Does a single woman who wants a child have an obligation to ask the consent of the intended father? Should she get his consent or should she simply inform him after the fact or, maybe, tell him as one woman did that the baby she was carrying might or might not be his. Either way, she said, it was none of his business.

I put those seemingly academic questions to you because they are not academic at all. In fact, in 1979 alone, something like 42,000 babies were born to single women over the age of 30 -- no confused teen-agers these. Instead, many of them are women who because of their age thought that, while marriage could wait, children could not.

Statistics can tell plenty, but they cannot tell whether the men who fathered those children consented to play that particular role. A recent newspaper story, plus some questioning by yours truly, indicates that there is a good chance they were kept in the dark. For instance, two of the women quoted in the article said they withheld their intentions from the prospective (and, it turned out, actual) fathers. One later told him what she (and he) had done, but the other, a true sweetheart, said she refused to say when the father asked if the baby was, at least biologically, his.

As for my own reporting, I find no unanimity on the subject. Some women thought they had a right to keep the man in the dark while others did not. I found one 29-year-old women who confessed that she was considering motherhood and was not sure if, when she picked the man for the task, she would bother to tell him what, in nine months time, would develop.

I am, I must confess, flabbergasted. The issue, after all, is not whether single women ought to have children. Through divorce or separation or death or plain old desertion, single women have been raising children since time immemorial. No one is contesting a woman's right to control her own body -- to decide when and under what circumstances she will become pregnant. The issue, really, comes down to good old-fashioned honesty. The failure to tell a man he is being used like a retired racehorse comes down to nothing more than a lie.

What we have in these situations is the Frank Serpico case upside down. In that one, Serpico, the famous cop, was sued by a woman who claimed -- and subsequently proved -- that Serpico was the father of her child -- a boy. To this, Serpico said the legal equivalant of "So what?" He maintained he hardly knew the lady, that he had sex with her once, that he was assured that she was practicing some sort of birth control and was tricked into becoming the father he did not want to be. For those reasons, he said, the baby was hers, not his -- and he was not going to pay one red cent for its support.

The issue in all these cases is honesty -- or, more precisely, dishonesty. In both the Serpico case and in the cases of the women quoted in the newspaper interview, the rhetoric of feminism gets thrown around a lot. That makes it sound like we are dealing with something terribly new under the sun, something having to do with the rights of women and a new sensitivity that, if you only gave it a moment's thought, would become stunningly clear.

But that is not the case. The words "men" and "women" only confuse the issue. We are dealing here with people. And what these people are doing is lying to one another -- either that or withholding information. What makes it worse is that they are not dealing with used cars, but with the creation of life. A man, like a woman, ought to be able to decide when and under what circumstances that will be undertaken. It should not to be produced by a lie.

Men who lie to women ("I'll call you in the morning") are considered cads. And there are even worse words for men who use their physical chips (their strength or the plain fact they can't become pregnant) to either get sex or avoid the consequences of it -- pregnancy or what may or may not follow. Why should it be different for women?

Standards of honesty do not change from one sex to another. Pregnancy does not cleanse all sins nor excuse all lies. After all, no woman gets pregnant on her own. A woman who tricks a man into becoming a father is the flip side of the man who tricks the woman into sex. She is no gentleman.