Maggie Gallagher

Does biology matter?

The front page of The New York Times' business section reports on a new scientific breakthrough: a noninvasive blood test that can determine paternity while a child is still in the womb, as early as the eighth week of the pregnancy.

In other words, as soon as a woman finds out she is pregnant, she can find out who the father is.

The Times glowingly describes this new technology's many uses: "Men who clearly know they are the father might be more willing to support the woman financially and emotionally during the pregnancy." Even better, "state governments might one day pursue child support payments without having to wait until the birth."

Biology clearly matters a great deal. It can mean the difference between loving and not loving, feeling responsible and not feeling responsible, being held accountable, or being off scot-free.

The law cannot make a man into a loving father. But at a minimum, if he makes money, the law can enforce his financial obligations to his children. In the eyes of the law, biology alone is good enough to sustain a huge child support enforcement effort (with pitiful results, but at least the attempt is made). And for the economically marginal men who often father children out of wedlock, it's a huge cost imposed on the basis of biology alone.

Everywhere you turn biology alone matters enormously -- with one glaring exception: children conceived by donor insemination.

When these children grow up to be adults who yearn to know who their biological father is (as many but not all do), they face a wall of angry derision for their unacceptable desire.

These are the planned fatherless. These are the adult children around whom an industry has grown. They are supposed to be grateful they are alive at all. They weren't given the choice, they didn't do the planning and now that many are beginning to find their own voice, the planners and choosers do not like it one bit.

"I thought it would be so easy to arrive, state the obvious that children need their fathers, and everyone would be like, oh my God, thank you for reminding us!" Alana, a woman conceived by a sperm donor and who runs the AnonymousUs.org story collective, said in the new documentary "Anonymous Father's Day." "But there is a huge monster of money and people desperate for children, who don't want me to make it harder for them to buy and sell children."

She recalls a story a colleague told her about one person's response to donor-conceived children with negative or ambivalent feelings: "Too bad you weren't the load your dad flushed down the toilet."


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.