There is a quote from Karen DeCrow, which you can find below.

The courts have properly determined that a man should neither be able to force a woman to have an abortion nor to prevent her from having one, should she so choose. Justice therefore dictates that if a woman makes a unilateral decision to bring pregnancy to term, and the biological father does not, and cannot, share in this decision, he should not be liable for 21 years of support. Or, put another way, autonomous women making independent decisions about their lives should not expect men to finance their choice.1

Is it possible to derive the unilateral right to abortion, as described in the quote, and the duty for men to pay child support from the same reasoning?

If so, how exactly? And if it's not possible, what are adjustments to either the right to abortion or the duty of child support that unify the underlying ethical reasoning?

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    Just to complete the circle of potential contradictions, the third complicating factor is visitation and custody. Child support presumes money substitutes for active contribution, which presumes unwillingness to provide actual presence and involvement in the child's life. In states where abortion restrictions have been struck down, the alienated parties have moved to ensure rapists obligated to child support can sue for visitation, which is just cruel and unusual punishment for the woman.
    – user9166
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 15:43
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    The overall binding factor here is the limitation of potential damage to the child. A child that exists is easier to damage than one that does not. Being deprived of resources is damaging, but being deprived of the choice of whether to have a relationship with the parents and extended family is potentially a greater deprivation. The apparent contradiction is that all parties are valued less than a child, but more than a fetus.
    – user9166
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 15:50
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    These are interesting remarks. The quote is actually pretty absurd, because it leaves out the rights of the child. It propagates a possessive perspective on this matter.
    – mike
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 15:58
  • The traditional way of splitting the difference was to say that a fetus is not a child, but a dependent part of woman's body of which she should have full control. In that case man's responsibility to the child does not come into existence before the child birth. Once the child is born both parents bear responsibility for its care. This reasoning has been challenged lately, however, especially for late stages of pregnancy.
    – Conifold
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 22:03
  • @Conifold If so, can you explain how people can be convicted of the homicide of a fetus? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Laci_Peterson. I've always been puzzled by this.
    – user4894
    Commented Feb 25, 2017 at 22:36

4 Answers 4


The duty of the father is not towards the mother, but towards the child. The father clearly participated in the decision to create the child. And since the natural consequence of creating the child is a birth (unless there is an accident or illness), the father should pay.

There are many anti-abortion ("pro-life") groups, those groups in particular would say that since a child shouldn't ever be aborted, that initial decision of the father is the only one that he could make.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 10:30
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    I believe this answer addresses less than half of the question. It does not address whether the unilaterally claimed right of the woman to abort the child is legitimate, nor does it examine the relationship of that claim to the claim of the father's responsibility to pay child support. "since a child shouldn't ever be aborted, that initial decision of the father is the only one that he could make" This argument would apply equally to the women then. Closing the loop on this and associating the ethical conclusions to the rationale for child support should largely address the OP's question.
    – pygosceles
    Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 6:03

(I guess I omitted the actual answer below. The answer is 'none'. This is about the intimacy presumed of motherhood, which requires a relationship and the interchangeability presumed of fatherhood, which requires a duty.)

This is a continuation of the historical trend of holding men more responsible at a legal level, and women more responsible at a personal level. Abortion is not even the point. Even when abortion was illegal, an unmarried woman who had a child did not necessarily become its legal guardian or mother-in-fact.

Many women's children were raised by their extended families, fostered out to a family friend who already had children, or was put up for adoption. Compensation could be sought by whomever ended up with the child via paternity suit, but only if the father had means.

In many places today a similar option is presented to the mother three times. She can leave the child with an agency through the hospital by arranging this prior to birth. Safe Haven laws intended to reduce child abuse allow her to leave a very young child with a trusted provider anonymously, sometimes up to a year later. And if she considers herself unfit, she can relinquish the child into the foster-care system, which can sometimes then place it with a relative. This is all great -- a self-consciously inept parent is a horrible thing.

But there is no corresponding path for a fiscally inept father. (Most of the men jailed for avoiding child-support are honestly not capable of complying. They may even have income, but they do not have the ability to properly manage it. And they may have gone off and started another family that they can just barely support.)

So this gap in the equality of responsibility is not new. And it remains relevant whether or not you consider abortion an option. If a mother can voluntarily relinquish her parental rights, then so should a father be able to.

She need not have any obligation to this child, but his is established.


This exact argument was taken up by Sally Sheldon of Kent Law School, U. of Kent, Canterbury in her 2003 article "Unwilling Fathers and Abortion: Terminating Men's Child Support Obligations?", which states that:

the currently accepted grounding of child support liability (in voluntary creation of need) provides little scope for refuting the men's groups' argument [that the unilateral choice to carry a child exempts the man from child support obligations]. The paper then moves on to argue that voluntary creation of need is, however, inadequate as a basis for child support liability, and that the current analysis offers compelling grounds for preferring a collective model of support obligations.

