the woman.

A woman should never be required by law to identify the impregnating father.

All fathers have a financial responsibility for their children, and this should be enforced by the State.

The State has an obligation to care for mothers and their children when required by circumstances or the neglect of fathers.

Also, Katie Roiphe's opinions on women's rights and responsibilities should be considered with a fistful of salt. Real life feminisim is not about the angst and anxieties of upper class white women although most debates in the media seem to unfurl around them.

Prasad, while all of this is magnificent food for thought, it has led you to an indefensible position, I believe.

Even starting with the premise that unwanted pregnancy ending in abortion is a greater good than unwanted pregnancy ending in unchosen parenthood of an unwanted child, for men to put legalized pressure on women they have impregnated to abort, when they already put ample extra-legal and even illegal pressure on them to do the same, is not a social good. Um, why not?

Indulge me for a minute. What would you think if young women who desired to become sexually active while lowering their risk of pregnancy to close to zero were legally aided in that aim by a contract specifying that the young men they wanted sex with undergo vasectomies prior to the first real "date?" A vasectomy is reversible after all -- cannot a young man who really wants no-strings sex for 10 or 15 years before marrying be made sterile, at a young woman's legally sanctioned urging, for that interval? Why not? Women in any case demand their partners get vasectomies all the time, precisely to avoid multiple abortions. Couldn't a girl get a little assist from the law here? Perhaps a clause in the contract could stipulate that if there is a pregnancy anyway -- it happens -- the girl might well bring that pregnancy to term and hand the baby off to the young man's mother to raise. Abortion is better, of course, but girls who do not choose it need not bring up the baby of such a union when the family of the boy whose vasectomy failed can be legally saddled with it. One tiny problem is that not all vasectomies are reversible, but that's offset by another tiny problem -- that some abortions end not only the pregnancy, but the reproductive future of the pregnant girl.

Do you see the parallels I do here, Prasad? Do we have an analogous route here to the greatly desired destination of "fewer unwanted babies"? Why isn't "fewer unwanted babies through fewer accidental pregnancies" at least as good as "fewer unwanted babies through more abortions"? The sexual activity level of young people is in neither scenario affected, and there is ample recognition in both premises that two young people create a pregnancy.

Is the problem that the law would have aided, in either scenario, a longer reach of one person into the life of another than is defensible, even to bring about a social good? I think it's far better that, with no legal assist, men who want desperately not to be fathers go on pleading with the women they have impregnated to abort, and that women who refuse to become pregnant, knowing the highest cost will be born by themselves if they do, enjoy no legal assist in demanding their partners undergo vasectomies when they are free to persuade their partners to have them.

Ruchira - agree re. Katie Roiphe, the more so since this entire cluster of issues (illegitimacy, abortion, single parenting, divorce etc) is substantially speaking not about "upper class white women."

Sujatha: Gotcha re Nairs. One of my starting points is that two parents are better than one, yes. I don't think the research showing this is right-wing pap or anything, and I think it's pretty solid. If I recall in fact two parents plus grandparents are even better than just the parents. Caregivers are like organs it seems, the more the better. These are averages and stats etc, so the usual caveats apply.

Incidentally, I find it quite plausible that "it is better for a kid to have unhappily married parents than be raised by single parents" (in many cases) though I haven't seen a study. It's exactly the sort of thing unhappily married people don't want to believe - that there might be an honest-to-goodness tradeoff between their welfare and that of their children. Much better to assume one's child will be happier if one is. Funnily enough, we're in a system with no-fault divorce kept legal independent of child welfare; that seems like a larger threat to children than even the worst-case (lots of deadbeat fathers, no increase in abortion) of the sort of proposal I'm sketching out.

"But putting the onus of caring for a child on the mother, by allowing the father a legal disclaimer out isn't fair"

Again, this goes more to Roiphe and men's rights (My thing is about numbers of abortions. I'd say there'd be fewer such burdened mothers and children if there were more abortions.) but I'm not sure that argument works. Unwanted children are burdens, and burdens are the sort of thing people don't like to face. But the mother already can abort if she doesn't want baby-burden. The father instead has no way of avoiding his burden. Seems strange (to my ears) for the person with the greater degree of choice to insist, on grounds of fairness, that the one with less choice share the burden she chooses to take on.

Norman - "I wouldn't want to persuade a woman to have a baby nor to have an abortion." To me it seems like a perfectly acceptable target of social policy - we're talking nudges, not bans - but fair enough; not much for me to argue about there.

"In my view, a father is responsible for his children should a woman carry a pregnancy to term."
"The State has a responsibility to enforce the obligations of its citizens"
Once those obligations are stipulated, okay sure. But it's not much of an argument, when we're debating whether a particular change to current obligations would be a good one, to just note that the state currently has the job of enforcing the current set of obligations!

