How the Supreme Court Silenced the Voice of the Fathers

Why, in two years since Dobbs, have we not seen state legislatures directly challenge the outcome of Danforth?

The United States Supreme Court Building stands in Washington, DC.
The United States Supreme Court Building stands in Washington, DC. (photo: Wolfgang Schaller / Shutterstock)

As we celebrate Father’s Day, I must confess a bewildering bafflement.

Two years after the fall of Roe v. Wade, there is a baffling silence about “father’s rights.”

The abortion juggernaut is advancing in part because it manages to maintain a blackout on the question of what is an embryo or fetus. A comprehensive omertà (the Mafia vow of silence) envelopes abortionists, pro-abortion politicians and the “mainstream” media when it comes to even discussing whether an unborn child is a human being. The child has simply been photoshopped out of the picture.

But, two years after Dobbs — whose anniversary we mark on Monday, June 24 — we also aren’t talking about fathers, either. And that makes no sense.

Unborn babies are small and en ventre sa mère. They’re out of sight … and we know what that means about minds. 

But fathers — men — are not invisible. They are not out of sight. 

As bad as Roe was, the decisions that were built on it were invidious in their own way. One of the worst was Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, a 1976 Supreme Court ruling that struck down Missouri’s paternal consent law.

In the wake of Roe, as states scrambled to address the unprecedented situation of all their abortion laws being questioned, Missouri decided to “follow the science.” Since it took two people — a man and a woman — to make a baby, the Show Me State reasoned two people needed to agree on killing that baby. Missouri therefore required a father’s consent to procure an abortion.

Harry Blackmun, who wrote Roe, also wrote Danforth, striking down Missouri’s law. What was his reasoning? Missouri had no constitutional right to stop a woman from having an abortion. If Missouri did not have that right, it could not “delegate” that right to a father. Therefore, fathers have no say against abortion.

Please reread the last three sentences carefully.

Is a father’s interest in the child he co-created something that is his because he is a father, or is it because the state gave him that interest? The Supreme Court said the latter. And that inanity has not yet been explicitly overturned.

No father thinks his paternal rights come from the state. His paternal rights come from who he is. The idea that it is the state that gives him parental rights is an extremely dangerous notion. That camel’s nose poking under the tent needs to be gored with a very sharp pitchfork, not just because of the threat it represents to fathers but to parents in general. It’s the same notion that opponents of homeschooling or parental educational choice use in two forms: the “moderate” version (“we co-parent with you in educating children”) and a rarer, “extreme” version (“how you rear your kids is subject to our review and approval, and remember, we can take your kid away from you”). Pro-life fathers and parental rights advocates have common cause.

So why, in two years since Dobbs, have we not seen state-based legislative efforts to require paternal consent to abortion? Why have we not seen state legislatures directly challenge the outcome of Danforth?

There are two possible hypotheses.

First, fathers aren’t interested. But I don’t believe that. Those who take part in the annual March for Life in Washington know the current version ends on First Street on Capitol Hill, adjacent to the Supreme Court. For years, “Silent No More” has organized powerful witness on the steps of the high court, where women who were sold the “pro-choice” bill of goods speak about their regrets in obtaining an abortion. But not just women. There are fewer but still some men who also speak of the loss of fatherhood, sometimes by their own fault (taking the mother to the abortion clinic) but sometimes also despite their best efforts. 

Second, fathers support abortion. No doubt some do: abortion has always been a “solution” for men, getting them “off the hook” for their paternal responsibilities. For men who just walked away, abortion “evened the playing field” by letting women walk away, too. For men who wanted to feign “responsibility,” $500 and a car ride eliminated 21 years of child support. Not a bad bargain. The pro-abortion crowd has always vacillated between “men as enemies of women” trope (which is why we need “choice”) and the “men as allies of women” (which is why all “good” men march with women to defend “abortion rights”). As these are the main narrative lines of the abortion crowd, allowing the image of responsible fathers who object to the death of the child for whom they are co-responsible messes up that picture. They have to keep that story quiet.

The question is: Why are we?