Why you should care

Because some aren’t looking to be father of the year.

When plus signs appear on pee sticks, the result is often joy, prenatal planning and excitement about the impending pitter-patter of tiny feet. Then again, plenty of unwitting dads-to-be feel only two things: regret and dread.

Roughly half of all American pregnancies each year are unplanned, meaning both the woman and the man, be they partners, exes or one-night stands, sustain a shock from the appearance of those two little blue lines. Conventional liberal thinking has it that it’s the woman’s choice whether or not to have the baby. But a recent proposal in Sweden seeks to give men the right to choose a “legal abortion” — not by terminating the pregnancy, but by declaring they’ll opt out of the child’s life, financially and physically. They would have to do so before the 18th week of pregnancy, the point at which abortion becomes illegal in Sweden.

Women have all the power to determine whether or not a man will end up supporting a child that they never planned, and may well have been told couldn’t happen.

Anne Mitchell, attorney

“You’ll pay a fee and fill in some papers [to have] the law on your side,” says Marcus Nilsen, chairman of LUF Väst, the party that floated the idea. As you might imagine, Nilsen and his left-leaning millennial cohorts have gotten an earful from feminists, conservatives and even liberals. But Nilsen, who likes to point out that three under-18 women floated the proposal, says it’s just a “starting point” for a discussion about fatherhood and realistic roles for men in modern family life, and not up for national debate … yet.

Sweden is very liberal, Nilsen says, but tends to swing to the right when it comes to children, men’s rights and their obligations. So whom would a legal male abortion benefit? Nilsen claims it would protect men from women looking to trap them into fatherhood, either by lying about infertility or birth control. But, he notes, it also works the other way, by enabling more “honest responsibility from the man” and helping men to “make [their] choice either way, but legally.” In other words: Better to be a certified deadbeat dad than a child-support shirker.

Anne Mitchell, a Boulder, Colorado–based attorney and retired professor of family law, likes the idea, saying she’s seen too many cases of women fooling men into impregnating them; the idea, she argues, would even “a playing field that has been uneven for far too long.” The women, in turn, would get all the information they need to assess the situation before the cut-off date for an abortion, and no longer be left wondering whether the men in question would stand by their side. This is more fair, Mitchell says, because it will “place responsibility for their actions squarely on their own shoulders.”

Ideally, of course, men and women would share equal parental responsibility. “But at this point … women have all the power to determine whether or not a man will end up supporting a child that they never planned, and may well have been told couldn’t happen,” notes Mitchell. Women also retain all the power for opting out by having a physical abortion — and yet men cannot stop them from terminating pregnancies they might want to keep. Letting reluctant dads “opt out during the same window of time that a woman can make that choice starts to move toward fairness and balance,” Mitchell argues, adding that she’d ditch the word “abortion” — too inflammatory — in favor of “opting out” or “renouncing.”

And in Sweden? Nilsen says the youth wing’s national conference will address the issue later this year, and that any resulting motion is unlikely to be discussed by the party proper before 2018. He admits it’s unlikely to pass, and he’s not even sure the proposal is the best possible way forward. But he is asking people not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, and to consider equalizing the legal path to parenthood.

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