"The identification of the father is a prerequisite for your proposal." - no this I don't understand. If there's no identified father, life goes on as usual. IF there's a father identified, he can do certain things, like disown early in pregnancy. If there's no identified father, I don't know what it could mean to have him take responsibility for the child or pay support anyway.

I also don't understand the stuff about not being allowed to "sign away their rights without being duly compensated." Parents are allowed to give away actual, living-breathing children up for adoption, no deep constitutional issues there. In fact I'm pretty sure it'd be accepting compensation that'd run afoul of the law. Seems hard to believe there'd be constitutional problems with something similar, except before birth.

@ Prasad,

We already know how to reduce unwanted pregnancies, unwanted children, unwanted single motherhood, and reduce the need for abortions.

1. General: Universal education for women, gender equality, affordable health care insurance, and a viable sustainable economy.

2. Specific: Comprehensive and age appropriate sex education, termination of public funding for abstinence-only sex education, universal access to free or very low cost contraceptives, free counseling for and access to abortion.

There is no mystery about how to do this. Your proposal only complicates the discussion of the problem for which there is, already, a set of known and effective solutions.


Your analogy puzzles me. Are you saying:
- the state should forbid women from saying they'll only have sex with men who've had vasectomies?
==> Why on earth should it? Let such women and their men do as they will.)
- the state should mandate vasectomies for unmarried straight guys having sex?
==> But surely the proper analogy to that is the state forcing women to have abortions.).
- the state should nudge men to have vasectomies?
==> But I agree completely that the state should nudge all people, male and female, to use all the various methods of contraception: pills, prophylactics, implants, vasectomies, hormonal methods, what have you.


Norman: I see no reason to pit policies preventing pregnancy and those terminating them against each other, but:

The US certainly has unusual pathologies in this area re abstinence and such, but I don't think magicking away the religious right's gonna solve the problem that much.

Prasad, HERE'S my analogy, as I think you know.

If we are to use legal coercion to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, for men to have a legal assist -- disclaimer of financial obligations early in pregnancy -- in nudging women to abort is comparable in detail with women having a legal assist -- binding contract with potential boyfriend to have a vasectomy as the prerequisite for a sexual relationship -- in preventing unwanted pregnancy. The one results in more abortions, the other results in fewer unwanted pregnancies, and they both result in fewer unwanted babies. Yet the same thing would be wrong with both strategies to reduce the number of unwanted babies -- they both constitute legalized bullying to secure sex with no consequences. I brought it up because I thought your thinking might benefit from a consideration of women having a legal assist highly similar to the one you would like to deal men. It's not a bad or a trivial thing, to compare sauce for the goose with sauce for the gander -- indeed it can be very clarifying. That my analogy does not compel you, because you would indeed support a government that nudged people to abort or undergo vasectomy, is hardly the same thing as my analogy failing to be clear.

I repeat, there is plenty of extra-legal manipulation, emotional blackmail, bullying and lying on both sides of the gender divide when it comes to securing sex without the penalty of pregnancy brought to term. That's a matter for personal ethics, not for social engineering. The sad fact that, via threats of abandonment, men can intimidate women into aborting should be legally hindered, not aided.

@ Prasad,

When a new employer asks me to sign an employment contract with provisions for non-disclosure as well as my agreement to NOT work for a competitor company for a period of 18 months after ending my employment, I go ahead and sign it. I have no right to the company's intellectual property and trade secrets. However, the non-employment clause is unenforceable. I cannot sign away my right to earn a living unless I am fairly compensated. My salary for doing my work is not compensation for the non-employment clause. All lawyers know this, but many employers make their new employees sign it as a means of intimidation. Not everyone knows the law.

The child adoption laws and case law are more complicated and need separate treatment. Dean may be able to help us on that, but I am not able to tread those waters.

Nudge, suasion, persuasion in a legally sanctioned way are all examples of pressure. A couple in China may decide to have another child after the first. But if they don't have the payment demanded by law, their lives will be made miserable until the pregnancy is aborted.

A man may deliver a very unkind and humiliating rebuke to a pregnant woman. "What do you want me to do? Get yourself an abortion. I'll tell you right now that I'm not giving you a dime. It's your problem, not mine. Don't bother me or contact me after this. You wanna keep the baby? That's your problem, not mine." As emphatic and clear this statement is about the intent of the guy, he has no standing in dismissing his obligations to a child brought to term. Now why or how would we allow such an intent to be given legal status when put in writing by this dog drool? Does the signed and notarized document turn the abusive, uncaring, verbal rebuke into a nudge?

