June 19 is Father’s Day. It will be the first Father’s Day in nearly fifty years when states have not been constrained by Roe v. Wade (and its progeny) from protecting fathers’ rights.
Few remember that the 1973 Roe decision legalizing abortion represented such a radical change in federal law that most states were caught off-guard—their laws invalidated, they were forced to align new legislation regulating abortion with Roe’s dictates.
Missouri passed a law that included a spousal consent requirement before a married woman could have an abortion (and parental consent in the case of a minor). That law was struck down by the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth (1976) [https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/428/52/#tab-opinion-1951909.] A bizarre aspect of the decision was the Court’s contention that since Roe prevented a state from outlawing abortion, neither could a state “delegate to a spouse a veto power.”
The reversal of Roe has opened the way for challenging subsequent abortion rulings such as Danforth. States should now re-consider enactment of laws, like Missouri’s, which would protect paternal rights. Here’s why:
1) It takes two people to create a child. There is no logical reason why one of those parties should have no say in that child’s destruction.
2) Fathers would be empowered to defend their unborn children. In the year since Dobbs overturned Roe, rabid pro-abortionists and timid pro-life politicians have managed to obscure the unborn child’s face and footprint. Bringing fathers into the abortion debate adds another face and voice, forcing discussion of the question, “Who is being aborted?” A father who objects to the extermination of his child makes the case for his child’s personhood in ways an elected politician generally cannot. And, unlike the unborn, fathers vote.
3) An expanded debate would magnify the kind of fatherly voices that pro-abortionists are seeking to suppress. There is an active campaign afoot to push men into declaring themselves “allies” of women in defense of abortion. It is vital that men—especially men with skin and DNA in the game—declare themselves allies of their children.
4) Fathers who have been complicit in the deaths of their unborn children will have a voice. Every year, participants at the end of the March for Life go to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the testimonies of those who are “silent no more,” who give witness to abortion’s destructive impact in their lives. Most of those who speak out are women, but there is no small number of men who either bear witness to the loss of their child against their will or—even more painfully—as a result of their omission or even commission. These wounded fathers too need to be heard in America’s abortion debate today.
5) The participation of fathers would undermine the unspoken assumption that abortion is necessary because men simply use women sexually and then abandon them. Having fathers declare their commitment to their unborn child is vital. It is masculine: Men defend women and children.
6) Revisiting the fathers’ rights issue would allow us to challenge and hopefully uproot the usurpation of marital and family rights by government masquerading as an interested third party. Danforth not only asserted that fathers’ rights were a function of government delegation, it created the precedent for governmental intrusion into the parent-child relationship in the case of minors seeking abortions without parental consent or even knowledge. And it perpetrated the lie that judges have a place in second-guessing parental decisions. Extricating the government from marriage and family decisions will have ramifications not only in abortion matters but in other areas—such as gender ideology—where some states are already declaring themselves “sanctuaries” to substitute their decisions for those of parents.
7) The participation of fathers could eventually undermine the atomized model of family law in the United States that sees mothers, fathers, and children not in biological relationship but as isolated individuals with potentially antagonistic “rights” who need “defense” from each other, and lead to the restoration of a paradigm that gives weight to the natural rights of families.
8) The fathers’ rights issue would synergize with vital family rights efforts concerning parental primacy in the area of education and values-based childrearing, each reinforcing the other and both winning issues with Americans.
9) Fathers standing up for their unborn children will force consideration of how the law has commodified children in the wake of Roe. For example, based on Roe’s fiction that the unborn child was not really a life—efforts to destroy frozen embryos in cases of divorce are now adjudicated under property division norms; amazingly, in Virginia, under an antebellum law regulating division of “goods and chattels” concerning slaves. [https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/16/us/virginia-slave-laws-embryos.html#:~:text=A%20Virginia%20judge%20relied%20in,ruling%20that%20has%20drawn%20criticism.]
I have no doubt that efforts to address fathers’ rights will be tarred under various pretexts, especially as regards artificial reproduction and “child/spousal welfare.” I also have no doubt that the real motivation behind the criticism is to prevent the powerful testimony of fathers on behalf of their children from personalizing the abortion debate beyond the cramped confines of “a woman and her choice” to which pro-abortionists would hold it hostage. Not only do hard cases make bad law, they divert attention from hard thinking about what’s really at stake.
This Father’s Day, it is time for fathers to step up and demand that their voices be heard, too.
John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.