A man's right to choose in Ohio

New legislation would require written consent from a fetus' father for an abortion.

Published August 2, 2007 10:44AM (EDT)

Should a man be able to legally prevent the abortion of a fetus that he's sired? Longtime Broadsheet readers will remember the very, very animated discussion here of that question prompted by a bomb-throwing Op-Ed in the New York Times arguing that men should have a right to choose, too. Now, that largely theoretical debate has just gotten a little more real.

In Ohio, there's an actual bill being considered in the state's House of Representatives that would require a woman seeking an abortion to obtain written consent from the father, according to the Record-Courier by way of Feministing. "This is important because there are always two parents and fathers should have a say in the birth or the destruction of that child," Rep. John Adams, an antiabortion Republican state legislator who submitted the bill, told the paper. "I didn't bring it up to draw attention to myself or to be controversial. In most cases, when a child is born the father has financial responsibility for that child, so he should have a say."

How such a law could ever be enforced is really hard to fathom. First, what to do in cases where the woman doesn't know who the father is, or says she doesn't know? No problem! The bill stipulates that she can simply submit a list of possible fathers to a physician who will then perform a paternity test on the fetus. Yet, that's easier said than done.

To perform a paternity test, first you'd need to extract some genetic material from the fetus, which would require chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or an amniocentesis. An amnio is not typically done until 16 to 20 weeks gestation, but CVS can be done around 11 weeks, near the end of the first trimester. See how time to have that abortion is ticking away? Both amnio and CVS also carry a small risk of miscarriage, which I hope Rep. Adams is aware of considering his professed concern for the unborn.

Also, who is going to pay for these pre-abortion paternity tests? It's hard to imagine the health insurance plan that would happily foot the bill for an amnio or CVS solely for the purpose of determining who the father is, so the fetus can possibly be aborted. After all, right now, many insurance plans don't cover CVS for most pregnancies, even if it's being used to assess the health of a much wanted baby-to-be.

Oh, and if the woman who wants the abortion can't or won't come up with the father's name -- or list of possible fathers' names -- then she will simply have to continue the pregnancy. Sorry, no abortion! If she goes through with it anyway, without the father's permission, that's "abortion fraud," a first-degree misdemeanor for the first-time offender. Men who consent to an abortion while pretending to be the father of a fetus that isn't theirs, as well as medical workers who perform the procedures without paternal consent, would be subject to the same charge. To get an abortion when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, women would be required to submit a police report proving it. Could it be any clearer that this bill invoking fathers' rights is just another attempt to set up complicated roadblocks to try to prevent women from having safe, legal abortions?

Needless to say, the folks at the National Abortion Rights Action League were horrified at the proposal: "This extreme bill shows just how far some of our state legislators are willing to go to rally a far-right base that is frustrated with the pro-choice gains made in the last election," said Kellie Copeland, NARAL Pro-choice Ohio's executive director. "It is completely out of touch with Ohio's mainstream values. This measure is a clear attack on a woman's freedom and privacy."

That's not all. Two weeks ago, another state rep in Ohio proposed a bill that would simply outlaw abortion. Fortunately, neither of these bills is likely to pass.

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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