Abortion: Do men get a say?
A faint tremor is being felt in the stronghold of an implacable order that has held power across the developed world for the past 50 years.
In the state assembly of Ohio, in the US, a bill has been tabled that would give fathers a final say in abortion. Their written consent would have to be obtained before an abortion could be effected. If a father refused consent, the abortion would not be allowed.
This is the first time since the development of abortion by curettage in the 1960s that any legislature has given consideration to the possibility that a man who has effected a pregnancy ought to be accorded a voice in its termination.
Until now, men's views on this issue have been absolutely inadmissible. Any man who has tried to raise his voice has been denounced as an enemy of "a woman's inalienable right to choose".
According to one of the Ohio bill's co-sponsors, it is based on the principle that "since fathers will have legal responsibilities for child support, they should have rights regarding the birth or destruction of the foetus".
Under the terms of the bill, if the woman said she had no idea who might be the father, she would be required to provide a list of names of men who might conceivably fit the bill. Those men would then have to be tested to establish the identity of the father and that individual would be required to give written permission before the abortion could be performed. If the father could not be identified, the woman would not be allowed to terminate her pregnancy.
If the woman were to say that the pregnancy was the result of rape, she would have to provide a police report as evidence before she could have the abortion.
Heavy sanctions would back these provisions. A woman who forged the signature of an alleged father, and a man who falsely claimed to be the father in order to help a woman get an abortion, would both be subject to prosecution - as would the doctor who performed an abortion without the written consent of the father.
The Ohio bill is, it seems, very unlikely to pass into state law but looks as if it might be a straw in the wind. In its unequivocal radicalism it eclipses all previous attempts to assert any rights for men in abortion.
I thought I was being daring in my 1992 book No More Sex War when I wrote: "Women who choose to have an abortion might be a good deal better off if their men were required to endorse and support their decision. If the man agrees, the burden of the decision will be shared. If the man does not agree, he ought to be provided with a means to say so."
When, in 1989, The Times of London published a column of mine in which I mourned the absence of two aborted children whom I might have fathered, the paper received so many letters in response that they had to be run on full half-pages on consecutive days. Nineteen out of 20 of those correspondents furiously told me that, as a man, I had no right to express any opinion on abortion and I could keep my feelings of loss to myself.
The woman's right to choose is, obviously, not the only concern in a pregnancy - despite the fury with which feminists have been insisting on that position for 50 years.
On top of the highly contentious question of whether the foetus has philosophical, moral and legal rights, the inseminating man must clearly, undeniably have an active interest that ought to be established and recognised with legal rights. And then, too, the wider society that pays for the operation under a state health service should also have a say.
Is it in the interests of UK taxpayers, for example, that more than 150000 abortions are performed every year? Is it in the interests of the wider society that those lives should be stilled?
Or are those questions only allowed in Ohio?