When Oral Sex Results in a Pregnancy: Can Men Ever
Escape Paternity Obligations?
By SHERRY F. COLB
Wednesday, Mar. 09, 2005
In a lawsuit against his ex-girlfriend, Richard O. Phillips has alleged that about six years ago, he
engaged in oral sex with her. Unbeknownst to Phillips, he says, his girlfriend, Sharon Irons,
allegedly saved the resulting semen and used it to inseminate herself. A pregnancy resulted, Irons
gave birth to a baby, and DNA tests proved Phillips to be the genetic father.
Though Phillips allegedly did not learn of either the pregnancy or the birth until some time later,
a court nonetheless ordered him to pay approximately $800 a month in child support.
Irons disputes Phillips's claims and asserts that she conceived her child in the ordinary way. For
purposes of this column only, however, I will assume the truth of Philips's allegations.
Phillips's suit originally contained allegations of theft, fraud, and intentional infliction of
emotional distress. An Illinois Appellate Court, however, dismissed the theft and fraud claims a
few weeks ago, allowing only the emotional distress action to go forward.
The facts of this case raise significant questions about the contours of a man's right -- if any -- to
A Woman's Right to Control Paternity
When a woman becomes pregnant, the man who impregnated her has few legal rights with
respect to that pregnancy. He cannot, for example, require the woman to remain pregnant if she
chooses to have an abortion. Conversely, he cannot force her to have an abortion if she wants to
remain pregnant and give birth.
Whether it is the right to become a parent or to avoid becoming a parent, then, the pregnant
woman's choice trumps that of the father of the pregnancy. Furthermore, if the woman chooses to
go to term with the pregnancy, the father is legally liable for child support.
All of this may seem quite unfair. If a man has no control over paternity, then why should he
have to pay for the resulting child? Don't responsibilities ordinarily come with rights, and vice
One reason for the inequity between women and men surrounding pregnancy is the disparate
physical circumstances in which a pregnant woman and the man who impregnated her,
respectively, find themselves. To grant a man a legal say in whether or not a woman stays
pregnant and bears his and her child is effectively to give him dominion over his partner.
As the crucial three-Justice plurality opinion stated in
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern
Pennsylvania v. Casey
, the case in which the Supreme Court declined to overrule
Roe v. Wade