She writes:

The analysis above has shown that, for those who are not happy to rely on a conservative vision of sex (where consenting to sex also inevitably entails consenting to procreation), the received justification for private child support obligations must fail. p. 17

In conclusion, she finds that "the state has a duty to meet children's basic needs and that this should be done at a generous level." She justifies this claim by identifying unfair treatment of women, both in paying them less and in expecting them to take care of children when men don't. She finishes:

I hope that the analysis of this paper sheds new light on the state’s current abdication of what is arguably its most important duty: to meet the basic needs of all its citizens. p. 20


women making independent decisions about their lives should not expect men to finance their choice.


She is right that if the mother were regarded as having the sole right to abort or birth the child, it would not follow that the father should be financially obligated for the support of a child for whose entrance into the world he had no subsequent, say, "veto" power. But both of these claims bear further examination as to their validity...

Is it possible to derive the unilateral right to abortion, as described in the quote, and the duty for men to pay child support from the same reasoning?

No. In pregnancies arising from consensual sex, there is no veto right for either parent. That decision was already made. Procreation is a three-party contract; in every case there are now three human beings involved, and no one can claim to honor human rights and yet violate any one of these.

If so, how exactly? And if it's not possible, what are adjustments to either the right to abortion or the duty of child support that unify the underlying ethical reasoning?

In a relationship involving consensual procreation, the mother is as obligated to bring her pregnancy to full term and to nurture her child as the father is to provide for and protect and teach the child. Both obligations are in full force as of the time of procreation and cannot possibly be annulled without violating real human rights. The child has as full a right to live as any other human. He or she has a right to be born, nurtured, loved and provided for by stable and mutually committed parents. Voluntary neglect of these responsibilities is an abandonment of the most fundamental human rights. Children are obligated to live in such a way as to honor their parents for the gift of life, nurture, protection and upbringing. It is a mutual contract of pure benefit to all involved.

Neither parent ever has a right at any point to deny his or her child's right to life nor to hamper the child's chance of life or success.

But what about...

In uncommon cases such as rape, the procreative act was not remotely consensual on the part of one of the two parents. In such cases, adoption can be encouraged, such that the financial burden of rearing the child can be borne by those more willing if one or both of the biological parents is unwilling. Forfeiting a viable life even when begotten through coercion is strongly discouraged, since avenues exist for the life, care, and well-being of the child.

In the rare case that the mother's health is threatened by the pregnancy or the chances for survival for the mother or baby are very slim, compassion persuades us to do all that we can to improve those chances. It would seem crass to condemn one who . Nonetheless, discovery, innovation and patience and sometimes re-tests have brought about safe or safer deliveries for many children and mothers who were thought to have a very grim prospect. As an example, the false positive rate for diagnosing potentially life-threatening ectopic pregnancies is stunningly high. Re-tests and further diagnoses are encouraged before deciding on a course of action that might result in miscarriage or inflicted birth defects.

Rights and Responsibilities in a Changing Landscape

Both father and mother have an equal right to their children insofar as they both fulfill their duties to their children and to each other. We must be careful ethically and politically to avoid any one-sided policy or a situation that creates a conflict of interests that enables continued fracture of families and lowers esteem for marriage and children. It is totally unjust, as Mrs. DeCrow insightfully observed, that the mother and father should be on unequal (that is, not equally valued or equally important) grounds. In a world in which masculine and feminine roles (though ironically not value) are increasingly seen as equal, any asymmetries in treatment should naturally disappear so as to maintain or restore fair treatment. If mothers leave nurturing roles to become breadwinners and providers, requiring fathers to bear sole financial responsibility for their children is an injustice. Such imbalance is unsustainable, especially since it fractures relationships between men and women and makes wholesome family life a near impossibility. Ultimately, this cycle of insincere equality and gender-based collusion and destabilization of the family is unfair to everyone.

Wholesome contractual marriage and the elimination of the welfare state is the necessary solution to the problem. Eliminating no-fault divorces and erasing any and all financial or legal incentive for divorce will do far more to ameliorate family relationships than will any amount of romance novels, diamonds or counseling. The undoing of these safeguards has precipitated the current figurative and literal bloodbath. Let father and mother be co-equal according to mutually agreeable conditions. If any will not then fulfill his or her end of the contract, the corresponding rights are forfeit. Intentional failure to care for one's own offspring is a sin against human rights so deep and disturbing that it nullifies the perpetrator's own corresponding rights in society at large. Ultimately we see that it is the discarding of marriage that leads to irresponsibility regarding offspring, broken families, unilateral abortion decisions and the child support dilemma spoken of in the question. Wholesome, intact marriage eliminates the child support question and makes much more likely a favorable and united decision regarding birth and childrearing. It is in the best interests of all societies to seek to maximize its appeal and the success of marriage.

Sticking with realities of universal and equitable law, you will find that a great many complex and dense issues suddenly become easy to understand and practical to apply consistently.

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