Coerced Parenthood as Family Policy: Feminism, the Moral Agency of Women, and Men's 'Right to Choose'

Lisa Lucile Owens

Columbia University - Department of Sociology

May 20, 2014

Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 5, p. 1, 2013

Part of what makes human agency moral is the demand that individuals think through their choices and, to the extent that they are choices made freely and unilaterally, that they shoulder most if not all of the consequences that visit upon those choices. It is not uncommon for the state to intervene in this moral field, shifting to choice-bystanders or the entire society the consequences attracted by free and unilateral choices individuals make. However, counter-intuitively, sometimes this burden reallocation operates to discount the moral agency of the individual whose choice was free and unilateral. Indeed, in a world of subtle forms of domination, disrespect for the moral agency of certain groups sometimes takes the form of a privilege that is benign on the surface while profoundly undermining in its long term impact on those groups’ claims to equal moral agency. This article argues that there is an aspect of women’s reproductive privileges that undermine their equal moral agency. Unfortunately, this phenomenon of subjugation-through-rights-guarantees has escaped feminist analysis of reproductive rights.

This article focuses on one instance of this phenomenon. The Supreme Court has established and regulated a basic privacy right to reproductive choices. However, men are not currently given similar choices and are compelled to parent as an effect of state policy that gives women unilateral reproductive choices in several instances, women are deprived of full responsibility for the consequences of those choices and surrender a significant dimension of their moral agency to a type of disempowering paternalism. This article argues that, as a principle of equality, men and women should be given similar choices regarding their reproductive destinies and correspondingly face the consequences for their choices.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

Keywords: Feminism, Reproductive Rights, coercion, agency, privacy, fourth amendment, Roe, Casey, women, gender, sex, discrimination, Janet Halley, morality, pregnancy, father's rights, equality, subordination, Foucault, domination, adoption, abortion, child support, baby moses law, single mother

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Date posted: May 22, 2014  

Suggested Citation

Owens, Lisa Lucile, Coerced Parenthood as Family Policy: Feminism, the Moral Agency of Women, and Men's 'Right to Choose' (May 20, 2014). Alabama Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 5, p. 1, 2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2439294

Contact Information

Lisa Lucile Owens (Contact Author)
Columbia University - Department of Sociology ( email )
413 Fayerweather Hall
1180 Amsterdam Avenue
New York, NY 10027
United States
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