The View from Hell

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Child Support for Unwanted Children is Wrong

with 15 comments

See my related essay: What is Special about Genetic Paternity?

Generally, before the government can take a person’s life, liberty, or property, the person must be afforded due process – a neutral, fair process by which the appropriateness of taking the person’s life, freedom, or property can be verified.

Indeed, it is a general moral principle that it is generally wrong to take away someone’s life, or property, or freedom – you have to have a really good reason.

Sometimes, the reason is that the person agreed to forfeit property. This is why we enforce contracts.

Sometimes, it is “fair” to take away someone’s life, or freedom, or property, if the person has done something that society sees as morally reprehensible. This is the principle underlying the criminal justice system.

Governments can even justifiably take property when a person has not done anything wrong, and has not agreed to give it up, as is the case with income taxation. The justification is slipperier here, but at least there are genuine moral justifications for taxation, even if their correctness is debatable.

But there is no moral justification for forcing a person to pay child support for a child he did not wish to conceive.

In most of the world, for most of its history, men have had reproductive rights, and women have not. In modern Western society, women have reproductive rights, and men do not. But “karma is a bitch” is not a moral argument.

It is wrong to force a woman to have a child when she does not want to have it. Simply consenting to sex does not, in our culture, entail consent to reproduction, nor should it. A sexless world is a miserable world; restrictions on reproductive rights are restrictions on one of the most pleasurable activities humans have access to.

Similarly, it is wrong to force a woman to have an abortion if she does not want one. The bodily invasiveness of pregnancy, and of abortion, should indeed mean that birth and abortion are under the exclusive control of the womb-owner.

But it does not follow that a man should have to pay child support for children he does not wish to conceive. In our society, if a man gets unlucky – a condom breaks, his girlfriend was lying to him about using birth control, his girlfriend was lying to him about not trying to get pregnant, etc. – and unwittingly functions as a sperm donor, he is completely at the mercy of his female sex partner.

Having an unwanted child is a personal and financial disaster. Child support laws should not encourage women to inflict this tragedy upon others.

Memento mori, as Chip says.

“Don’t breed or buy while foster kids die”

On an unrelated note, I had a question about what I meant by my “don’t breed or buy while foster kids die” spiel. “Breed” is obvious; by “buy,” I mean utilizing expensive reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy. It is as immoral to participate in such processes as a sperm or egg donor, or as a surrogate, as it is to participate as a prospective parent.


Written by Sister Y

May 26, 2010 at 9:00 pm

15 Responses

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  1. It might be countered that unwitting fathers can at least foresee that fatherhood is a potential outcome of recreational sex, for which they could justifiably be held to account. Of course, the same principle of foreseeable risk inform the arguments of abortion opponents, who hold that the personhood of a genetically constituted unborn human being takes precedence over (one) parent's bodily autonomy. If the pre-natal personhood trump can be reliably dispatched on whatever grounds (and here I am increasingly inclined to agree with you that it can, though I still find some secular anti-abortion arguments to be at least worthy of consideration) and legal abortion is upheld as a proper extension of libertarian ethics (as it is for all practical purposes under US jurisprudence), then the view that compulsory child support alienates men from their autonomy seems more compelling. In fact is seems an awful lot like conscription.

    However, the problem is further complicated when you introduce the non-trivial problem of paternal uncertainty. As a generation of loyal Maury Povich spectators know too well, dads can be and are wrongly implicated, and cases in which cuckolded men are legally obligated to provide for children not their own are now well documented. Roissy has long argued that this situation speaks to the need for mandatory paternity testing upon birth. I know there are libertarian arguments against this — and I'm not prepared to sign on — but it seems that the procedure could be justified as a relatively simple and technologically efficient add-on to the list of established hospital protocols that normally attend any birth. I am curious as to your views on this closely related problem.

    By the way, be careful with those m&ms; they're addictive.


    May 27, 2010 at 3:02 am

  2. Chip, exactly – I don't see why “you had sex, didn't you?” is justification enough to suffice for a man's consent to have a child, but not a woman.

    I think paternal uncertainly is interesting, but ultimately, I don't see any moral justification for forcing a person to support a child merely because the child is a genetic relative.

    I think a genetic father who didn't want to conceive is just as innocent as a non-genetic father.

    I kind of want to change the title of this post to “bumbles of joy.”

    Sister Y

    May 27, 2010 at 4:07 pm

  3. Is it your view that “wantedness” is consumated (for lack of a better term) when a woman brings a pregnancy to term? And if so, do parental obligations (and/or liabilities) then attach in the manner of an implied contract?


