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NY Times Ethicist is asked whether it is “unfair” for a woman to carry her baby to term over the father’s objection

by | Jun 12, 2024

By Dave Andrusko

There have been issues the New York Times Magazine’s in-house ethicists has written about that I have been tempted to comment on. But today’s “My son’s ex-girlfriend wants to keep her pregnancy. But what about the reverse? What about a case in which the father (in this case, my son) is adamantly opposed to having a child, but the woman (his ex-girlfriend) wants to keep the pregnancy?” virtually demands a response.

Note that the subhead to Kwame Anthony Appiah’s answer is “whether a co-parent’s wishes should matter to a pregnant woman.” (Emphasis added.) Presumably that is to lend weight to her son’s wishes to abort their baby. (The word “abortion” is never used.) After all, he is a “co-parent.”

Appiah’s answer is interesting on several levels. First the background.

A Mom writes in that she, of course, has “always supported a woman’s right to choose.” Always and forever. And “I also believe that if a woman chooses to abort, her wish should supersede any opposition to it by the father.”

Standard pro-abortion response. But…

But what about the reverse? What about a case in which the father (in this case, my son) is adamantly opposed to having a child, but the woman (his ex-girlfriend) wants to keep the pregnancy?

She never explicitly says the woman should abort but how else is there a “way out”—an escape— for her son? [Be interesting to know what her husband thinks about the situation of an “unplanned pregnancy”—although those words are also not ever explicitly used.)

She piles on the reasons why her co-parenting son should have a voice—a decisive voice because why else would she seek Appiah’s approval? The reasons offered don’t reflect kindly on the grandmother.

For starters, she says her son has “medical issues,” which “makes the pregnancy shockingly unexpected.” How can her boy be responsible, or act responsibly, right?

#2. “And the couple’s relationship has almost no chance of success, even without a pregnancy.” Why bring an additional “problem” to a shaky relationship? There’s no hint marriage is in the cards or that the woman wants to be married to her son.

#3. “Given that the woman has neither a willing partner nor a job and is already responsible for a child from a previous relationship, her decision to continue with the pregnancy is viewed by most in her circle as reckless and certain to risk her already precarious mental health. Here, her right to choose to carry the child will have a profound impact on three (soon to be four) people and is likely to be very difficult for all.”

Switching to a concern for the woman, the grandmother writes that carrying the baby to term would “risk her already precarious mental health.” Even “her circle” backs the position of the father and the grandmother!

She ends with this:

And yet a man who does not wish to be, has never wanted to be and was told that his chances of ever being a parent were nil can find himself in a situation where his opposition carries no weight. While it’s evident that he will have financial obligations, what might his moral responsibility be?

I’ve read her letter to the Ethicist several times, and I’m not sure what she means by “moral responsibility.” Short of marriage, I could think of many responsibilities her son could and should take on besides paying child support.

The first part of Appiah’s answer is that “a majority of Americans believe that when people learn they’re pregnant, they should have the right to choose whether to carry the fetus to term.” But “it can be a mistake to do something we have the right to do.”

As for having a second child, “I can well believe is that it would be unwise for her to do so.” He doesn’t consider that  the woman has moral objections to abortion, because “I assume you would have said so were this the case.” That’s a huge leap.

Then Appiah gives her son a way out of any “moral responsibility”:

Yet your son apparently thought he was infertile and acted responsibly given the medical advice he had received. (In light of his medical situation, he would, if this child is born, have reason to seek a paternity test.)

“Acted responsibly”? Wow.

Near the end, he does acknowledge “Among the moral intricacies of abortion is that a mother who is forced to carry a pregnancy to term will, in the usual course of things, cherish the child that results.” (Notably, Appiah doesn’t apply that same logic to the father.)  He goes on

She can coherently wish that she had been allowed to terminate the pregnancy without wishing that this particular child did not exist. In this way, your son may feel that the child should not be born and that if the child is born, he should play a role in its life. His ex would have effectively imposed on him not just legal paternity but actual parenting.


So yes, it may be unfair to encumber your son with the legal entailments — and perhaps the emotional ones — of paternity. But none of this deprives the woman of the right to do so.

Pardon? If the child is not aborted (reminder—the word “abortion” or “unplanned pregnancy” does not appear anywhere in this exchange), the mother could impose “actual parenting” on her poor son, clearly the victim in the grandmother’s mind. Indeed, gasp, he might be “encumbered” with “legal entailments — and perhaps the emotional ones — of paternity”!

Final thought. The headline to this piece is “My son’s ex-girlfriend wants to keep her pregnancy. Is that unfair to him?” If you pile enough excuses together, suddenly being a responsible father is “unfair.”

Perhaps the father would be a more responsible adult if he realizes that being a responsible father is not “unfair.”

Categories: Abortion
Tags: abortion