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Activists seek to let fathers opt out of child support

NEW YORK -- Contending that women have more options than men do in the event of an unintended pregnancy, men's rights activists are mounting a long-shot legal campaign aimed at giving men the opportunity to opt out of financial responsibility for raising a child.

The National Center for Men has prepared a lawsuit, nicknamed Roe v. Wade for Men, to be filed today in US District Court in Michigan on behalf of a 25-year-old computer programmer ordered to pay child support for his former girlfriend's daughter. The suit addresses the issue of male reproductive rights, contending that lack of such rights violates the US Constitution's equal protection clause.

The gist of the argument: If a pregnant woman can choose among abortion, adoption, or raising a child, a man involved in an unintended pregnancy should have the choice of declining the financial responsibilities of fatherhood. The activists involved hope to spark discussion even if they lose.

''There's such a spectrum of choice that women have -- it's her body, her pregnancy, and she has the ultimate right to make decisions," said Mel Feit, director of the men's center. ''I'm trying to find a way for a man also to have some say over decisions that affect his life profoundly."

Feit's organization has been trying since the early 1990s to pursue such a lawsuit, and finally found a suitable plaintiff in Matt Dubay of Saginaw, Mich.

Dubay says he has been ordered to pay $500 a month in child support for his former girlfriend's daughter, who was born last year.

He contends that the woman knew he didn't want to have a child with her and assured him repeatedly that -- because of a physical condition -- she could not get pregnant.

Dubay is braced for the lawsuit to fail.

''What I expect to hear [from the court] is that the way things are is not really fair, but that's the way it is," he said in a telephone interview. ''Just to create awareness would be enough, to at least get a debate started."

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