With Roe v. Wade on the ropes, abortion may become a criminal act again in some states. How abortion would or should be prosecuted is an open question, however, one that will have tremendous ramifications on public opinion should the culture wars enter a new, post-Roe era.
Recently passed laws dramatically limiting abortion in Texas, Oklahoma, and Idaho provide the proper model: the woman who procures the abortion cannot be prosecuted (New York Times and Fairfax, VA, district attorney propaganda to the contrary should be ignored), but doctors, nurses, clinicians, and pharmacists who facilitate the act can be.
But let’s consider, by way of thought experiment, what would happen if we added one other person to the prosecutor’s list: unmarried fathers of aborted children.
An astounding 86% of abortions are procured by unmarried women. When, on the heels of the Sexual Revolution, public support for abortion rose in the late 1960s and early 1970s, men, more so than women, supported abortion’s legalization. Today men still outpace women 74% to 68% in calling for legal abortion in at least some circumstances.
It’s no mystery as to why. Abortion on demand allows men to indulge their sexual appetite without responsibility to woman or child. With abortion as their fail-safe, they can then continue their lives and career paths unencumbered by familial and financial obligations and without the scars abortion leaves on women. It’s no wonder, then, that unmarried men pressure their partners into having an abortion: “partner-related concerns” motivate women to seek abortion one-third of the time.
Equity may be the cultural rage, but there is no equity when it comes to pregnancy (“pregnant persons” notwithstanding, of course). But what if we made a creative attempt at equity when it comes to responsibility for pregnancy? What might happen in states where abortion is illegal to any degree if we held unmarried men legally accountable for the children they sired and then allowed to be crushed in the womb?
As a negative effect, we might see a spike in shotgun weddings to flee prosecution, followed by a postpartum return to the courthouse for divorce papers. While this outcome is less than ideal and would generate some parental acrimony, the child, now given his right to life, would then have a father registered as legally responsible for alimony.
In addition, the removal of the abortion fail-safe would cause the cries for free contraception, begun under the Obama administration, to grow deafening – with men shouting more loudly than women this time. Perhaps a swath of twenty-something men, weighing instant gratification and fear of the law over future paternity, would go a step further and sterilize themselves. Or they might frantically insist that their girlfriends do so – another act of oppression. The market for back-alley abortions would burn hotter than abortion lobbyists could have ever imagined with men’s futures now on the line as much as women’s.
All of these reactions attempt to preserve the lifestyle of sexual license that Roe guaranteed. Fear of prosecution for an illegal abortion might make men more conscientious in their licentiousness, but, in these scenarios, they remain licentious nonetheless.
The law cannot impose morality, but it does teach it in a very basic sense: what we outlaw is wrong, what we legally sanction is right. So, for the positive effects, laws outlawing abortion have the potential to foster a culture of life. Whereas Roe taught that human life is secondary to an adult’s personal will, a law prosecuting unmarried men for abortion would teach a new set of lessons that could renew American life in several ways.
The 86% of unmarried women seeking abortions include 31% who are cohabitating. The potential law may well be the prompt to move these couples to marriage, an institution that, though terribly battered these last decades, still carries notions of fidelity and permanence. Every sociological survey shows that children are more likely to thrive when their parents are married.
The potential for abusing marriage with shotgun weddings followed by quick divorces could prompt a revisit to, and then a rewriting of, no-fault divorce laws. Like abortion, easy divorce was supposed to liberate women from men’s domination. Yet we have known for decades, and still know, that no-fault divorce is another means to oppress women.
The combination of revisiting marriage and divorce practices along with holding men legally accountable for the children they generate may lead to an even greater surprise: the support of radical feminists for legal limits on abortion. Perhaps they will fancy the law holding men as accountable to children as women and punishing them accordingly.
Here we see the value of our thought experiment. Pregnancy is not solely a women’s issue. Men initiate pregnancy and therefore should be accountable for it, as they are – legally, culturally, socially – when a child is born into the world. If, then, unmarried men break the law by coercing their partners into an illegal abortion, and this coercion can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt through, say, verbal recordings or financial transactions, then they, along with the doctors and other facilitators, should be liable to prosecution, while the mother is not.
“Reproductive freedom” is abortion supporters’ greatest lie. With abortion on demand, only men are “free,” and it is a false freedom that comes at the expense of the woman and the death of the child. With abortion illegal and unmarried men liable, a desperately needed cultural shift could follow: men would have to take responsibility for their actions, their partners, and their children. Doing this would bring real liberation for women.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!