Since January, 1973, with the legalization of abortion in the US, the primary decision a woman makes in choosing abortion parenting, or adoption has been centered on “a woman’s right to choose.” Does the father have rights and what about men and abortion? The Supreme Court says the father does not have any legal rights. [Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth (1976)]. This means that, though he may have influence as a result of his relationship with the woman, legally, he has no rights at all regarding the decision to carry and parent or terminate. There’s no requirement that he even be informed.
The decision-making process that precedes an abortion, complicates how the abortion ultimately effects a man. He may not know about the pregnancy, and so the abortion may happen without his knowledge or input. He may oppose the abortion, and state that clearly and emphatically. He may know about the pregnancy, but in trying to be loving, supportive and affirming of the woman’s rights, he may withhold his feelings or beliefs about abortion. He may have not formed an opinion, and may simply go along with whatever the woman chooses. He may support and even encourage her choice to terminate. He may pressure her, using coercion and threats to leave her if she doesn’t agree to abort. Or, he may completely abandon her, walking away from the relationship and the responsibility for the pregnancy, leaving her to cope and decide on her own.
These different reactions will have different levels of impact on the man, both in terms of his own emotional responses and his relationship with the woman. If he pressures, encourages or even actively supports the abortion because he is fearful or complacent, he can have a significant emotional response later when he lives with the reality of abortion and how it may affect him and the woman. If he abandons her, either literally, or by withholding his feelings and beliefs, he may find himself in the same boat.
The most common initial responses after an abortion to which he agreed to or maybe did not agree to are:
- Relief – relief the abortion is over and the decision to have an abortion. Relief the relationship can possibly get back to “normal”.
- Anger – anger he did not express his desires for this baby to be born or anger he had no rights. Anger he felt he had no control over the decision-making process.
- Denial – beginning to deny the experience or decision, to lock away the emotions and not deal with them, and to keep silent about it all thinking it will go away. All of which could lead to other destructive and complicated behaviors if not dealt with.
So, what is the long-term impact of abortion on the men involved? There are as many as 28 studies which indicate most men feel overwhelmed, and many have disturbing thoughts about the abortion. Often men generally are not very comfortable expressing vulnerable emotions like grief, guilt and shame. They tend to go silent and withdraw, or become angry leading to hostility and sometimes aggression. They may struggle with depression and anxiety. They may wrestle with feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. They may suppress their emotions, or become angry and belligerent. Whether they remain in relationship with this particular woman or not, their relationships going forward can be negatively impacted by the abortion experience.
Sometimes when a couple faces an abortion decision, a genuinely caring man feels he is trying to be supportive of the woman he loves, stay silent for the express purpose of making her feel empowered, of not pressuring her, and making sure she knows she can make the best decision for her own life. Yet often the end result is what she most needs, his stabilizing presence and his opinion, his silence causes her to feel alone and abandoned. The destabilizing of the relationship often begins in the silence and the distance that results. Statistics show that most relationships end after abortion in spite of often believing this will save the relationship it can end it.
The loss of an unborn child through abortion leaves most men at some point trudging through grief, confusion, guilt, and trauma. His choices are to forge on, trying to deny the undeniable impact of his loss, or to accept his responsibility, grieve the loss and work through his feelings. If you are such a man, or you are in relationship with one, reach out to someone who can walk with you through the process.
Here at Choices Women’s Clinic we care about women and men and the choices you make. We are here for you and invite you to consider our ongoing care programs like life coaching or abortion recovery to begin a healthy process of working through difficult decisions. We believe there is always a way back!