Dr. Helen

"...the person who was allowed to ultimately control the father’s reproductive freedom was the mother."

Michael Higdon, a law professor at the University of Tennessee has a new article out: “Marginalized Fathers and Demonized Mothers: A Feminist Look at the Reproductive Freedom of Unmarried Men.” From the abstract:

Just last month, in the state of Utah, twelve biological fathers filed suit, challenging the state’s adoption laws—laws the fathers allege permit “legalized fraud and kidnapping.” Specifically, these laws require nonmarital fathers to promptly take legal action in Utah to preserve their paternal rights. A problem arises, however, as mothers from other states have started traveling to Utah specifically to surrender newborn children for adoption. The fathers, unaware that their children are being placed for adoption in another state, fail to take action in Utah and, as a result, are permanently deprived of all parental rights. In that sense, these laws—which actually are not much different than the adoption laws of other states—permit nonmarital mothers to effectively thwart a man’s desire to father a resulting child.

Although not the subject of the Utah lawsuit, at the other end of the spectrum, many are surprised to learn that the law also permits a nonmarital mother to force fatherhood on men who never even consented to the sexual act that produced the child. Male victims of statutory rape, for example, in every case to consider the issue, have been ordered to pay child support for children that were a product of the rape. Likewise, adult men who are victims of sexual assault as well as men whose sperm was taken without their consent (and subsequently used to artificially inseminate a female) have also been consistently ordered to pay child support for the resulting child. In all of these cases, the mother’s wrongdoing has been ruled irrelevant.

In the enclosed article, Marginalized Fathers and Demonized Mothers: A Feminist Look at the Reproductive Freedom of Unmarried Men, I explore examples of both kinds of fathers—I refer to them as “Thwarted Fathers” and “Conscripted Fathers”—to reveal a serious problem that both share. Namely, the fathers in both categories have suffered a significant abridgment of their reproductive freedom, which the Supreme Court has identified as a fundamental right, either by having fatherhood forced upon them without consent or by having fatherhood withheld from them by deceit and subterfuge. In addition, what is particularly troubling about both classes of cases is that, in all of them, the person who was allowed to ultimately control the father’s reproductive freedom was the mother. After all, in both cases, it was decisions the mother unilaterally made that determined how much reproductive freedom the biological fathers would ultimately enjoy.