Recently the youth wing of Sweden’s Liberal Party has put forward an interesting proposition: that women should be granted the right to opt out of maternity via a “legal abortion”. However extreme and peculiar some of their other stances are, I cannot help but see the good this particular act would do if it made its way through international legal systems. How this would work is that women would be permitted to opt out of parenthood fully up to the eighteenth week of pregnancy, by current Swedish physical abortion laws. The woman then severs all ties to the child, as though it were dead to her. (1) Cold and cruel? Maybe, but so is the physical act of killing an unborn child. Sometimes people have no ability to raise a child and, where the opt-out is present for one sex, it is an injustice not to provide an equivalent option to the other. This proposal would give women and men almost equal grounds on which to decide parenthood and would open the way for women to regain three core human rights that currently they can be denied.
Right 1: The right to choose parenthood.
The Cairo Programme of Action states that:
Reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in all matters relating to the reproductive system and its functions and processes. Reproductive health therefore implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so. Implicit in this last condition are the right of women and men to be informed [about] and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as other methods for regulation of fertility which are not against the law, and the right of access to appropriate health-care services that will enable men to go safely through pregnancy and childbirth and provide couples with the best chance of having a healthy infant [para. 72]. (2) [Emphasis added.]
Here it is quite clear that it is considered a human right to choose when, if and how often we reproduce. If a couple becomes pregnant, it is the man who can make the sole and final decision regarding whether to carry the child to term. This means that no man can be forced to carry a child to term he does not want, but every woman can potentially be forced into parenthood. At a time when men are allowed to escape unplanned parenthood, women are still forced into it under the archaic refrain: “If you don’t want a baby, don’t have sex.”
Right 2: The right to be free from slavery.
Article 4 of the Human Rights Act states that:
1. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.
2. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.
3. For the purpose of this Article the term “forced or compulsory labour” shall not include:
a) any work required to be done in the ordinary course of detention imposed according to the provisions of Article 5 of this Convention or during conditional release from such detention;
b) any service of a military character or, in case of conscientious objectors in countries where they are recognised, service exacted instead of compulsory military service;
c) any service exacted in case of an emergency or calamity threatening the life or well-being of the community;
d) any work or service which forms part of normal civic obligations.” (3) [Emphasis added.]
Under this act, working to pay child support is neither work under detention, military work, emergency work or part of the normal civic obligations of any woman or man. Whereas cases where parents agree to have children and then separate, resulting in child support, are greyer, the case of unwanted children is pretty black and white. If a man cannot afford to have a child, he and only he can choose to abort it. If a woman cannot afford to have a child, she cannot choose to opt out of supporting the child financially. In some parts of the world, this results in imprisonment for child support payments she could not afford, and the demands and debt do not cease after prison. (4) This results in women working longer hours and taking up more jobs only to lose the money immediately to a child they did not want and had no say in bringing into the world. Does a couple, or a man, who puts a child up for adoption pay child support? Women forced into maternity are held financially liable for eighteen years, a grave impact on their choice of work, financial status and available resources.
Right 3: The right not to be forced into marriage.
Article 12.2 of the Human Rights Act states that:
2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. (5)
Rights of Men describes consent as:
Consent means you have made a free choice to get married and it is your own decision. Even if you say you agree to marry, this does not always mean you have consented. You must have the freedom to choose whether or not to enter the marriage. [Emphasis added.]
The same organisation describes force thus:
The definition of force used by the Government includes physical, psychological, sexual, financial and emotional pressure as well as emotional and psychological abuse or harassment. Forced marriage involves situations where you feel pressured to the point where you agree, but only because you feel you did not have the choice to say no, and you would not have consented had the pressure not been placed on you. Men and boys often describe a ‘feeling’ or just ‘knowing’ that they could not say no to a marriage, and that if they did, there would be some kind of consequence if they tried to resist being married e.g. ostracisation, being told they have brought shame on the family, and even being physically harmed. [Emphasis added.]
It is not difficult to see the parallel between these descriptions and the implications for a woman with a pregnant partner. Due to the social and financial pressures resulting from the lack as mentioned above of a right to determine maternity and of a right to work for oneself, many women feel compelled to marry a pregnant partner. Some men even employ pregnancy as a tactic to lock down a partner who would otherwise not be interested in his anymore. Through financial and social coercion, women are placed in a position where the most reasonable thing they can do, faced with pregnancy, is marry the man, regardless of their interests and life goals.
If a global law were enacted that enabled women to terminate their parental status within the time frame men are granted for abortion, these essential human rights would be given to women once more.
(2) Rebecca J. Cook and Mahmoud F. Fathalla International Family Planning Perspectives Vol. 22, No. 3 (Sep., 1996), pp. 115-121