On Contracts and Childbirth

I hesitate to write about this because I know how the loathsome people in the Orwellian-named men's rights activism movement will spin the story, but I do think it's an important story. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that a sperm donor who ceded parental rights before the birth of the children can't be forced to pay child support. Now, it was a split decision, 3-2, so it's hardly like there's a consensus on this matter, but if the story is reported accurately, then I don't see why this should even be a question.

The story was framed this way:

Ferguson and McKiernan met while working together at Pennsylvania Blue Shield in Harrisburg and had a sexual relationship that waned before Ferguson persuaded him to donate sperm for her.

Courts found that the two agreed McKiernan would not have to pay child support and would not have visitation rights, but Ferguson later changed her mind and sued.
Assuming that's accurate, it's a no-brainer for me--he's no more financially responsible for the kids than if Ferguson had adopted them, or if he'd donated to a sperm bank and had no previous relationship with the mother. So why did he get hit with the child support in the first place?

The counter-argument--and the one put forth both by lower court judges and the dissenters on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court--is that it is in the childrens' best interest to have their biological father financially involved in their lives, but that seems to me to be a red herring. Again--had there been no previous relationship between these two people, this wouldn't have been a case in the first place, in part because of the anonymous nature of sperm donation. Side note: sperm and egg donors' names are no longer protected in Britain, although they aren't on any financial hook for the children their gametes create. It was precisely because the mother knew for a certainty who the father was that this became a case.

So if it's so clear, why am I so hesitant to write about this? It's because one of the more odious arguments made by MRAs is that if a woman gets pregnant, the father ought to have the right to cut off his parental rights--have a male abortion, metaphorically speaking--and not be financially responsible for the child. And I have little doubt that they will use this case as vindication for that view. They'll be wrong, but no one ever accused MRAs of being too smart.

Because the difference here is that this couple made a specific deal, and one side tried to renege on it. As far as I'm concerned, McKiernan should be allowed to counter-sue for fraud and the breaking of a contract. But that's not the case in most sexual relationships (which is where the MRAs will no doubt disagree--they're wrong, and they're generally pretty stupid about it). In this specific case, under these particular circumstances, the majority made the right decision, but don't try to extrapolate this into some larger argument, because it doesn't work. Men, if you're in a relationship, and she gets pregnant, whether you were planning to have kids or not, you're responsible for that kid or kids.

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