As parents for choice in pregnancy and childbirth (and beyond, to be honest), we feel that people should be allowed to choose whether or not they become parents. Here is where the 8th Amendment rears its ugly head again and reminds us that the law is completely unequal in this regard. Under Irish law, where a legal abortion is nearly impossible to procure, a woman who finds herself unintentionally pregnant has no choice but to continue with the pregnancy. The man in this scenario, however, has a choice. He can choose whether or not to be part of the pregnant woman’s life. He can choose to help make her pregnancy as comfortable (in all senses of that word) as possible. Assuming the pregnancy goes to term, he can choose whether or not to be a part of the baby’s life.
Every day, on any whim of his fancy, a man can choose whether or not to be a parent. A woman? Not so much. Yes, I know that some women choose single parenthood, but that’s not what this post is about.
No matter how much we’d like to think we are edging towards parity and equality, the truth is that men don’t have to be fathers if they don’t want to be. Parenting falls more on the shoulders of women than on the shoulders of men. When a man decides he doesn’t want to be a parent, he can simply walk away. Legally, a pregnant woman in Ireland must become a parent (unless she has a spontaneous miscarriage). She must do all the ‘heavy lifting’ – all the caring, all the worrying, all the work. She must take care of all the decisions regarding education, religion, housing, feeding and clothing. She must take care of all the logistics and all the planning. The man, if he chooses, doesn’t have to have any involvement in this arena at all. Of course, many men do their best by their children, regardless of their relationships with the mothers of said children – but that is a choice they make, and a choice they are free to make.
It is impossible to compel a man to take an active interest in his child/ren. The most a court can do is insist that he pays some form of child support. Even if a woman gets a court-order for child support, these can be nearly impossible to impose; especially if the man leaves the jurisdiction, and most especially if he moves to a country that is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on the Recovery of Child Support. Some men don’t need to be court-ordered to support their child/ren, but they make a choice that the mother of the child/ren isn’t free to make.
There is also the question, of course, of whether or not there should be any attempt made to impose fatherhood on anyone who doesn’t want it. As far as this group is concerned, the clue is in our title; we are parents for choice. We believe that all parents should be parents because they choose to be. I am reminded of the case of Evans v Johnston, which I mentioned here in 2009. While we do feel that parenthood should be a choice, we are also believe that if men do become fathers, that they step up and assume responsibility. Even if all that extends to is supporting the mother of their child/ren as much as they can – including never speaking badly of her to the child/ren. I read somewhere, once, that the best thing you can do for your children is treat their mother well.
There are days when parenting is difficult. There are days when we go to bed knowing we didn’t do our best, there are days when some parents wish they didn’t have children. Every thing every parent does is judged by other parents and non-parents. How you birth them, clothe them, feed them, speak to them, play with them, house them, transport them, teach them, etc. etc. etc. is commented on in the public sphere. You, personally, may not be mentioned in the paper or online, but someone else who has made similar choices will be – and you will feel judged by association. Who on earth would choose that for themselves? But people do – and most people who choose to do so are cognizant of their responsibilities, and do their best to live up to them. Those who don’t, however, are usually men – because they have a choice.