The issue of identifying the father or prospective father is also one of those complicated areas with lots of land mines. It is also one of those areas that anti-choice forces exploit to the Nth degree to stop all abortions. If one guy can sign a paper to dismiss his obligations and any rights to be a father, then let's make sure all fathers and prospective fathers have the same opportunity. So the pregnant woman is forced to disclose the father's identity or risk losing financial support and health/social services for both her AND her baby.

Anti-choice forces in this country are well led, well financed, well stocked with political supporters who want votes, unrelenting, and don't care about the health, well being, and thriving of mother and child after a child is born. The group is anti-woman, anti-child, and anti-family. They have used the rights of the father to try to ban abortions before, and they will use it again. They could very well succeed with the present makeup of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Finally, if for you it's all about reducing births through abortions [and I understand your premise and where you are trying to go with it] why propose a means for guys to be nonchalant and dismissive while codifying their irresponsibility, and making a woman's decision more difficult even to the extent of denying her a real choice.

I can only speak for myself, but when my great intellect and superior education lead me to assumptions and conclusions about women that are not supported or they are opposed by other women, I have to rethink my position. For me, it wasn't always this way.

Also, Prasad -- demonstrating confusion at the argument/analogy/point made by another, recasting that point as nonsense, thereby shrugging off that point, are all good high school debating society tactics, but they are unworthy of you and I think you should retire them for that reason alone.

Thanks all for the stimulating comments! As wrap up, let me simply list the various people have raised here. They're in no clever order, just summarized points while scrolling down the discussion. Also tried to pin names to views, but probably succeeded less well at that than in listing objections (where too no doubt I mischaracterize in places.)

1. Men/women should be given more incentives to "be careful whom they sleep with" and how. (Elatia, Sujatha)

1.5 (amalgam of 1 and 2) these are matters for personal, human-scale ethics, not social engineering (Elatia)

2. Men already have too many ways of dissuading women from carrying to term: violence, threats of abandonment/divorce, etc. These should be combated before/instead of giving men legal ways of dissuading (Elatia)

3. Internalizing the costs of bad decision making for men. "spread the risk of one outcome of unwanted pregnancy -- parenthood like it or not, that is -- among the parties who created the pregnancy." (Elatia). Unfair to let men off the hook (Sujatha)
3.5 Gives loopholes to the worst sorts of men, people who disrespect/humiliate women. (Norman)

4. This scheme does constrain women's autonomy. (Elatia, Norman, Ruchira).
4.3 It is wrong to influence the woman to abort when she's leaning against. No person or institution should offer any incentive to influence the choice of the woman. (Norman; I am not sure Elatia and Norman have the same view here.)
4.6 Incentivizing women to abort is like incentivizing men to have vasectomies (Elatia)

5. The ethics of nudging itself. (Everyone). I separate this from the previous point since since one could make it with a completely different incentive scheme (e.g. paying women to abort or giving a tax deduction etc).

6. The child and woman are hurt even more in cases where pregnancy is brought to term regardless. (Ruchira, Sujatha)
6.5 Disproportionately hurts the poor, because unwanted pregnancies happen mostly to poor people. (Ruchira)

7. Introduces the notion that men have legal rights over a woman's pregnancy. (Norman).
7.5 Might later lead to men having other kinds of control over women's reproductive choices including those restricting abortion. Might end up helping the anti-choice movement (Ruchira, Norman)

8. Will force women to identify fathers including in cases of rape and incest (Norman)

9. Should focus instead on improving access to and use of contraception (Sujatha, Norman, Elatia). Also through more equitable society/health care/better economy etc (Norman)

10. The premise that single families are bad, or bad enough to need fixing through such a scheme is dubious (Sujatha, Elatia (?) ).

11. Constitutionally, one cannot sign away rights without being duly compensated. (Norman). Cannot be handled via contract law, as such contracts are unenforceable. (Norman)

I think I've responded in some form to most of these points - how satisfyingly people will differ - but I'll wrap up from my end here, or this will go on forever! I still don't understand Elatia's argument about vasectomies, and will reply briefly after this, also to clear up the air.

@ Prasad,

Toldya it wasn't going to be easy or simple. Then again, this is AB and few things are easy and simple.

Good summary. If you didn't get it all, you are pretty close to it. Good discussion.


I pointed out three things that might be analogized to my abortion scheme, because you didn't say exactly the thing that counts (to my mind) most: whether people would be forced to sign these contracts vs whether the state would enforce them if signed vs whether the state would use policy to encourage vasectomy contract. Just saying "legal assist" will not cut it; it matters what that assist is. I'm not trying to caricature, but I don't understand the argument.

