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Preglimony: What does a man owe his unborn child?


Why should a man's responsibility for baby-making only kick in when the babe is born? That was the question posed in op-ed piece written by law professor Shari Motro in The New York Times last week. Her answer: It shouldn't. Whoever contributes the sperm should also contribute to the expense of the fetus, Dr. Motro argued, even suggesting a name for it: preglimony.

Many men in the position of having a baby with a woman to whom they aren't married – or even that serious about – do step up to the plate financially and emotionally, Dr. Motro acknowledges. But for those who would rather slip town to avoid the swelling belly, she proposes creating a legal requirement that biological prospective fathers have to pay their share of medical bills, birthing classes, loss of income and the cost of an abortion, should the pregnancy result in one. (After all, she observes, technology has made it possible to determine paternity in the womb.)

But would this requirement shift the abortion debate, ever bubbling beneath the surface of both the United States and Canada? As Slate contributor Katie Roiphe asks in a new article, aren't we then acknowledging that the fetus is a child? She argues: "The interests of protecting expectant mothers does not necessarily coincide with the interest of protecting abortion rights. Once you admit that the father is responsible to a woman carrying his fetus, you are halfway, at least in an imaginative sphere, to admitting that the fetus is a 'life.'"

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Issues surrounding abortion rights is the chief concern raised with respect to Dr. Motro's proposal – specifically that legalizing a financial responsibility will also give a man the right to interfere with a woman's freedom to choose whether to continue with the pregnancy.

Dr. Motro concedes that "preglimony" could "exacerbate" the pressure applied by an abusive partner. But "the existence of bullies shouldn't dictate the rules that govern all of society," she writes. "In the name of protecting the most vulnerable, it sets the bar too low for the mainstream, casting lovers as strangers and pregnancy as only a woman's problem."

It's an important discussion to have at a time when more women are choosing to have babies outside of marriage, or on their own, and technology such as blood tests and photo-quality sonograms have increased both our knowledge of – and relationship to – a fetus.

The conversation, as Ms. Roiphe rightly concludes, will "only help the ongoing fight for reproductive rights to evolve with the times, to trail blaze a way of thinking that encompasses the ambiguities we know, and can see, are there.

What do you think of the concept of "preglimony" and its potential impact on abortion rights?

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