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Imagine I were to park my car in your driveway. Would you expect me to move it out eventually? What if I refused? What if my car sat there for weeks without moving, getting in your way, and either you had to pay to get it removed or it sat there and became more and more of a nuisance to you? You allowed me to park it there, presumably. What if I argued that, because you allowed me to park it there for the night, and because I do not want it anymore and you never gave me parameters for its removal, it is your responsibility now to take care of it?
I would imagine you would feel put out. You should not have to take care of my car, you will argue. Sure, you let me park in your driveway, but that certainly was not an invitation to leave it there forever.
The above thought experiment has its flaws – a foetus certainly is not equitable to a car – but the premise, I will argue, is similar. If a man impregnates a woman, and she decides to use his sperm which he has “parked” in her uterus to create a baby, he holds a certain amount of responsibility towards her and the potential baby. This is in direct disagreement to an article by George Harris which I will use to contrast my argument, and highlight some of the main points in both.
In his essay, “Fathers and Foetuses”, George Harris remarks that, unless a prior agreement has been made, a man is free from any responsibility after the fact of copulation – if the woman conceives, it is her problem alone unless he decides to become involved in the life of the foetus. Harris uses a hypothetical example to outline the premises for his argument. The example and premises are as follows:
- Jack and Jane pursue a purely physical relationship, and Jane becomes pregnant;
- Jack wants to keep the baby, Jane does not;
- They have not discussed children or marriage prior to the pregnancy;
Therefore Jane has no responsibility towards Jack to keep the foetus, and aborts.
Harris extends this thought experiment to say that because Jane has no responsibility towards Jack to keep the foetus, Jack has no responsibility towards Jane if she decides to follow through with the pregnancy. He has not agreed to support a child, just as she has not agreed to carry a child. It is only a matter of fairness that both parties are without any obligation given that no prior agreement has been made. Just because any potential infant resulting from the pregnancy would be Jack’s biological child does not mean he has any obligation to support it, just as he has no right to demand it is carried to term.
It is here that Harris and I part ways in agreement. I am disinclined to agree that because Jack and Jane did not discuss what to do in the case of a pregnancy, Jack is cleared of all responsibility. I will not argue that a man is fully responsible for any child he fathers, without any question. I will, however, argue that in any heterosexual relationship in which copulation occurs, both parties must acknowledge (either privately or jointly) that pregnancy is a risk they face, and one that both should be prepared for. Even if one party has suffered at the hands of a poorly equipped educational system, one who pursues a physical, heterosexual relationship should realize that pregnancy, no matter how reliable the birth control method, is always a risk. Even “the pill”, which holds a 99% success rate, is not always successful in preventing what is one of the most natural human occurrences (i.e. pregnancy). It is with this in mind that I argue that although a couple (may they be in a committed relationship or not) might not outwardly discuss the possibility of pregnancy, there is an implicit acknowledgement that the woman may, at some point, become pregnant. Therefore, there is a certain amount of responsibility towards one another insofar as possible procreation is concerned, and never can a potential father deny the knowledge that pregnancy was a distinct, if not expected or desired, possibility.
Another one of Harris’ arguments looks at how Jane, if she decides to follow through with the pregnancy, is using Jack’s sperm without his permission. He never stated he desires children with Jane, and therefore he should not be responsible for any children brought about by their relationship. He has abandoned his sperm, and she has taken it up and used it as she will. If Jack decides to become involved in the future child’s life, it is up to him, but he holds no responsibility to Jane or the foetus one way or another.
Here, again, I will disagree with Harris on similar grounds as before. Jack and Jane, through agreeing (again, implicitly or explicitly) to have a purely physical relationship, have accepted the terms and conditions which come with any physical relationship. That is to say that they both accept the risks and are willing to take responsibility for what comes out of said relationship. By entering into an unspoken contract with Jane, Jack has the right to expect certain things from Jane. He can expect she holds no serious relationship ideals of him; that she will be honest with him about any STIs she may have or have had; and that if she somehow affects him physically, she will take responsibility for her actions. Because he can expect this of her, she should be able to expect the same of him.
I return briefly to my opening thought experiment: Jack has parked his car in Jane’s driveway. She did not intend to keep it; she simply allowed him the use of the space for the evening. Does her allowing him to park his car in her driveway for a night give him leave to deposit it indefinitely? Has she given up her rights to his not removing the car because she has not explicitly stated, “You will move your car after 10:30pm on October 3rd, 2009, or else you will be fully responsible for its upkeep and/or removal”? It is not reasonable to say she has. Nor is it fair to say that because she took no extra precaution to keep his car from residing in her driveway for longer than the allotted time she has lost all claim to his looking after it.
With every day to day interaction with other people, we hold certain, unspoken agreements. We agree not to unduly insult one another; we agree not to purposely injure one another without provocation; we agree to take responsibility for our actions. Harris, in his arguments regarding Jack and Jane, does not take into account the last of these unspoken agreements. I hold it always to be true, however, that in every relationship there exists an unspoken contract based upon the realities of our natural state; that is to say that when a man and a woman decide to pursue a physical relationship, they both acknowledge that there is a possibility, no matter how small, of pregnancy. Because of this, it is both their responsibilities to deal with a pregnancy should it occur, and, if it results, it is both their responsibilities to deal with a resulting baby.
Harris, G. (1986, April). Fathers and Fetuses. Ethics . Chicago, Illinois, United States of America: Univeristy of Chicago.
 (Harris, p. 597)
 (Harris, p. 595)
 (Harris, p. 597)