Since most clients are women, new pregnancy center staff or volunteers might sometimes wonder: What's dad got to do with it?
Men are frequently ignored in the cultural conversation about pregnancy, abortion, adoption, and parenting. Yet the thoughts of the baby's father or her feelings about him can be amongst the most important factors in a woman's pregnancy decision. Some women will go through an unwanted abortion in order to avoid losing a relationship with a man they love. Other women will choose abortion rather than consider the possibility that a man they distrust would ever gain custody of their child. Conversely, women who feel secure in their relationship with their partner and who know that he wants the baby, are more likely to carry to term.
Frequently, pregnancy center clients believe myths about the legal rights and responsibilities of their unborn baby's father. Pregnancy coaches are in a good position to share information about this subject with both female and male clients.
Dads and Abortion
The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that abortion is a woman’s right, extending from her right to privacy. As a consequence, fathers, whether married or unmarried, have no parental rights whatsoever while their child is developing in his or her mother’s body. Based on the same legal reasoning, fathers cannot demand that their child’s mother have an abortion or continue her pregnancy. In many states, men who cause or attempt to cause their partner to abort may face criminal charges. While men do not have legal rights in a woman’s decision to abort or have her baby, many women are very interested in their partner’s thoughts about this life-changing decision.
Dads and Adoption
State laws regarding the rights of fathers in adoption proceedings vary. In most states, women have the responsibility to name a father on their child’s birth certificate. If a man believes that he may have fathered a child with a specific woman, he may place his name on a state’s putative father registry, so he will be notified if an action to terminate his parental rights as part of adoption proceedings is initiated. If a mother wants to make an adoption plan for a child, the father has the right to refuse consent for the adoption and, instead, to seek full custody or joint custody of the child. In general, the rights of biological fathers who have shown an interest in pursuing a relationship with their child are greater than the rights afforded biological fathers who have shown little or no interest in the child until they were notified of the pending adoption.
Dads and Parenting
A father has the legal responsibility to support his biological child once he or she is born, regardless of whether he has full or partial custody of the child. If he believes he is not the father of a specific child, he may take legal action to require a paternity test be performed that will confirm whether or not he fathered the child. Research shows that dads, whether absent or present, are an extremely important part of a child’s life. A man who takes initiative to respect and support his child’s mother and become a caring father can make a tremendous positive impact.
When men come into centers seeking help, there are many services that pregnancy centers can offer. If a man comes into a center seeking help when his girlfriend or wife is considering abortion, ask him to bring her into the center. Ask them to come together or separately, depending on the circumstances. Men are often very interested in understanding abortion procedures and risks, as well as how the decision to abort could affect their relationship with their partner.
Likewise, if a woman comes into a Pregnancy Center stating that her boyfriend or husband is pressuring her to have an abortion, she should be informed that no one has the legal right to force her to abort against her will. Centers can help her find the resources to carry out her decision.
If a woman would like to place her child for adoption, but her partner is resisting the adoption, the center should welcome him to join her. Together, the center can help the father and mother explore his concerns about adoption. Many times, both men and women have fears about adoption that are based on misunderstandings of the adoption process and their rights. Centers can help couples come to a reality-based understanding of the benefits and challenges related to adoption so they can make a decision that they can live with long-term.
Men need to be supported and empowered to make life-affirming decisions just as women do. The stress of an unexpected pregnancy can be terrifying for a man and fear of unwanted fatherhood may leave him feeling that abortion is an easy answer that will put his life “back to normal.” However, he may never have explored positive ways being a father could change his life. For many men, the emotional impact of losing a child to abortion is significant and painful.
Fathers need pregnancy centers, too.
Adapted from Legal Care (114:2011), a publication of Care Net. To access Legal Care archives, become a Care Net affiliate. For more comprehensive information on related subjects, visit Care Net's online store to purchase our Legal Solutions manual.