San Diego Union-Tribune

Fallacy of "A woman's body, a woman's business"

By Warren Farrell
August 31, 2001
San Diego Union-Tribune

'We're thrilled" said the attorney after hearing of the recent New Jersey State Supreme Court frozen embryo decision. "Parenting is a matter of choice; it shouldn't be coerced."

For decades, men have pondered what it would be like to not be forced to be a parent. Currently, if a man and woman have unprotected sex, only the woman still has a choice: a choice to abort or sue for support.

If she falsely claims to be on birth control, he cannot successfully sue her, but he can be sued by her. In many states she can raise a child without ever telling the man he is the father, yet any time within 18 years, sue for support retroactively. (If you want your son to practice safe sex, explain to him that if he puts his body into a woman's body, he puts his life into her hands.)

But now, with frozen embryos, the old rationale -- "it's her body, her business" -- disappears. And with surrogate mothers and lesbian parents, two women fight each other for rights. Which calls forth arguments for the other woman's rights that are ignored when it is a man vs. a woman.

In the New Jersey State Supreme Court case, for example, the woman did not want her former husband to have the right to use their frozen embryos with his new wife. Although her body was not involved, she prevailed. The decision relied heavily on Davis vs. Davis, in which the woman won each time the case was appealed, even when her position and her husband's positions were reversed. Here's how:

Mary Sue Davis won custody of all of the frozen embryos created by her and her former husband, allegedly because she wanted to create children from them. However, when both of them remarried, their positions reversed: She no longer wanted to use the embryos to create children, but he did, because his new wife was infertile. Nevertheless, he still could not get the embryos -- even though he was in exactly the position that had allowed her to win the embryos.

The degree to which the argument that "it's a woman's body, it's a woman's business" is a smokescreen becomes apparent when two lesbians fight for primary parent time, and the feminist National Center for Lesbian Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union both fight for the parent time rights of the woman whose body did not bear the child -- calling their advocacy "cutting edge."

Interesting. When the body not being used is a man's, we hear that it's exactly because his body is not being used that he doesn't have equal rights; when the body not being used is a woman's, feminists declare she should have equal rights.

This double standard also makes surrogate mothering a tricky issue for feminists. On the one hand, surrogate mothering allows a woman options. But it also makes it apparent the issue is not "a woman's body, a woman's business" -- that the right to choose is not based on the womb, but on the intent of the contract. Thus the rationale is lost for women's rights prevailing over men's. Thus the opposition to surrogate mothering.

With frozen embryos, surrogate mothering, and lesbian rights, courts will no longer be able to make the easy choice of women over men, but will rely increasingly on contract law. And this will impact our sons and daughters.

When a couple is dating, it will be argued that their implied contract is short term; that a woman who has a fetus in her womb does not have the right to change that short-term contract any more than the surrogate mother has the right to change the contract. A law that allows either sex to unilaterally change a short-term contract into a long-term contract breaks contract law. A law that allows only women to break it violates the 14th Amendment's provision for equal protection of both sexes under the law.

A woman's body should be hers to control. When she chooses to share it with a man, she exercises that control. He makes a parallel choice. If together they produce a fetus, equality would dictate joint rights and joint responsibilities.

Just as the 20th century brought us the fight for women's equal workplace rights, so the 21st century will bring us the fight for men's equal reproductive rights -- men's ABC Rights and Responsibilities (in the areas of Abortion, Birth Control and Child Care).

"It's a woman's body, a woman's business" implies that were it a man's body, it would also be his business. Well, any time a man is asked to work to pay child support, he is using his body, his time, his life -- not for nine months, but for a minimum of 18 to 21 years. A woman has no right to a unilateral choice that affects the rest of a man's life any more than a man would have the right to a unilateral choice that affects the rest of a woman's life. That's one reason rape is a crime.

We are at a unique moment in history -- when a woman's body is affected, we say the choice is hers; but when a boy's body is affected, we say the choice is not his -- the law requires only our 18-year-old sons to register for the draft, and therefore potential death, if needed.

Male-female fusion does not create women's rights. It creates a fusion of rights.

Farrell is the author of numerous books on sexual politics, including "Father and Child Reunion" and "Why Men Are The Way They Are." (

Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.