When people think about the role of men in abortion, it seems that they usually think about the stereotype of the man who forces the abortion or the male who abandons. However, there are many roles the man may have played in the experience. One man may have been involved in several abortions, each with a different scenario. The impact on fathers is mitigated by the role they play in the abortion. They fall into separate categories.
If you are a caregiver, you need to know that sometimes the man makes contact with a caregiver under the guise of seeking help for his partner or trying to understand what his partner is experiencing. If he is looking for materials about the aftermath of abortion, ask if this is for himself or for a partner. If it is for a partner, you can ask “are you the father?” This is hard for him to discuss, but it is critical to acknowledge that men can struggle after an abortion loss. You can ask “how can I be of help to you?” You may also be able to ask at some point if this is his first abortion experience. Listening to him can be an enormous gift. (Hopefully, resources on this site can help you to help him.)
A man can come to recognize that an abortion experience touched him in many different ways. Each man has his own unique story but there seem to be some common elements. For men who opposed the abortion, the significance is immediate and impactful. He may think, contemplate or obsess about what happened. The experience is never far from his consciousness. The man who seems to agree, is neutral, supports the abortion or just abandons the partner may not have an active awareness of the significance of the experience until years later. Some trigger events for these men may be the birth of another child, seeing an ultrasound during a pregnancy, or a conversion experience of some kind that may bring it to the fore. It may be seeing an ad, reading an article or being aware of the Roe vs. Wade anniversary and the marchers around the country. It may be hearing someone else’s abortion experience or suddenly being aware that the partner they had the abortion with is not doing well, if she is still in his life. It may be that in seeking counseling for marriage problems, drug or alcohol abuse or sexual addiction, an astute counselor or pastor asks about past pregnancies and abortions. Something has opened the door to awareness that allows the man to begin considering the impact of an abortion experience in his life.
Over the years I have spoken with many men who have contacted me looking for help. They seem to fall into these categories. This is a new field. It is possible that much more will be discovered about how men process this experience, but this information is presented as a start in understanding.
This man tried to prevent the abortion decision, perhaps offering to raise the child himself, to marry the partner if they are not married already. He longs for fatherhood and was excited and invested in becoming a father. He may have thought about going to court to try to prevent the abortion.
These men may have an immediate and overwhelming response. It is hard for them to separate out the feelings they are experiencing, but they include grief, guilt, rage/anger, and a sense of male impotence (that is they couldn’t protect their partner or the child.) It is possible that these males may be inclined to make repeated contact with their partner to try to understand how this decision was made. If you are helping this man, you may need to encourage him to cease the attempts at contact, lest it be viewed as stalking behavior. If this man is experiencing rage, it is suggested that you suggest physical means to discharge some of this emotion, like throwing stones while verbalizing his feelings, chopping wood or perhaps sharing physical labor with him, like breaking up concrete. In sharing work side by side, the men sometimes find it easier to speak about what they are feeling. If there is any indication that the male may be prone to acting out violence toward some one involved in the abortion, it is important to keep everyone safe. Rage can explode outward or turn inward. Both can be dangerous. These men may hide in chemical abuse, alcohol abuse or sexual addictions.
These men may also have an immediate reaction including sadness, grief, anger and sense of not being able to protect. These men may experience anger but not full blown rage as well as the other emotions listed above. They are not as prone to a violent reaction to their grief. ***You may be contacted by a man during the abortion decision. Encourage him to speak his heart to his partner. He may not be able to change the outcome, but he will recover better is he honestly spoke his mind and heart.
These men hold themselves responsible in a special way because first they agreed and then they changed their minds, but the abortion progressed anyway. This seems to happen within marriages more frequently. This can become an issue within the relationship that interferes with basic trust and can interfere with intimate couple relations. They don’t trust each other anymore. Mutual forgiveness given and received may need to be part of the healing for the couple.
The men who are unable to articulate how they really feel, may react like the first two groups of men. The men who are truly in agreement or neutral on the abortion decision, may not feel anything until years later. Sometimes the abortion comes up in mid-life work, in a conversion experience of some sort, in psychotherapeutic treatment or addiction treatment or at the time they are now ready to become fathers.
The man who abandons may not be troubled by the event or may later be bothered by his behavior of not supporting this woman. This man may have several abortion experiences.
The man who forces the abortion decision may have many abortion losses in a lifetime. Often, the relationship that resulted in the abortion may no longer be active. The relationship may break apart because women and men may react differently. The woman who is forced into an abortion decision may have an immediate adverse reaction that the male may not be able to understand. He may tell her to “get over it” is she tries to speak of her confusion or discomfort. This undercuts the relationship. Her discomfort might also bother him and so the relationship might dissolve.
These men may react with confusion that their partner did not discuss this matter with him, but made a unilateral decision. She may tell him before it actually happens or she may not tell him until afterward. Sometimes he finds out at a later date. He experiences many conflicting emotions, wrestling with the strength of their relationship and the lack of trust. It is possible that he might not find out until years later when a conversation with an acquaintance may bring the unfolding of the story. There is often much ambivalence experienced in these settings.
These men wonder if there was a pregnancy that he was responsible for. He is unable to confirm that a pregnancy had occurred. This can sometimes lead to many unanswered questions. Should something happen, like testicular cancer, that impacts the man’s ability to father other children, this can become a source of unanswered questions.
