Sexism in the Courtroom: What’s Good for the Goose Could Send the Gander to Jail

Dear Mr. Dad: It seems like every time I turn on the TV there’s a story about welfare moms with nine kids who are collecting huge government checks, or deadbeat dads who have five kids with five different women and aren’t paying child support. I really resent that my tax dollars are paying for those kids and their mothers. Isn’t there something we can do to keep those men from getting women pregnant?

A: Do you really want to go down that road? Like you, most of us have heard the stories about women on welfare who keep having kids they can’t possibly support. And, like you, many of us have shaken our head and thought something along the lines of, “she shouldn’t be allowed to have any more kids.” But thinking that is usually as far as it goes. In my view, having children is a right, not a privilege. So the idea of actually preventing a woman from getting pregnant—even if she already has 9 kids—is abhorrent. It wasn’t all that long ago that many intellectually challenged (formerly known as “mentally retarded”) women were medically sterilized without their consent.

But what puzzles me is why the right to become a parent doesn’t seem to extend to men. After reading your email, I saw a news item about a case in Elyria, Ohio that tackles this issue head on. Here’s the story: Asim Taylor, 35, has fathered four children and hasn’t paid child support since 2009—he owes around $79,000. Of course, not knowing the exact circumstances (for example, Asim might have been incapacitated by illness and isn’t earning enough money to pay his obligations), we can’t make blanket statements about him. But let’s assume the worst: that he has the ability to pay yet simply refuses to do so. In cases like that, I’m okay with garnishing his wages, seizing tax returns, and doing whatever else it takes to get his attention.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough for Judge James Walther, who has forbidden Taylor from having any more children for five years—unless he can support the ones he already has.

This is what it sounds like to me: It’s okay for a woman to have as many children as she’d like to. Ditto for a guy who pays his bills but completely neglects his children. But it’s definitely not okay for a guy who can’t afford to pay child support but who might very well be an amazingly involved dad. In one of the great understatements of the decade, Taylor’s attorney says that Judge Walther is “overstepping.”
The judge’s ruling reinforces two completely absurd notions. First, that men are 100 percent responsible for contraception. Theoretically, if Taylor’s wife or girlfriend does get pregnant, she could choose between having an abortion or giving birth, which would send Taylor to jail. Second, that it’s a man’s money—rather than his capacity to love and nurture his children—that determines his fitness as a father.

I’m all for expecting high levels of personal responsibility from people. But by trying to legally impose a double standard, Judge Walther is doing a tremendous disservice to men by holding them to a higher standard than women. And he’s doing an equally tremendous disservice to women by treating them like hapless victims of men’s inability to keep their pants on instead of adults who have made conscious decisions about procreation. Having a baby takes two people—and both should be held responsible for supporting it.