Fathers are striking back in the cultural war over abortion. As a slogan, “abortion rights” has translated into the woman’s absolute prerogative to abort her unborn child. It is not only the interests of the child that are brutally crushed by this “right”; the desires of fathers—even married fathers—have also been brushed aside as irrelevant in abortion decisions. But this year a few fathers—in New York, in Utah, in Indiana—have started to protest the situation in court. In New York, orthodontist David Ostreicher sued his wife and her doctors and the hospital for aborting his child without notifying him. “This is a case of father’s rights, of husband’s rights,” Dr. Ostreicher told the press. “It’s a case of an outrageous act that a wife did against a husband. Without my knowledge, without my consent, she took our baby and ripped it out of her.”

Dr. Ostreicher’s suit comes too late to save his child, and similar “fathers’ rights” cases in Utah and Indiana likewise failed to prevent abortions. At last report, the Indiana case was still in the courts, as the father pressed a paternity action on behalf of the unborn but now dead child.

Since the Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that a wife need not obtain her husband’s consent for an abortion, the law offered little real hope for these frustrated fathers. Yet the three fathers who filed these suits did capture wide public attention and sympathy. Their suits seem fully justified to the millions of Americans who remain convinced that the nation’s future depends more upon the integrity of its families than upon the unchallenged authority of the Supreme Court. At a time when the rising tide of female-headed households threatens to drown half a generation in poverty, crime, drugs, and failure, it is becoming painfully evident that fathers were not quite so dispensable as feminist theory supposed. But among the policymakers now desperately calling for more paternal responsibility—often enforced through more vigorous state collection of child support—few acknowledge the need to rehabilitate paternal authority. As legal scholar George Swan recently observed, a father who has no legal say in whether his unborn child lives or dies can hardly be expected to acknowledge a legal obligation to support that child. Any repudiation of paternal authority must necessarily weaken the social responsibilities of fatherhood.

The problem transcends law. Wyndham Lewis observed more than 50 years ago that the “Age war” and the “Sex war” were both part of “an attack on man and on masculinity.” In his view, the overall objective of both feminism and “the politics of Youth” was “to eliminate all those elements in politics likely to perpetuate traditional ideas.” This united campaign required a dethroning of the “little ‘kings'” (i.e., the husbands and fathers) ruling family life. “Man in himself is a symbol of authority,” Lewis observed. “For, apart from man as father, or man as husband or man as leader (in tribe or state), there is an even more irreducible way in which man is a symbol of power.” At a time when a man enjoys no legal control over whether his wife aborts his child or his teenage daughter aborts his grandchild, it appears that the assault on male authority is well advanced. (BC)