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Letter: Right Cause, Wrong Approach
March 22, 2006
by Eric D. Tarkington

Wendy McElroy has published an opinion on the Michigan U.S. District Court case, involving male reproductive rights, titled "Right Cause, Wrong Approach."

The gist of her take on the case is that it has merit, but it looks so bad that it will hurt men's rights by showcasing a father who wants to repudiate parental responsibility. Women have a right to avoid responsibility for their childen, and that's ugly. A man in this court case demands the same right, and it's even uglier, win or lose.

McElroy is good, very good. She wants parental equality. In my view, she also falls into an error that already swallows almost the entire equal parenting movement.

So, in this case, I don't agree with her. Black people seeking civil rights in the 50s and 60s were selfishly demanding money and opportunity and social equality in the same way that men are now selfishly demanding parental rights. It was improper, uppity, and bad then, as it is now, but it was necessary to go through despite the disapproval. There will always be someone to criticize you for defending your own modest interests.

I do support safe haven laws (designed to prevent women from abandoning newborn), and other laws that allow women to give up parental rights and responsibilities. Though the state may be a pretty miserable excuse for a parent, the woman who opts out of her role is probably recognizing some defect in herself and doing the best thing for the child, and most children in this situation will be adopted by willing and able parents who typically find an adoption situation hard to get. These are grim calculations for the faltering mother, and we need to minimize the risk for children.

Why don't the same arguments apply to men? Why are men responsible on the one hand for children that they're not allowed to parent, and on the other hand unworthy of even so much as notification when a woman wants to give a child up for adoption? The answer is simple, men have no business being parents, isn't that right?

Mothers are innocent, even above reproach, until proven guilty. Fathers, despite all evidence and personal sacrifice to the contrary, are somehow doing it for selfish motives, and deserve no consideration. We write the laws with the assumption that men are lazy and evasive and neglectful. We have to drag support out of them in every kind of situation, right? A neglectful mother is plainly broken, and she needs help and support. A neglectful father is just bad as usual, and we have to do what we always do: punish him.

This lawsuit is about a bad case. McElroy is right in saying that this is not the issue that leads to victory. Where I think she misses the point is the fact that this is an issue that can stop our victory in establishing true equal parenting. Good or bad fathers will eventually have to be treated the same way as good or bad mothers, and both with kindness and hope. That can't happen as long as people find it reasonable to deny men the equal protection of the law.

Men have to plow through the accusations of selfishness and demand their rights. This will be a new thing, mind you. Men accept all the bigotted criticism as if it only applied to the other guy, and expect that the abuse will not happen to them personally. Even after watching their children tearfully waving goodbye, and watching them visibly harmed, and losing future security, and losing all energy and brightness in life, most men continue for months or forever to think that it was all just a mistake, that the system was not out to get them, or that it has to be that way to protect all these women and all these children from all these other guys.

McElroy points out that neither of the extreme groups battling on either side of the abortion issue will support equal reproductive rights for men if the case is promoted as "Roe vs. Wade for men," and I daresay she's right. Still, the fact is that nobody is trying to give men the right to demand an abortion in this case, and we're trying to win the minds of the majority that lives at neither extreme of the abortion issue. If you think that "the people" are too stupid to think beyond males somehow aborting, you need to give up on activism. The people need to hear our contrary ideas often enough to lose their surprise and start thinking.

In the States, it's the Fourteenth Amendment that we look to with hope of receiving equal protection of the laws. In some other form, it is a part of law in many other countries. We only need that protection when someone is accusing us of some inherent fault and using that accusation to take away our rights, so we won't be able to discuss the protections that we deserve without talking about the accusations and dealing with being seen in a harsh and unfriendly light.

Equal protection of the law is not enough to get us all that we deserve. It only puts a limit on what can be taken away. It remains part of the process, though.

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