Saturday, January 31, 2009

My womb or ours

In 2003, a Gallup Organization poll found that by a margin of 72 percent to 26 percent, the public supports laws requiring a married woman to notify her husband if she decides to have an abortion. In every state of the union adoptions require the consent of the siring mate. The legal father - the man to whom the woman is married, if she is married - and/or the putative father - the man who fathered the child if conceived out of wedlock - have the same rights as the mother in making adoption decisions.

Beyond those public leanings and legalities, what responsibilities does a woman have to share or extend her reproductive rights with her mate? Should the choice for birth control methods be discussed the same way a car purchase would be? Should a husband carry equal sway in the discussion about the number of children a couple have?

In a recent conversation with my unmarried and childless cousin, I was surprised to find that she believed that reproductive choices should not be solely that of a woman. I was surprised mostly because she usually has a very feminist view. Further discussions with other friends indicate that many women hold this view, but that their positions are very nuanced: A man has some say (and the right to know about a pregnancy) only if the couple is married, for example.

We are certainly moons away from the days when women were considered chattel. Today women view their reproductive rights in a myriad of ways. Being a single mother does not carry the same stigma it did 20 years ago. Increasingly, woman are choosing to parent solo. As women have become financially independent, they have come to look at motherhood as an option available outside of marriage and partnership. This is particularly true for women whose search for Mr. Right is not keeping pace with their biological clocks, or if the Mr. has turned out to be wrong.

According to the polls - and the women I've spoken to - married women lose some of those freedoms single women are exercising more and more. The feminist teenager I used to be now almost feels justified for having held an anti-marriage stance.

It is widely accepted that marriage is sustained through compromise. Even so, compromise is not always possible - even in the most successful marriages. Does a woman's rights then revert to the days when she could be declared a taxable asset? Obviously this discussion will take a different direction for every couple, and at different times. The principal question remains though: Should/does a woman's reproductive rights be suppressed with marriage?

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