The man may be engulfed in the vortex of the woman’s reaction to her previous abortions. He may have been told about the experience of abortion or he may not have been. These men may be confused by what is happening with their partner and very concerned about her.
This may include friends who know about the abortion or relatives such as brothers of the woman or man involved in the abortion or the fathers of the woman who had the abortion or the man involved in the pregnancy. There can be many emotions among these men. Listening is the key to understanding what they are experiencing.
Rage or anger: (Rage may raise an impulse to strike out physically or emotionally at someone involved in the abortion loss. Anger may be internalized or targeted toward someone who was part of the experience.)
Impotence: Sexual—An abortion loss can interfere with sexual functioning of the partners involved.
Masculine: There is a sense that one could not protect the sexual partner or offspring. This can be incapacitating, causing the male partner to dwell on this and to feel helpless.
Grave concern for their partner and her well being: The male may seek information on the aftermath of abortion on women out of his concern for her. Sometimes he may try to force her to seek help before she is ready or feels the need.
Inability to communicate with their partner about her experience and theirs Communication patterns can break down because of differential patterns of coping and grieving. One partner might be struggling and the other partner coping. Communication patterns such as “why don’t you just get over it?” may emerge but are not helpful.
Chemical use and abuse (excessive alcohol or drug use): This seems to be a common coping mechanism shared by many men. Some will seek assistance through AA or some other treatment program. If someone is working with a man in the 5th step, the question of abortion should be broached because without confronting it, recovery will be impaired.
Risk taking behaviors: Such as driving fast cars or motorcycles, breaking horses, jumping out of airplanes, or other death defying activities. (Fathers who opposed the abortion may verge on being suicidal themselves.)
It seems to be in some cases, that the young man involved in an abortion at high school or college age may attempt or successfully commit suicide following an abortion experience. It is almost always the peer group who knows about the abortion and not the family.
Grieving and sadness: This reaction can catch a man unaware. Men in our culture may have difficulty articulating the sense of sadness. This emotional reaction may catch the man by surprise. He did not anticipate this reaction. The grief may be experienced as a body sensation.
Obsessive thoughts of the lost child: Some men describe the intrusion of thoughts of the lost child.
Nightmares of someone/something vulnerable being threatened and being unable to protect it: These nightmares are often about some large threatening animal, like a shark or a lion, that is menacing a smaller and vulnerable animal and there is nothing the man can do in the dream to protect the more vulnerable being. He often awakes in a cold sweat with a sense of doom looming over him.
Desire for another child and subsequent behavior to try to achieve that goal: This can sometimes become almost obsessive in wanting to re-impregnate the woman who had the abortion. This may also generalize to another partner. The outcome may be that some men have experienced more than one abortion. If infertility is a problem, the man may feel he is being punished for his past abortion experience.
Suicidal ideation: We do now know how common this is, but it does occur especially in the fathers who wanted the child.
Inability to sort out the feelings they are experiencing: If he is involved in more than one abortion, he may work at resolving one abortion, but deny the need to process the rest. In helping a man work through this, you may need to help him sort out each of the abortions, what role he played in each on and what feelings he carries.
Emotional abuse and/or spousal battering: This may be man to woman or woman to man. There appears to be a predisposition for individuals with abortion histories to find partners with the same history. The dynamic that develops is as follows. She reminds him of the woman who aborted his child against his will, and he reminds her of the guy who insisted that she have an abortion. On a subconscious level, this is the scenario of anger and striking out. If the partners have stayed together after an abortion and treated the abortion as a non-event, they too may strike out at each other physically and/or emotionally. Some relationships may deteriorate completely and result in a divorce.
Pro-life or Pro-choice activism: When men identify the issue that is troubling them it is named as the loss of fatherhood.
They also lay out the following symptoms:
Some men describe suffering great anxiety when their partner becomes pregnant and carries the baby to term.
Some men also describe being overly protective fathers, who fear something will happen to their children to the detriment of normal development of their children. Some describe becoming emotionally enmeshed. Some are emotionally distant but overly-protective.
Some describe becoming the parent who does major caretaking of the child, pushing away the mother and over-reacting to normal childhood occurrences such as a cold, by assuming the child must have contracted pneumonia and rushing the child to the emergency room.
Occasionally a man may act out in socially destructive ways: church fires, murder/ suicides or abortion clinic attacks. Confusion and grief over the end of the relationship that resulted in the pregnancy. They may occasionally obsess about the lost partner. Some men describe becoming involved in behavior that looks like stalking, because he needs to maintain contact with her and/or figure out how she came to choose an abortion.
Some men discuss becoming involved with pornography and sexual addictions following an abortion loss.
When men identify the issue that is troubling them after an abortion experience, it is named as the loss of fatherhood.
Vincent Rue, Ph.D., pioneer researcher in the field of men and abortion, wrote in an article, The Effects of Abortion on Men, that "men do grieve following abortion, but they are more likely to deny their grief or internalize their feelings of loss rather than openly express them . . . When men do express their grief, they try to do so in culturally prescribed "masculine" ways, i.e. anger, aggressiveness, control. Men typically grieve in a private way following an abortion. Because of this, men's requests for help may often go unrecognized and unheeded by those around them." He continues, "A guilt-ridden, tormented male does not easily love or accept love. His preoccupation with his partner, his denial of himself and his relentless feelings of post-abortion emptiness can nullify even the best of intentions. His guilt may prevent him from seeking compassion, support or affection. In turn, he 'forgets' how to reciprocate these feelings."