A Man’s Right to Choose?

Dad and Child

Does a man have a right to choose or is this only a woman's right?

A woman’s right to choose to carry or terminate a pregnancy is often in the news. But, what about a man’s right to choose whether to participate in the pregnancy and birth of his child?

Several years ago, a client sat before me in great distress because a woman he had been intimate with informed him that she was pregnant with his child. She had maintained prior to that declaration that she was infertile, and as an additional precaution, she said she was taking birth control pills. Needless to say, my client was shocked and dismayed by the pregnancy because he did not see the relationship as one he wanted to continue. Despite his wishes, this woman chose to continue the pregnancy and have the child.

My client, in this situation, was responsible for supporting a child he did not want to have and who was conceived without his consent, despite the fact that he behaved in what he believed to be a responsible manner. Because he did not want to be involved with the mother of this child, and this mother wanted to be involved with him and the child, the situation became quite complex. There was no happy resolution. But, despite an agreement by the adults to sever ties and for her to raise the child with a lump sum financial settlement, she kept asking for more support. Ultimately, the financial burden of supporting this child was detrimental to my client’s well being and his future family, and it undermined his sense of self-determination. The situation was also detrimental to the child with whom my client did not maintain contact, and with whom he chose not to have a relationship.

Another client recently presented an opposite scenario. He was involved in a relationship with a woman who got pregnant. He was excited about the prospect of fatherhood and looked forward to sharing the parenting and child care duties as well as being fully prepared and financially able to provide for the child. Without his consent, and without his knowledge, his lady terminated the pregnancy. He was devastated; he felt blindsided and deeply hurt. The relationship was never the same after that. And my client continued to remember the situation as emotionally traumatic.

What are a man’s rights regarding parenthood? While his body is not carrying the child, society imposes financial responsibility on a man for his paternity. Does he have a right to choose? And should he?

In considering these cases and also ones where miscarriages occur in ambiguous relationship situations, I have seen the man’s grief and sense of loss often glossed over while the woman is considered the hurt party. It seems to me, as an advocate of both women and men, that a single standard of choice might be most equitable in this situation.

Perhaps, a man should have the right to choose paternity as well as a woman whose rights of motherhood are protected. What if a man wants a child and the woman does not? Should he be able to have the woman carry the child conceived by them, if he would then take full custody and be 100% financially responsible? Should the woman who opts to get pregnant without the man’s consent, be responsible for custody and sole financial support of the child? Who gets to decide who carries the responsibility for a child and if the child should be carried to term? It seems to me that we need to re-think the choices we currently assume.

When I had a large child therapy clientele, I asked each parent if the child was a planned pregnancy. Interestingly, every child in the day program I worked at, was an unplanned pregnancy. Thus, I conclude that a happy child needs two parents who both want to bring a child into the world. If either participant does not want that responsibility, let’s consider some new paradigms for facilitating happy outcomes for future generations of children and for the mental health of both their parents.

Eleanor Haspel-Portner, Ph.D. is an Author, Clinical Psychologist and Professional & Board Certified Coach. Eleanor’s passion is to empower clients in ways that deepen self and interpersonal awareness while living a happy successful life. If you’re ready to wake up to yourself, visit Eleanor’s website or email her at info@beyondhumandesign.com