As reproductive options for women in a majority of states in the United States have been legislated out of existence and women’s healthcare services have deteriorated in recent years, the legislatures and lobbyists responsible for these changes have forgotten or chosen to ignore what they should have learned when they hit puberty: men cause pregnancies. Women with unplanned, unwanted, or forced pregnancies caused by voluntary or involuntary contact with men are being required to complete those pregnancies or face criminal charges. Physicians interfering with the ‘natural’ course of these handmaiden ordeals are also facing criminal charges and loss of their professional licenses. In this rush to control what women do with their bodies and the embryos that may inhabit them, one group has been totally ignored: the men who impregnated these women.
Certainly, the many men and occasional women who are imposing punishments on women who want to choose when, with whom, and how often they have children realize that every pregnancy involves a man. If a woman’s actions after she gets pregnant can be regulated to an extent that will affect her for the rest of her life, it is reasonable to expect that the perpetrator of this ‘blessed event’ would face similar or alternative restrictions or regulations that affect him for the rest of his life. If the law requires that a woman must have a child, it can certainly require that the man involved in causing that unwanted pregnancy must not be allowed to impregnate another unconsenting woman. Men may argue that the law cannot control what a man does with his body, especially in the realm of reproductive rights, but to simultaneously argue that the law can control what a woman does with her body in the realm of her reproductive rights [or lack thereof] is hypocritical and unconstitutional [see the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1-Equal Protection clause].
We need not get into the morality of abortion. Most of the states that currently deny women the option of discharging an embryo or fetus from their wombs also deny the legal standing of that fetus. This paradox remains unexplained and inexplicable. This was especially apparent in a lawsuit brought against the state of Texas by a previously pregnant employee, Salia Issa. This state correctional officer had a miscarriage in her seventh month of pregnancy when her supervisor refused to let her leave her assignment early to seek medical attention when she developed signs of fetal distress. She argued that her ‘unborn’ child was deprived of an opportunity to live by the actions of her employer. Her doctors agreed. The defense offered by the former Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was that the fetus [no longer referred to as an unborn child] had no legal standing and no legal rights and the employer had no obligation to safeguard it. Apparently, the fetus or ‘unborn child’ only has rights when the mother tries to exert her right to terminate a pregnancy.
But what can be done to the men, those procreators contributing half of all the genes deposited in the unsuspecting, unwilling, or otherwise manipulated woman’s uterus? What of all those men who have impregnated women they have drugged, coerced, overpowered, or simply assured that they would not or could not impregnate? What is the appropriate disposition for these men who are more responsible for the pregnancy than the women they have impregnated? The Governor of Texas announced that law enforcement would pursue and deal harshly with these perpetrators, the implication being that law enforcement had previously been lax. No additional laws targeting men causing unwanted pregnancies were passed or suggested.
Before any responsibility can be assigned, these men must be identified. The popularity of DNA testing and the massive amount of genetic information already on file with private companies and law enforcement agencies should make identification of the ‘impregnator’ or relatives of that man straightforward. The completeness of these data bases could be easily expanded by requiring cheek swabs of everyone applying for a firearms permit, driver’s license, or other state or federal licenses or permits. If a man is unwilling to be identified as the sexual partner of an impregnated woman, he probably should not be trusted with an AR-14 semiautomatic assault rifle.
Having identified the impregnator, law enforcement would have several options. It could make him responsible for all costs associated with the pregnancy but bar him from putting any pressure on the woman he impregnated regarding the choices that she makes. If the pregnancy was a consequence of rape or incest, felony charges would of course apply. Since rape is infrequently reported and difficult to prove in many circumstances, obligations imposed on the impregnator must include sanctions that are independent of any criminal charges. Garnishment of 10 % of the sperm contributor’s before-tax annual earnings with distribution of those funds to the bearer of the egg he casually fertilized would be reasonable. How many years this support continued could be decided by an independent panel of women. Serial impregnators would face additional monetary penalties, as well as public disclosure of their behavior, similar to that already mandated for sex offenders. Fathering 10 or 11 children by 5 or 6 women [as has been acknowledged by some celebrities] cannot be considered to be in the public interest. That a man has wealth or notoriety does not justify his potentially repopulating our already overburdened planet with his offspring.
Regardless of what action is taken against these men, that action must be designed to inhibit their indifference to causing pregnancies. Our legislators need to take remedial sex education courses so that they realize that pregnancy results from a man’s purposeful actions and does not necessarily involve a woman’s informed consent. They need to stop trying to control women and start trying to control men. If they cannot conceive of methods to avoid unwanted pregnancies, they should step aside and let women legislators work on solutions.
Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan. He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.