    May 27, 2010 at 7:09 pm

  4. I think there needs to be some inquiry into “wantedness” on the part of the male. Carrying a pregnancy to term seems to me to be plenty evidence that a child is “wanted” by the mother. Of course, her rights are even greater – she can give the child up for adoption (in some cases without even getting the father's consent, as when he has not had any contact with the baby) whereas a father cannot decide to give a child up for adoption without the mother's consent.

    A father is subject to no inquiry as to wantedness in order to be held financially responsible for a child. Any inquiry would be better than none. A DNA match is all that is required – the mother need not even prove she had sexual intercourse with the father. (She could have, for instance, saved a semen-filled condom after performing oral sex and use it to inseminate herself; “dad” is still on the hook for child support in most jurisdictions, even if he can prove it.)

    The government could alternatively presume wantedness unless a biological father objects to a pregnancy (and files some kind of paperwork), OR could presume unwantedness and require affirmative evidence of wantedness in order for the mother to collect child support without the father's consent. I think the second strategy is more fair.

    Sister Y

    May 27, 2010 at 7:28 pm

  5. And yes, I think the mother's obligation to the child is based on her willingly bringing the child into existence. It cannot be a contract, though, because the child didn't consent to it. A contract requires mutual agreement.

    Sister Y

    May 27, 2010 at 7:29 pm

  6. Even more strikingly, a 20-year old woman can rape a 14-year old and then be awarded child support. There is a number of references to other similar cases, as well. I'm pretty sure that court decisions like that one are economically motivated, though (taxpayers don't want to pay for someone else's child, so must find a scapegoat). As always. Which is just further proof of human depravity.

    I'm not really so concerned about the financial aspect of the issue, however. Men are free to practice birth control; and if they don't like condoms (and leaving your girlfriend's place with a used condom in hand to prevent a situation like the one you describe would probably be pretty awkward), vasectomies are certainly much less invasive than tubal ligations or even Essure. What is troubling is that our society legally takes the (limited) choice about reproduction that is accorded to women away from men. A woman is free to abort a pregnancy on antinatalist grounds, yet a man has no such recourse, even where he has taken all the reasonable precautions and yet somehow ended up in that unfortunate percentage of “oops” situations. I can't imagine how I would feel if I were somehow made a breeder against my will.

    Of course, most men (even those who are not misogynistic scumbags or anti-abortionists) whose opinion on the subject I've come across dwell entirely on the financial aspect; they have absolutely no ethical qualms about the fate of the resulting child, so long as they don't have to pay up. Hence the emergence of the term “male abortion”. But really, male abortion should just be synonymous with regular abortion, and unlike you, I am absolutely for forced abortions, sterilizations, etc., so I find the “wantedness” aspect moot.

    As a society, we already practice coercion and force to a considerable degree; and at least some of it is probably truly necessary to maintain some semblance of justice (even though universal justice is impossible, given the human diversity – one more reason not to breed). Because reproduction harms the person being brought into existence, it only makes sense that as a society, we should disrupt reproduction attempts (especially in the early stages of pregnancy, before the fetus has any claims on moral consideration). And since breeders can claim no right to reproduction (or at least they wouldn't be able to in a rationally benevolent, albeit pessimistic, society), the distress they suffer as a result of the inability to breed is not a justification for breeding (of course, in a society where breeding became so unpopular, most people who are breeders now wouldn't want to be by virtue of pure conformity). Not to mention the fact that the distress occasioned by a single forced abortion isn't likely to be commensurate with a lifetime of negative experiences for the potential child.


    May 27, 2010 at 11:05 pm

  7. CM, I think the “scapegoat” comment is right on target. Society wants someone to pay for the poor little babies, so we make the genetic fathers pay – even though it's not fair to make them do so. Think of the poor little babies!

    I do not think atrocity is justified in the name of preventing even a greater amount of atrocity, though. Sterilization at birth is, I think, morally justified and fine; but strapping someone down and performing surgery on her involuntarily is not justified pretty much EVER. Even if she's pregnant with handicapped octuplets.

    But I'm not a utilitarian.

    Sister Y

    May 29, 2010 at 11:46 pm

  8. Maybe child support should instead be thought of as a fine for the depraved act of creating life.


    May 30, 2010 at 7:03 am

  9. Curator: tranquilizer darts? Seriously, though, I think there is a huge difference between the right to not have your body used as a host against your will and voluntarily using your body to harm others, whether the process of harming occurs inside the body or on the outside of it (like using your body to torture someone else). And if forced abortions are an atrocity, then self-defense must be an atrocity, too, if it causes your attacker any distress.

