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Parent and Baby's Hands and Feet

In a review of Christine Overall’s  Why Have Children? , Amy L. Wax challenges feminists who simultaneously insist on the mother’s right to choose and the father’s duty to provide :

[Overall] argues that the biological father should be charged with full financial responsibility for any child that his sex partner chooses to have, regardless of the man’s personal resources and desires. She insists that “what the man cannot do, with moral justification, is to make an individual, unilateral decision during the pregnancy to reject all responsibility for the infant.”

Yet of course that is exactly what Overall wants to allow the mother do.

Wax, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the more interesting “secular conservatives” writing today, believes this is because Overall views reproductive choices as happening on an abstract plane rather than in the midst of human institutions. Which has consequences:

She is oblivious to the fact that, despite the recent expansion of efforts to enforce that obligation, the numbers of children actually receiving material, personal, and financial support from their biological fathers has steadily declined. She never considers the possibility that a complex system of incentives and customs might advance salutary goals more effectively than edicts grounded in the logic of rights and the force of law.

Wax concludes that Overall “seems unaware that channeling people’s behavior through imperfect and sometimes arbitrary conventions that assign intelligible and reciprocal responsibilities, burdens, and benefits might best minimize the evils she seeks to avoid. The most important convention is, of course, marriage. It is indeed an astonishing shortcoming of this book that the word ‘marriage’ is almost entirely absent—it does not even appear in the index.”

Read Wax’s full piece, which appears in our December issue and is available free to non-subscribers,  here .

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