The Role of Men in Abortion

Sheila HarperSo often when I mention men and abortion, the response of those I’m speaking with is to assume that any man involved is a “forcer.” He must be the one who insists that the woman end the pregnancy with abortion. We must be careful with gross over generalizations that can lead us away from the truth. It is true that most of us know men who have been involved in abortion loss, but many of us don’t know who they are. They keep the pain of the loss close to their heart . Over the years I’ve encountered many men who have shared their stories with me and we have in fact sponsored two conference on men healing from abortion. Let me point out that since abortion was legalized in the U.S. there are more than 56, 600,000 and for every abortion, there is both a woman and a man involved. Again, it is estimated that one in three women have had an abortion. No one knows the percentage of men but we know that many have been touched. I’d like to share some scenarios with you.

There are men who would have put their body in front of a moving car if it meant he could have saved his child. These are men who would have gone to court to save their child if it was possible.They will talk about the pleading, the offers of marriage, offers to raise the child himself, any thing he could think of to make a difference. The woman in his life made the decision for an abortion and he is forever devastated ! He is in deep grief. He may be very angry and tempted to act out on the anger. I didn’t think he would act out toward his partner but there have been cases that I have been told about of murder/suicides. The ultimate act of desperation! He thinks of himself as a father, but doesn’t share that with anyone. When speaking to one such man, I said, “So you are a father?” He said, “No, I don’t think so.” I said, “But there was a pregnancy and a child so you were a father.” He replied, “Yes, there was and yes, I am . . . but you are the first person to ever say that.” These men may hide in sexual addiction, chemical addictions, engage in risky activities like sky jumping or going to war.

The second group of fathers also try to encourage the woman to carry the child. They would not go to court, but they are willing to sacrifice to find a solution. There reaction is like the first group. Both groups may become obsessed with trying to figure out why she had an abortion and move into a stalking mode with text messages, frequent phone calls and social media contacts. She will have shut him down and he doesn’t understand how this can be. In both of these scenarios it is possible that the father may become suicidal. We don’t hear about them in the media, but I have had people tell me the story of their brother or friend who committed suicide after a pregnancy ended in an abortion and they are the only ones who know because he told no one else.

The third group of fathers seem to support the abortion decision but there are two sub groups here. The first group does not want the abortion to happen but has been told by friends, parents perhaps and society that abortion is a woman’s right and her choice and so he keeps quiet. If you ask her, she would say he supported the decision. If you asked him, he would tell you that he didn’t know what to do or say. He did his best to be supportive of her. The other half of the group concludes that at this point in time, the abortion may be the best choice because of school or social pressure. There is deep ambivalence in many of these men and the grief often surfaces when he is in a position to become a father again.

A fourth group are men who first encourage the abortion decision, then change their minds and the woman proceeds with the abortion. These men hold themselves responsible for this choice and are often quite angry at themselves. These seem to more often be married men.

The fifth group are men who force abortions. For these men it seems to be about power and many of them have been involved in many abortions. Some years ago a woman contacted me by phone. She was pregnant. She and her partner had been together for a while, were financially very stable and able to afford a child. She had had an abortion some years ago and was delighted to be pregnant. Her partner told her early on that he intended to harass her until 36 weeks in an attempt to get her to abort thie pregnancy. She did not want to leave him , but was very confused by the behavior. One day I asked if he had been involved in other abortions and she assured me that he had not. I asked if she might get him to call me so I could talk to him and he did! I asked what the difficulty was and he said “there’s never a good time to have a kid!” We talked a little more and I asked if he had ever been involved in an abortion before. After a brief pause he replied, “Oh, yeah, six or seven times! I can’t remember!” These men may go through life without regret, continuing to impregnate women and forcing them to have abortions. There are some men who will simply abandon when faced with a pregnancy. They just leave!

The sixth group are men who find out after the break up of a relationship that they viewed as serious, that their partner had been pregnant, not told them and went on to have an abortion. These men usually learn from friends of theirs who know the story! They are shocked and stunned because they thought that they loved each other and they can not fathom what has happened. There is a deep sense of betrayal and usually no way to even discuss what has happened because the woman has moved on.

The seventh group of men are those who later hear about the aftermath of abortion and wonder about a previous partner who is no longer in their life. There are so many questions and no answers possible. One reporter who had interviewed be about abortion aftermath and healing in women shared that in hearing what I had to say, he wondered if his previous fiancé had had an abortion. He didn’t know where she was to ask. Shortly after the interview, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and in his late 20’s lost the opportunity for fatherhood. He has never married!

The eighth group are men who have married a woman who has had an abortion with someone else. She may or may not tell him about it. He lives in the chaos of her pain as she may struggle with impacted grief, suicidality, alcohol or chemical dependency, broken intimacy and the list goes on. Sometimes in her brokenness she punishes this man for the rage she feels toward another who came before.

The ninth group are those men who almost lost a child to abortion. I had never considered this group until I had a strange encounter in a restaurant one evening while I was traveling. Two gentlemen came in and sat at a table near me. I was journaling and reading and they asked if I was a writer. I said no I wasn’t. The next question was, “What do you do?” I replied that I was as speaker and trainer. And they asked when I spoke about. I replied that I trained clergy and mental health professionals to help women and men heal after abortions. There was dead silence. And then he said, “So. You are Prolife?” and I said I help people heal after abortions. He asked if he and his friend might join me at my table. It was a public place so I said that they could. He sat down at the table and said to me “If I didn’t have the job I have I would be burning down abortion clinics! And my friend here would be helping me!” I am thinking that I have perhaps invited a crazy man to join me! And so I said to him “What is your job that you can’t burn down clinics?” He relied “I’m the police chief in my town and he’s the assistant chief!” But then the story poured out about getting a girlfriend pregnant and trying to help her keep the baby, but her mother was adamant that she should have an abortion. Through a twist of fate, the abortion did not happen, and while he did not marry the woman he knows where his daughter and his grand children are and he’s involved in their lives. I’d never considered the impact of the abortion that almost happened!

Let me add an interesting bit of science. We assume that it is the woman’s body alone that is changed in pregnancy but we are wrong. Research has shown that possibly as early as 4 weeks after conception, the women’s scent changes. These scents are called pheremones and they are scent molecules of affiliation that communicate fertility, family relationship and more. The male, if he is with his partner, recognizes her pregnancy and this triggers hormonal changes in his body. The first is an increase in cortisol which is the stress hormone but also related to protecting and bonding. Shortly after that 60 to 90% of fathers experience “couvade.” Couvade includes symptoms of pregnancy, such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, backaches, toothaches, food cravings and weight gain. Twenty percent of this group is quite ill and when the baby arrives, these men can discriminate the various cries of their babies immediately. The other fathers take a little while to learn. A few weeks before delivery, men undergo hormonal changes again including lowered testosterone and elevated estrogen making them more protective. They get more cortisol again and a hormone called vasopressin which increases bonding. I think of it as Mother Nature’s “sit, stay” hormone. Right before birth, the fathers get prolactin, that is the nursing hormone. They have it for about six weeks and it increases their caregiving and bonding behaviors. Interestingly, with each subsequent child that father gets more prolactin with each birth. It is as though Nature is affirming the greater demands of caring and is offering a helping hormone!

Click here for further information on male hormones during pregnancy or Google men hormones pregnancy. Abortion impacts all parties involved and in ways we do not always see. Many men are hurting and need our compassion and care! For more information visit Reclaiming Fatherhood.

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