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Pacific Research Institute

Ideology Still Trumps Science for Feminists

by Sally C. Pipes, Vol. 6, No. 7, July 8, 2002

Most observers would think it strange if a special-interest group demanded that a prisoner be kept in prison even after DNA tests proved conclusively that he was innocent. A parallel to such a situation may be found in the latest battle over child support.

While DNA testing has proved sufficient to free innocent prisoners, American men are often forced to pay child support even after establishing that they are not the father of the child. The practice stems from a centuries-old presumption, based in English common law, that a man is the father of all children born to his wife during their marriage. Alas, in these times that is sometimes not the case. If men are stepping out, it likely means that someone else is stepping in.

A recent Associated Press story noted the case of Dan Conners, a 39-year-old Californian, forced by court order to pay $1,400 a month child support for a daughter not his own, as he discovered six years after her birth. Similarly, Mr. Carnell Smith of Georgia discovered that the girl he had been supporting was not, as he had thought, his own daughter. Yet he lost an effort to have his child-support order stopped.

Georgia has recently enacted legislation that would allow men to stop paying child support if DNA tests established that the child is not in fact theirs. A similar law proposed in Vermont adds a measure against paternity fraud that would penalize women for falsely claiming that a man fathered a child by them.

In California, unless such fraud is involved, a man may only contest paternity for two years. An Assembly bill by Rod Wright, a Democrat from Los Angeles, would give judges leeway to drop child-support orders after that time if genetic testing proves the father' s case. The issue of fairness would seem to be clear, but the bill has provoked an outcry from those claiming to be advocates of children.

Dropping the support orders, they say, will harm the children, who have bonded with the man paying the support, even if he is not the real dad. But as supporters of the bill point out, eliminating someone who is not a child' s father could reduce the chance of medical problems based on false identity. It is bad public policy, with potentially disastrous consequences, to deny children the true medical history of their family.

Marjie Lundstrom, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist at the Sacramento Bee, charges that this is all a plot by powerful “fathers'-rights” groups to gain preferential treatment. The issue, she says, “is being framed by adults as a money matter and a one-dimensional notion of fairness.” What lurks behind those notions is a feminist orthodoxy, the presumption that all men are deadbeats who take advantage of women and then shirk responsibility.

One might imagine Lundstrom's outcry if a woman proven by DNA not to be the mother of a child was nevertheless forced by court order, issued by a male judge, to continue supporting the child at the rate of $1,400 per month, as in the case of Mr. Conners. The current arrangement assumes that all women are passive stay-at-home types, entirely dependent on a man. That profile is dated, to say the least.

The principle of personal responsibility means that fathers should indeed pay for the care of their offspring. But if justice is to prevail, those who pay must be the real fathers, not somebody else. The new laws in California and elsewhere would prompt women to disclose the true identity of the biological father. That is a reasonable request. It takes two, after all, to produce a child.

Justice and fairness must be based not on hunches or hearsay but on the best information. DNA testing helps provide that information. Those who want to exclude its benefits from child-support cases say a great deal about themselves. The true test for those who say that they want equal treatment comes when the equal treatment is enacted into law.

Sally Pipes is the President and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, a California-based think tank.