Consider this scenario: you and your mates are out for a couple of beers on Saturday night. You meet a woman, and after a couple of hours of dancing and good conversation, you decide to spend the night together. She informs you that she is on the contraceptive pill, so you leave the next morning with no qualms.
Fast-forward a couple of months, and you find out that you are going to be a father – with the woman you met once on a boozy night out.
Like it, lump it, Dad
For 31-year-old Jon Kjellund, this became a reality. Kjellund became a father after a one-night stand with an Austrian tourist back in November 2011. Fourteen days after their initial encounter, the woman informed him – via Facebook – that she was pregnant and was going to keep the child.
The following year, the woman gave birth, and Kjellund became father to a baby girl – against his will. Bound by Danish and Austrian law, Kjellund was forced to pay monthly contributions for a child he was not allowed to visit.
Same termination date
Now Denmark, a country championed for its progress in achievements of gender equality, is debating a man’s right to a ‘juridisk abort’ (there is no English-language equivalent, but ‘legal abortion’ is a rough translation) of an unborn
If successful, it would allow a potential father to legally abdicate his responsibility towards the child, providing he does by the end of the 12th week of a woman’s pregnancy – a cut-off date that coincides with the last week in which a woman can legally terminate a pregnancy.
Naturally, the man would lose any rights to visit the child, but would also not be required to pay any child support that he may otherwise be obliged to contribute up until the child’s 18th birthday.
A monumental shift
According to a DR poll in 2015, 42 percent of the population are in favour of giving fathers the right to a legal abortion, 9 percent feel the man should be waivered of legal and financial obligation if the woman has deceived him, while 26 percent are unsure.
These figures reveal a monumental shift in Danish gender discussions. Up until recently, the majority of gender-based discussions have focused on women, and largely thanks to the gains reached by feminist ideology, we are now closer to a gender-equal society than ever before.
Yet, for the first time in decades, we have seen a shift towards new and unfamiliar territory: the rights of the man. Suddenly, men are expressing their opinions, emotions and resistance against women having more rights – particularly when it comes to having children.
The concept of ‘juridisk abort’ – which was first introduced by Danish writer and economist Henrik Platz back in 2000 – has risen to the forefront in recent months due in part to the DR documentary ‘Involuntary Father’ in which TV presenter and debater Anne Sophia Hermansen expressed the need for more equality between men and women when it comes to having a child.
In May, Copenhagen University’s Foreningen Argument hosted a debate on the topic. “The reality is that this is an issue: there are women out there that cheat men in order to get pregnant,” Markus Klokhøj, the chairman of Foreningen Argument, told the Copenhagen Post Weekly.
“Women have the indisputable right to have an abortion and thereby the right to control their own body and future, but just as women are able to choose whether to have a child or not, should men not have an equal right in this decision? We thought it was a topic worthy of debate.”
Cheated into parenthood
Many argue that the biological and ethical aspects of parenthood exclude or undermine men. Jon Kjellund asserts that he would have said yes to a legal abortion had it been an option for him.
“It felt like assault,” he said during the debate. “The concrete reality is there is a bias in regards to men’s rights. Every time a man opens his mouth to speak up for himself on this topic, he is slammed to the ground with the response ‘Stop sulking!’ ‘You should’ve just been more careful!’”
“I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress from my period as a soldier in Afghanistan, but this experience has been far more distressing than my deployment,” he added.
Predictably, the call to offer men the right to a ‘legal abortion’ has not been met with whole-hearted enthusiasm. While many believe that a ‘legal abortion’ for men would promote equality between the sexes in the early stages of a pregnancy, a large percentage also see it as an attack on the nuclear family.
“We have seen this kind of problem before in Greenland, with thousands of children born out of wedlock and rendered legally fatherless. It causes familial mayhem. If ‘juridisk abort’ goes ahead in Denmark, I believe we would see a similar thing happen here in 15-20 years,” said Hanne Pedersen, a professor of legal culture at Copenhagen University, during the debate.
“By expecting that women actively go out to ‘cheat’ men into pregnancy, we are fashioning a culture in which deceit and fraud is rife. It is a legal suicide bomb.”
Pedersen also raises her concerns over the financial cost ‘juridisk abort’ would have for society. “If the man doesn’t take responsibility and pay for the child he has in part produced, then the cost of the child will fall into the hands of the state.”
From a different stance, those in favour of legal abortions claim that women would also benefit if they knew from the get-go whether a man was willing to commit to parenthood.
Quick exit strategy
One of the primary concerns is whether the ‘legal abortion’ debate is about equality or whether it is merely providing an emergency exit for men unwilling to take responsibility for their actions. Is it worth creating a safety net for involuntary fathers or will it merely create an increasingly intricate web of moral and ethical complications?
For now, the challenge is coming up with a sound proposal for how ‘juridisk abort’ would work in practice and as a law.
“In one way, ‘juridisk abort’ can be viewed as the beginning of a second wave of discussions that deal with gender equality from a male perspective. This is just one issue, but there are many others: men die earlier, there are fewer men at universities and schools etc,” said Klokhøj.