Prospective Fathers and Their Unborn Children
Parness, Jeffrey A.
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While significant national attention has recently been paid to varying questions about the legal duties of prospective mothers to their unborn children, little comparable focus has been placed on the duties of prospective fathers. Why the difference? Though men and women obviously participate differently in nurturing the development of potential human life, there is much that both prospective parents can do to promote the well-being of their future offspring. This inattention to male responsibilities not only undercuts prevailing governmental interests in protecting potential life, but also may, at times, constitute prohibited sex discrimination. When attention has been paid to prospective fathers, the results are usually disheartening. Treatment of men is often too lenient; yet, on occasion, treatment is too harsh. Further, many times there is little correlation between the legal duties of prospective mothers and fathers in situations where their conduct is comparable. This article seeks to prompt greater dialogue on the legal duties of prospective fathers to their unborn children. In doing so, it employs a recent case litigated in the courts of Florida and involving certain aspects of a prospective father's legal duties. The article utilizes the case, as well as recent controversies over prebirth maternal duties, to suggest some guidelines for establishing prebirth paternal duties. In particular, it addresses paternal duties in settings involving criminal prosecution, coercive civil laws, and involuntary termination of parental rights-areas which to date have been significantly considered only for prospective mothers. Finally, it examines additional prebirth paternal duties in settings where there are no easy parallels to maternal conduct.