It's my abortion, too!

A vocal group of could-have-been fathers argues that when it comes to abortions, men also have feelings.


Catherine Price
January 8, 2008 8:20PM (UTC)

Traditionally, the fight over abortion has focused on the woman and her fetus, with the father relegated to the sidelines, if mentioned at all. No longer. According to a piece in the Los Angeles Times called "Changing Abortion's Pronoun," there's a growing movement of "post-abortive fathers" who claim that abortion's "pronoun is all wrong."

"We had abortions," one of the men -- who was responsible for four pregnancies that ended in abortion -- is quoted as saying. "I've had abortions."

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That man -- Mark B. Morrow -- is a Christian counselor who recently spoke at a conference in San Francisco that was supposedly the first national conference on men and abortion. It featured, among other things, personal testimony from men who claimed that their lovers' abortions left them scarred. Some became depressed; others nursed their sorrow with alcohol, or had obsessive dreams about their imaginary relationships with children who were never born. Looking back over their lives and the abortions, these men feel a sense of regret so profound, they say, that they've decided to join the fight against abortion, using not violence but, as the article puts it, "the power of men's tears."

I don't mean to sound insensitive, but I have to say that this whole thing creeps me out. The most obvious argument against this pronoun shift, of course, is that it's medically inaccurate -- maybe I missed something in health class, but I don't think you can have an abortion unless you have the capacity to give birth. By altering the pronoun to include the father, these men want to assume ownership over something that is anatomically impossible, not to mention conflate the two very different issues of physical and emotional ownership. I can hear the men's response: But that ignores our emotions! Men have feelings, too! Of course they do. But they don't have uteruses.

I think few people would argue that the decision to have an abortion is a serious one, and that it carries the possibility of regret. There are plenty of instances when both women and men could benefit from therapy or counseling both before and after the abortion -- and it is definitely not a decision to be taken lightly. But to use men's grief over unborn children as a weapon in the fight against abortion seems to miss the point -- it has nothing to do with the fetus. I thought that the main opposition to abortion had to do with the "murder" of the would-be baby, not with whether the dad might stay up nights wishing his partner hadn't terminated the pregnancy.

What's more, the strong emotions that can come in the wake of an abortion do not mean that the decision was wrong, or something to feel guilty about. In some men's cases, this movement seems to take advantage of a natural grieving process. Instead of helping men work through this grief -- and in some cases regret -- and move on with their lives, it convinces them that they're abortion victims themselves and that they have a moral obligation to fight it. When this manipulation gets mixed up with Jesus talk, I get even more uncomfortable. As the article puts it:

"Recruits often cycle through church-based retreats, support groups and Bible studies that aim to heal post-abortion trauma. The men are urged to think of themselves as fathers, to name -- and ask forgiveness from -- the children they might have raised, had their partners not aborted.

"At one retreat, the men are told to picture their sons and daughters dancing in a sunny meadow at the feet of Jesus Christ.

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"'They draw in men who may have a little ambivalence, possibly a little guilt, and they exacerbate those feelings,' [sociologist Arthur] Shostak said."

Last, this victimization of the would-be dads seems to border on narcissism -- a self-absorption that has less to do with the fetuses or the mothers or the actual abortions and more to do simply with the men themselves. Take, for example, a 50-year-old man described in the article who was responsible for two pregnancies that ended in abortion. He has since converted to Catholicism, has five children, and sometimes protests outside abortion clinics. He regrets the abortions and is in an ongoing intellectual debate with himself over whether the two unborn children were necessary for him to have the life -- and family -- he has today. But when asked what his ex-girlfriends might think about the effect the abortions had on their lives, the man looked startled, the article reports. "I never really thought about it for the woman," he told the Times.

To me, at least, that's a problem.


Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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