From wild conspiracy theories surrounding Planned Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger, and her subscription to eugenics, to conservative anti-choice organizations vilifying the wombs of African-American children from Atlanta to Oakland, the termination of a pregnancy is an intimate decision that continues to be examined, judged and defended from pulpits to pool halls across the United States of America.
Conservative laymen and politicians relentlessly engage in socio-economic warfare against Planned Parenthood, attempting to manipulate women of color into denying themselves access to the life-saving healthcare that the organization provides. In essence, critics paint scarlet A's across the uteri of women seeking abortions, then cast them unprotected into the court of public opinion as perpetrators of a vast genocidal plot to "murder" the future of black and brown children one abortion at a time.
Women are holding on to the right to choose when, where and with whom they want to have children with slippery fingers as the 1973 landmark Roe vs. Wade decision continues to be tested in states across the country. Feminists justifiably compare the repeal of Roe v Wade to holding women hostage in their own bodies, continuing the fight to ensure we have unquestionable authority over our motherhood options -- whether that entails childbirth, abortion or adoption.
The national conversation surrounding reproductive rights ebbs and flows, at turns gaining momentum, then sitting high on the party-pandering shelf to pull out during a rainy election cycle. Through it all, one very important person never quite seems to make the first string of the "Decision Making Team": The father.
The Madonna/Whore Complex which inundates our society typically places both accolades and accountability squarely on the shoulders of the mother because the womb is where the fetus develops. Tragically, the rights of fathers are often ignored while their responsibilities are etched in stone in courtrooms across America, exacerbating a judiciary imbalance that potentially undermines the father's position by relegating him to sperm donor status.
When a mother decides that abortion is her only option, with or without the father's consent, she is legally able to do so. This layered bias has been encouraged and accepted by society as a whole because the percentage of men who negate their responsibility to their children is much higher than those left heartbroken over a partner's abortion. Choosing instead to assert their reproductive freedom, and then just as swiftly disappear, absentee fathers contribute to some startling statistics. According to data compiled by Children: Our Ultimate Investment:
• 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes
• 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes
• 85% of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes
• 80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes
• 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes
• 75% of all adolescent patients in chemical abuse centers come from fatherless homes
• 70% of youths in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes.
• 85% of all youths in prison come from fatherless homes.
The lack of male guidance is glaringly obvious and has proven to be detrimental for many youth in this country. Men must be held equally accountable for pregnancy and the subsequent innocent lives that enter into the world.
There are no excuses.
There is, however, a controversial argument that has been swept under the rug. While pro-choice legislation makes the rights of the mother clear, at what point is a father able to say, 'I do not want this child'? Whether pro-life or pro-choice, we should all be able to agree that the quality of life is just as important as life itself, and when faced with the pivotal decision of whether or not to continue a pregnancy, both parents must be included in the dialogue. If not, ultimately, it is the child who suffers.
In a 2006 TIME article, many readers were introduced to the National Organization for Men and their push to establish a "Roe v Wade for Men." Center director, Mel Feit, long known for his often antagonistic opposition to feminism, stumbled across a provocative question that was cast aside as little more than a publicity stunt, but holds urgent relevance today:
"Up until now, reproductive choice has been seen as a woman's issue: you're either pro-life or pro-choice... If we expect men to be responsible, isn't it right to give them some choices too?"
"I'm not talking about fathers opting out of obligations that they've committed to. I mean early in pregnancy, if contraception failed, men should have a choice, and women have a right to know what that choice is as they decide how to proceed."
In all fifty states, once a child is born, the rights of the child supersede the parents, so the status quo is not likely to change; however, with abuse, abandonment and neglect being recurring themes for many unplanned children, what exactly is forced parenthood granting them the rights to?
According to the 2011 Kids Count Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in August of this year, 36 percent of Black children are living in poverty. The 16.1 percent unemployment rate in Black communities is nearly double the national average of 9.1 percent, healthcare is sub-par and infant mortality rates are higher than some third world countries. As costs rise and opportunities disappear, shouldn't men have the same rights as women to control their entrance into parenthood? Does that make them any less responsible than mothers who drop off their infants at hospital backdoors, no questions asked, because they realized they were not ready for motherhood? Financial abortion, in the strictest sense, can be simplified to the most elementary of terms: No taxation without representation. If a woman's body cannot be legislated; neither, then, should a man's right to choose when he becomes a father.
The right to feel the weight of decisions without being sheltered by gender is one that has not been fully realized, and some women in the pro-life/pro-choice debate seem to negligently cast aside the opinions of potential fathers as intrusive, irrelevant and patriarchal. In the vast majority of instances, especially as it pertains to political roulette with women's rights being the inevitable casualty, those labels hold true. Adversely, what would one call the presumptuousness of women who assume that men should snap to attention after they've made the decision to bring -- or not to bring -- a life into this world without allowing them to play a pivotal role in the decision? Responsibility and equality should not be mutually exclusive.
In this emerging feminist zeitgeist, fathers are often minimized by necessity in their voluntary absence, so it's understandable that women should solely control when they give birth, and that right cannot, and should not, be taken away. As a mother, sister and friend who bears witness to the fear, anger and frustration that women whom I love dearly face month to month when child-support payments are late or non-existent, this exploration into the nuances of equality was extremely difficult to tackle. However, I had to ask myself, and challenge other women in the pro-choice movement to ask themselves -- this brutally honest question:
Do we believe in absolute freedom of choice -- or merely our choice?