Frank Serpico, the one-time honest F cop about whom a book was written and a movie made, has not lost his talent for calling things as he sees them. In court, where he has been hauled on a paternity charge, he described his relationship with the plaintiff as "just sex," says he was tricked into making her pregnant and adds, just for good measure, that he has no interest in her child -- even if it is his. For this, no chorus of oink-oink follows him. Instead, some feminists approve.
In fact, his lawyer is Karen DeCrow, the former president of the National Organization for Women, about whose feminist credentials there should be no doubt. It is her contention that Serpico, like any person, should have the right to decide whether and when to become a parent. If a woman can decide to have an abortion, then a man can reject responsibility for a child he did not want and had no intention of fathering.
"It's the only logical feminist position to take," said Ms. DeCrow.
A little background is in order. Both Serpico and the woman, known as Pamela P., agree that they know each other and that they had sex on at least one occasion. The woman says that their relationship amounted to more than a one-night stand, while Serpico says it was hardly even that. He says that he asked Pamala P. if she was taking birth control pills and, having been assured that she was, proceeded to proceed. S erpico claims that it is he, and not S the woman, who is the victim. He says he was used as "a sperm bank" and denied his right to choose or not to choose fatherhood. He asserts this as his constitutional right -- an effort to guarantee his "freedom of choice, freedom of expression and freedom to listen to my inner self." His inner self tells him not to provide one red cent for the support of the child.
Already, Serpico has won a favorable ruling from the court. It said that Pamela P. should support the child if she had the funds to do so. A more recent hearing concerned whether she in fact has the funds to support the child. But money is not the larger issue here, and neither is it whether men and women are, as DeCrow says, sexual equals. They should be and Serpico is right in insisting that fatherhood ought not result from what amounts to fraud. To be trapped into fatherhood is an awful thing. The only thing worse is to be trapped into motherhood.
Ethically, Serpico has a case. If he was lied to, he has been done dirty. He has been made a father against his will and put into the position of either denying the child or denying himself the life he wants to lead. Legally, the judge has not only to make a Solomonic decision but to worry about precedents. After all, no matter how clear things might be in this case, what happens between a man and a woman in passion is almost never clear. If a judgment in Serpico's favor opens the door to countless alibis from men about how they were fooled into becoming fathers, no good will come out of this case. B ut morally, none of this matters. B What matters is that there is a baby. That is nondeniable. That is the reality of the situation. He (if it's a boy) is what is important now. Serpico and the lady known as Pamela P. are not the only ones that count. The child counts, too. What does he know of "inner voices," "just sex" and feminism?
The trouble with feminism as defined by DeCrow is that it amounts to every person for himself or herself. It's Pamela P. doing her thing and Serpico doing his thing and no one pausing to take responsibility for what they have done (even if they did not mean to do it). In this case, what they have done is produce a baby -- not individually, not alone, but together.
It's too bad if the kid gets in the way of some theory about sexual equality, and it's too bad if Serpico only feels responsible for things over which he has control. Life is not so simple nor so neat -- not to mention fair. That child, too, has its rights, its claims. Accident or no accident, he is here. Sandbagged or not sandbagged, Serpico is apparently the father, and if the woman needs Serpico's money to support the child, then regardless of what he intended at the time, he should pay it. The real victim, after all, is not the woman, nor Serpico nor feminism. It's the baby.