Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ohio Bill 252: No Abortion For Sluts?

Ohio Representative John Adams has introduced House Bill 252 in the state of Ohio. To summarize this bill, it requires all pregnant women seeking abortions to identify, in writing, the father of the fetus. It then prohibits abortions, whether the fetus is viable or not, that do not have the written, informed consent of the father of the fetus. A woman who violates this proposed law would be guilty of a first degree misdemeanor; a second offense would constitute a felony. (The bill does contain an exception for rape, incest, and the mother's health. However, the rape and incest provisions require a police report or court document which, of course, would be slightly problematic in cases in which women do not file reports).

I have argued before that placing legal prohibitions on abortion or making it more difficult for women, as a class, to access legal abortion is not a matter for men to decide. Not only are men incapable of experiencing pregnancy, but men have historically benefited in the public sphere when women have been denied access to birth control and abortion. Yet, when it comes to individual cases of abortion, I do think that the rights of fathers to make decisions pertaining to fetuses that they have contributed to are more significant than the negligible interest that male legislators and judges hold in "protecting" fetuses to whom they have not contributed genetic material.

Recognizing that interest, however, is not to say that a father's interest in prohibiting an abortion outweighs the mother's right to have one. Ultimately, the fetus subsists in and through the mother's body and, as such, it is for her, rather than the father, to decide whether to allow the fetus to continue living off of her body. I do want people to realize that I see that a father has an interest in the fetus that he helps to create with his genetic material. Yet, in light of the much greater biological investment of the mother, her interest in that fetus is greater. Thus, quite simply, I oppose this law. Men need to realize that they are not always the deciders, especially when it comes to matters of pregnancy.

At this point, with respect to the above paternal-consent law, perhaps you are wondering what would happen if a woman doesn't know who the father of her fetus is. The proposed law provides that if a woman suspects two or more men of being the biological father, then the abortion provider must perform a paternity test to determine who the father is so consent from him can be obtained. Until I looked into it, I wasn't aware that paternity tests could even be performed on a fetus, especially within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when nine out of ten abortions in the US are performed. According to this paternity testing informational website, prenatal paternity testing can occur via a procedure that is "moderately invasive to the child," potentially harmful to the fetus and mother, and "expensive." Furthermore, this testing for purposes of paternity testing is usually not covered by insurance.

I think the practical intent of this provision is to, basically, prevent sluts from having abortions. I don't throw the word "slut" around lightly, but it's evident that that particular moral judgment is being enshrined in this law given the burdensome requirement of pre-natal paternity testing. I think, in fact, the bill's sponsor John Adams says it best:

"There needs to be responsibility for actions," Adams said. "As someone who is pro-life, this is also an attempt and a hope to keep the two people who have created that child together, and I suppose if you just go back to the simple beginning, there is merit to chastity, and to young men and women waiting until marriage."

While Adams speaks of the merit of "young men and women" remaining chaste until marriage, his law mostly burdens women. Despite the expected blustering about the importance of marriage and abstinence, you will notice that his law does not require the parents to marry, does not require the identified father to assist with the costs of carrying the child to term, nor does it requires the identified father to actually be a father to the child once it is born. He may, of course, end up paying child support; but given that women still bear the brunt of child-rearing, and single parent child-rearing at that, I don't think it is for a man who may or may not have an actual relationship with the mother or child to be the arbiter of whether or not she becomes a mother.

In all, I don't think this piece of legislation gives a hoot about father's rights. It's sole purpose, I think, is to place another barrier between women and their right to have an abortion. I don't think anti-choicers would even argue with that.

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