A British Court of Appeal made a ruling last week that presents an alarming paradox. While the court’s decision appears to have gone wholly in the respective woman’s favour, it also dealt a serious blow to all women’s rights, particularly when it comes to the responsibility of fathers to their children.
The events are straightforward. A 19-year-old woman and a male had a one-night stand. She became pregnant. She decided to give the child up for adoption, but a ?legal guardian and a local authority? applied to the county court to ensure that the father was at least aware of his unborn child’s existence. The county court ruled that both the father and the woman’s own parents had a right to know about the pregnancy (the woman lived on her own, so her parents would not necessarily have been aware of their grandchild).
The woman objected, insisting she wanted her infant adopted at birth and that she was under no obligation to tell her one-time partner he had fathered a child. The Court of Appeal overturned the original decision, and ?ordered the local authority not to take any action to inform the father.? Their stance was that the mother-to-be held ?the ultimate veto? over whether the father could be told.
Lady Justice Arden’s rationale for the ruling was particularly ominous: ?the father’s rights had not been violated because he did not have any to violate.? Not that he might be a bad father. Just that, as a father, he had no rights.
A chilling statement in so many ways. First, It’s generally accepted that, until science invents a workaround for the meeting of sperm and egg, children are conceived by a joint effort. In other words, it still takes two, even when the blessed event involves a test tube.
Second, society now generally supports?and enforces?the idea that both parents are responsible to provide for the children they create. Especially for modern fathers, the message has been that dads need to step up and get involved, both financially and emotionally; to take a more hands-on role in raising their kids.
So here’s the question that the court’s decision raises: if fathers have no rights, why should they have responsibilities?
To state unequivocally that one of a child’s two biological parents has no rights regarding that child?not even the right to know that the child exists?is a slap in the face not only to every father, but also to the countless women who have fought long and hard to ensure that men do face up to their paternal responsibilities.
It assumes that men are, by default, irresponsible, inept creatures who bring so little benefit to their children’s lives that they should not be allowed to contribute even if they want to. In short, it places the complete burden of raising children squarely back on the mother?precisely the societal assumption that so many women have struggled to change.
Fathers, whether present in the home or not, are either responsible parent figures with a duty to participate in their children’s lives or they are merely sperm donors with no legal ties (i.e., rights) to their kids. So the next time this particular justice system hands down an order for a man to honour the financial responsibility for his children, it needs to decide which version of fatherhood it subscribes to. Because they can’t have it both ways.