    TGGP: I think it's a great idea, even though you are probably in jest…


    May 30, 2010 at 10:59 pm

  10. A forced abortion would be rather unlike self-defence (or, more accurately, defence of others) if the woman took reasonable precautions against pregnancy.

    And TGGP's idea is not a great one. In fact, it misses Curator's very point that child support often befalls men who were unwillig to create a child!


    June 1, 2010 at 4:21 am

  11. Atrocity for atrocity – it all comes down to trolley problems. Our intuitions aren't much guide, but they're the only raw data we have. When it comes down to it, I'm way more sure that it's wrong to hold down a woman and forcibly perform surgery on her than I am of my capacity to understand an ethical argument as to why it might be okay if it prevents a certain amount of harm.

    Sister Y

    June 1, 2010 at 10:21 pm

  12. Curator, I would have thought that you are more (if not way more) sure of the wrong of bringing someone into existence than of the wrong of forcibly preventing someone from doing so, even in the repugnant form you describe.


    June 1, 2010 at 11:03 pm

  13. Constant- if she took reasonable precautions, why would she be against having an abortion? If a reasonable conversation is impossible (because she's a fundie, for instance), then the situation is not unlike using force to stop someone being brutally killed by a schizophrenic who took reasonable precautions against that happening by taking their meds, but they didn't work. If the schizophrenic ends up actually experiencing more distress as a result of being prevented than the victim would have, we have no way of knowing it in advance. I know rights are an artificial construct, but if we were to talk in terms of rights, it seems that the right to be safe from other people harming you trumps the right to harm others in order to avoid distress yourself.

    In cases where it's so late in the pregnancy that the fetus feels pain, or is likely to, I wouldn't force abortions on people because the fetus/potential separate person would get harmed either way.

    Regardless, consistency demands that if you are against getting involved in this case, you should generally acquiesce to all instances of oppression, exploitation, and abuse, or have a good explanation about how reproductive attempts are different from other cases of harming people. As I mentioned above, I don't buy the outside the body/inside the body distinction.

    As for the second point, I was just making an offhand comment to TGGP, but perhaps I should have been more clear. My real position is that heavily fining people for reproducing voluntarily instead of subsidizing them would be a great idea and could potentially deter some
    of them. At least we won't be hearing about people breeding endlessly and shuffling their kids between equally breederrific relatives so they could all get hefty handouts from the state for being “daycare providers”. I don't support people made into breeders against their will, as I said above.


    June 3, 2010 at 4:41 am

  14. The updated example with the schizophreniac works much better. I'll have to think about it.

    And yes, I agree that reproducers shouldn't be susidized. Only the problem is that this must not be to the detriment of a child. So what you need is family allowance with strict appropriation. Ideally, they wouldn't just get the money, but receive it only as a refund when they present bills for things that are obviously for the child's benefit. Unfortunately, this requires a hell of a lot of administrative work…


    June 3, 2010 at 1:05 pm

  15. i live in Florida im a 36 male i never want to have a child and my stupid ex-wife trick me in the first 3 years she never get pregnant and i never use a condom , them sudntly when i told she i was getting my dads heritage she want to get pregnant told me she going to get divorced if she don't get pregnant i saw her doing stuff that only my grand mother tell me about it like staying in bed for very long periods of time with her legs facing up and a very diabolic smiling in her face I'm still trusting her and stay in the ritmings, i had a problem and whent out of my job for law 8 that law required cops and law enforcement to give fire arm and badges and go to a mental clinic for a 6 months period ,i cant work or i get fired she don't understand that i could pay for nothing meading while she told me its 3 months pregnant and i whent in to a deppresion because i don't wanna have babys i'm not ready financial and mental and she just wanna have it i dont have to worry about it. them she start taking out the internet because i cant pay i cant used , then she take out the cable tv i was traumatic with pills and no way of entertaiment so i tell her that plug in your ass the fucking cable and internet and she dropp me out of our house i have to left the country cause i don't wan't to kill her cause all she did to me i almost don't have communication with my dougther she almost never call me and i don't wanna talk any more with her mother, now she is with another man in her house and she told me that she is giving her all that I'm not giving .I;m giving her the fucking child support what else she want i don't have more money to travel . I'm being in hell for more than 4 years i just wana kill my self so the fucking state and that fucking bitch get my ssi money thats is all the important thing here no body care about me just the fucking money id there any lawyer can help write me


    August 4, 2010 at 5:30 pm

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