Slut Patrol. (Subject to Debate)

By Pollitt, Katha | The Nation, September 30, 2002 | Go to article overview

Slut Patrol. (Subject to Debate)


Pollitt, Katha, The Nation


In some parts of China, local officials keep track of women's menstrual periods. We haven't come to that, but anyone who thinks women's reproductive and sexual privacy is secure in America wasn't following the news this summer. In August, John Stachokus obtained a temporary injunction from Judge Thomas Burke Jr. in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, barring his former girlfriend Tanya Meyers from having an abortion. Stachokus claimed that Meyers, who is 22, was being "pressured" by her mother; his lawyer further claimed that she had not given "informed consent" for the abortion. Fathers' rights advocates lionized Stachokus while Meyers, who said Stachokus harassed her and threatened her with physical harm after she broke up with him, was pilloried on local talk-radio for days. Hours after the injunction was overturned by an exasperated Judge Michael Conahan, she miscarried.

What's astonishing about the case is that it got as far as it did: Besides a string of rulings against boyfriends, including a previous one in Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 and in 1992 that the man's interest in the fetus could never outweigh the woman's right to decide what happens in her own body. Spousal notification was the only proposed restriction on abortion the Court rejected as over the line in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which originated in Pennsylvania--and you'd think would have caught Judge Burke's notice.

Florida has come up with a more innovative way of humiliating pregnant women. Last year the state legislature voted 134 to 16 to require women who wish to place their babies for adoption and do not know the identity of the father to take out newspaper ads, at their own expense, in every locality in which they had sex within the relevant time frame: They have to publish their names and physical descriptions and those of every possible candidate for paternity. The ostensible purpose is to protect adoptions from fathers informed too late--a rare but always newsworthy event--but the law is obviously punitive as well. After all, if surprise dads are a serious problem in Florida, why did the legislature exempt adoptions done through state agencies? (Answer: The state didn't want to pay for the ads, which can run to thousands of dollars.) There is no exemption for rape or incest victims, battered women, the mentally ill, the underage who "consent" to sex--so much for statutory rape. (A judge has exempted rape victims, while upholding the rest of the law, but the ruling applies only to Palm Beach County.) Defenders of the law hold up the specter of women who conceal their pregnancies from men eager to take on parental duties, if only they knew they had some. But adoption lawyers already search for biological fathers, and for men who wish to parent the product of a casual encounter a remedy already exists: In thirty states there are paternity registries, in which men can ask to be notified of adoption proceedings. Such a registry was rejected out of hand by Florida legislators--how could men be expected to sign on after every fleeting sex act? Keeping track of sperm is a woman's job. …

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