Stephanie Fairyington has written a fascinating feature for Elle magazine that centers around a couple named Greg Bruell and Sandra Hedrick. Greg and Sandra are both divorced parents; Greg has two children and Sandra has a daughter – well, make that two daughters. The second, conceived with Greg, is at the heart of an intense debate about the reproductive rights of men.
Lisa Belkin, on her Motherlode blog, deciphers the two key questions asked in Fairyington’s piece. “If a man makes it clear before a child is conceived that he does not want to be a father, and if a woman agrees in advance that she will terminate an accidental pregnancy, should he have to pay child support when she changes her mind?” and “If a couple find themselves unexpectedly expecting, and she wants to terminate but he says he will take full responsibility for the baby after it is born, should he have a legal right to require her to carry to term?”
Over the course of their relationship, Sandra’s been pregnant twice with Greg’s child. She aborted the first pregnancy, even though she didn’t want to, because Greg thought their lives were too unstable. So when Sandra decided in early 2009 that she wanted to keep the second pregnancy, Greg was indignant. She’d “vowed to Greg that if she conceived again, she’d immediately terminate.” But at 39, she realized “that this might be her last chance to have another child.”
“Infuriated about the miserable betrayal, Bruell told Hedrick it was over between them, for good…. Then, two months later, he was served with a lawsuit demanding child support for his unborn child.” So he contacted the National Center for Men, run by Mel Feit. Feit thinks “couples should sign a ‘Reproductive Rights Affidavit’ that spells out what to do in the event of an unplanned pregnancy.” This sounds like a great idea, although it’s legally unenforceable. According to Dean Schreyer of the Men’s Legal Center in San Diego, “parents have parental responsibilities. These are not rights, in the conventional sense. Parents are not allowed to use these powers and authorities if and when they so choose. They are required to use them on behalf of their children, at all times, no exceptions.” Meaning, if you have a baby, even if you don’t want it, you are still responsible for it.
But what about instances where parents relinquish their parental rights, as my biological father did? Parental rights are taken away all the time by family courts. In those cases, the parent is seen as unfit, but I wonder if there’s a way that men and women could give up their parental rights willingly – legally – as long as the other parent agreed. Women can willingly give babies to strangers through the adoption process (again, how much say do men have over that?), so why shouldn’t a woman be able to give a baby to the biological father of her child? Granted that she’s willing to carry the child to term, which brings us back to Belkin’s question.
Of course, things change, and people change based on the things that happen to them. Greg Bruell said himself, “At 42, I don’t have the same choices I had before. I needed to be more accepting of everything, of the circumstances.” In a fairy-tale ending, he is not only paying child-support, but helping to raise his new daughter, Ava, and considering a marriage to Sandra. Makes me think of that tried-and-true saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” It’s only that sometimes we’re forced and/or fortunate to realize the reason after the fact.
Photo: Spigoo via Flickr