My view is, forcing people to sign such a vasectomy-contract would be wrong. Enforcing voluntary contracts would be good. Giving people incentives to sign vasectomy-contracts would be good too, at least I don't have a generalized objection. Why not encourage people to have vasectomies? Why not incentivize vasectomy contracts? I have seen a fair bit of government scheming to achieve family planning, and with the exception of Sanjay Gandhi style forced sterilization I don't have a problem with it, even (though probably not in the American context) when it goes rather beyond a mere nudge.

And given contracts, why should anyone violate their terms without sanction? In fact I would assume under *current* law a woman can sue a man who misleads her about any contraceptive measures he's taken, so at least that one thing might be real already.

Prasad, ffter sifting through all this discussion, I'm coming around to the view that maybe you have hit upon the perfect means for a woman to decide whether a man is worthy of her attention or not. Maybe we should make this scheme mandatory. Imagine a scenario where all men must declare their intent of disclaiming any support for children born (accidentally) of a relationship when they first attempt to woo a woman.
M:"I love you and want to sleep with you."
W: "Me too."
M:"Before you sleep with me, I would like you to sign this agreement holding me not responsible for any child that may result from this relationship."
W: "Bye-bye. And good luck with finding someone else."

@ Prasad,

It's not a contract. She did not receive consideration for agreeing not to sue for support. She can't sign away her right to sue without being compensated. Sorry. Also, the child born of such a relationship may have rights regarding paternal obligations.

Norman, argh, you'll make me type more long comments yet, but for now I will be strong :)
In general I'm skeptical about what you say re signing away obligations. Prenups and powers of attorney and end of life decisions and pretty weighty matters of that sort can be handled somehow, and the bits of paper have non-zero power. Re child's rights, I think the the giving-up-for-adoption and no-fault divorce cases both show at least legally that these rights are far from absolute, and not even so strong that this would be noteworthy. Somehow law has muddled on..

Sujatha, good call, it's a clever way, better than more than a few. I know there are people who won't see pro-lifers or pro-choicers or Republicans or Democrats or what have you. Me, I think anyone who disapproves of socks with sandals is untakeable.


"My view is, forcing people to sign such a vasectomy-contract would be wrong." I agree, but not more wrong than forcing women to abide by the thinking of men who legally disavow paternal obligations before the birth of their child, or before the termination of the pregnancy that would have resulted in that birth.

When you say "an assist" is too ill-defined, I agree. Perhaps not specifically enough, but by implication, are the assists we refer to not 1.) boy, before a cut-off date, legally disavows intention to support children he fathers; and, 2.) girl enters into a legal contract with a potential lover obliging him to show proof of a vasectomy before intercourse? That's what I thought was on the table.


Really cool. But in all fairness, the girl should also have to say: "Dude, if push comes to shove, I'm keeping the baby -- just so you know." The kids would probably both run fast in the other direction, if these thoughts were uttered by them both. Interestingly, the very same thoughts could be harbored by both young people, with each accurately intuiting the thinking of the other, with the attraction remaining strong, and a sexual relationship ensuing. I guess it happens every minute. Just wondering -- is this an argument for or against more candor in dating?


I like it. Girl says: "Give me 25K USD every year for 18 years for allowing you to intimidate me into an abortion, or give me 25K USD every year for 18 years to defray the cost of raising your child. And just so you know -- the decision to abort is mine. You will in the first instance only be paying me for the right to _try_ to take the decision away from me."

Elatia, I think our standards for what we deem impermissible suasion (and call force) are different, which is where the lines may have crossed. When I say vasectomy contracts shouldn't be forced I mean only that the state shouldn't make them preconditions for sexual activity of its own accord. Nothing more. IOW, the contract should be available, encouraged if deemed useful, but not mandatory. I don't think more than that is implied by my abortion thing. And I'd be ever so goosey with the gander having that to deal with

@ Prasad,

There is a saying in contract law, "An Agreement to agree is not an Agreement." I agree to give you something. You agree that I will give you something.

A contract requires consideration (payment).

I agree to give you a release from your obligation for support. You agree to provide consideration for me in the form of lots of cash.


I agree not to work for a competitor for 18 months after my end of employment with you. You agree that I agree not to work.....when I signed my employment contract. [NOT A CONTRACT]


I agree not to work for a competitor for 18 months..... You agree to give me lots and lots of money when I sign my employment contract. [CONTRACT]

"Ruchira, surely it is time for a retrospective!"

Ideas, anyone?

It took a while for everyone to begin commenting. Then all hell broke loose. Well, not quite; we are friends here.

I also noted with some amusement that Prasad wisely chose to put this post under the category of Random Thoughts and Idle Chatter. One of my favorites, I should note.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads who decided to stick around physically, emotionally and financially for their kids, born by design or accident!

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