“Sweetie, is it okay with you if I get an abortion?”

The Tennessee state legislature is considering a bill that would make it “an offense for a physician to knowingly perform an abortion on a woman who is eighteen (18) years of age or older unless the physician has received from the woman a signed statement indicating that the woman has notified the man by whom she is pregnant that she intends to have an abortion."

The bill provides exceptions if the woman signs a statement saying the pregnancy is a result of rape and has been reported to law enforcement, is unable "after diligent effort" to notify or identify the man (in which case she must file written notice with the Department of Children's Services to be placed on the department's putative father registry), and in the case of medical emergencies when the life of the woman is at risk. Penalties are a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a $5,000 fine for the physician and a $2,000 fine for the woman.
Setting aside for a moment the mind-boggling complexity of actually enforcing this law, its inevitable result (and probable intent) is conferring ownership status of a woman’s body upon any man with whom she has had sex. And while proponents of this kind of legislation love to tout the emergence of “fathers’ rights,” the reality is that there are no line-item vetos in pregnancy. If he doesn’t want to terminate the pregnancy, but she does, she can’t turn it over to him—and that’s why “fathers’ rights” are just untenable. It’s not a split vote with equal standing. He doesn’t have to subject his body to 9 months of incubating an unwanted child; he doesn’t have to engage health risks; he doesn’t have to balance the other pressing concerns in an expectant mother’s life, which may include dependent children or elders; he doesn’t have to continue to go to work every day, while coordinating pre-natal health care and maternity leave; he doesn’t have to purchase a new wardrobe; he doesn’t have to go through labor. And to force a woman to go through all of this against her will, he doesn’t even need to accept the full responsibility of raising that child; he can force her to do that, too, as long as he’s willing to pay whatever child support the court requires.

That’s the problem with partner notification laws. The interested parties just aren’t standing on the same playing field; their vested interests aren’t remotely parallel. And so their veto power over whether a pregnancy comes to term or not absolutely cannot and should not be given equal standing. Proponents of fathers’ rights in cases of abortion love to claim that it’s unfair that men have “no say,” but it’s nothing more than an unsustainable misdirection. It’s quite literally unfair to give men equal say in a process in which their involvement and their personal risk and inconvenience is miminal, to put it mildly.

To argue in favor of legislation like this is to ignore the functionality of how a child comes into this world. A positive pregnancy test, irrespective of when you believe life begins, is not the same as a baby. Between those two points are nine months that can’t be left out of the equation to make fathers’ rights arguments more convenient.

Tangentially, compelling the report of a rape to get an abortion is ill-advised for many reasons, not the least of which is a clear encroachment on a woman’s right to privacy.

(Hat tip to Ann at Feministing.)

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