MEN AND ABORTION
Extensive research has focused on abortion and women, while men have been legally, psychologically and medically bypassed. For men, the abortion issue is a gnawing paradox. At a time when men are changing roles and become increasingly involved with raising their children, they are systematically denied the right to be involved in life-or-death decisions affecting their unborn children.
This powerlessness takes its toll not only on the male self-image, but can bring on role conflict, excessive guilt, depression and, often, the end of the relationship with his partner.
Abortion has been advocated as a simple surgical procedure for women, which produces little or no psychological impact for both sexual partners. In fact, most men, as well as women, deny any negative emotional consequences from abortion.
Men who choose to accept their feelings, rather than deny them, often describe the abortion experience as bewildering and painful beyond their coping abilities.
But to forgive one's self is not the same as to forget the abortion. The child can never be returned. Memories remain, but the negative feelings toward one's self can be reconciled.
One of the best remedies for guilt is the bright light of self-disclosure. Talking about old unfinished business helps clear up guilt and has been known to generate small miracles.
Another aid to resolving guilt is to simply acknowledge that there is a huge storehouse of unfinished emotional business. This act of acknowledgement itself lightens up the individual considerably because it lets him stop pretending. He can then also acknowledge the pain felt at the time.
Resistance to feelings, not the feelings themselves, is often the major portion of the problem. When feelings are opened up and allowed to be felt deeply, they can bring knowledge. The full expression of these feelings may last minutes, but a freer, more self-accepting individual results.
Reconciliation of the death of one's unborn child ultimately involves the act of forgiveness. Forgiveness for abortion flows from being willing to know the truth and tell the truth. To grow is to forgive oneself no matter the degree or nature of the mistake.
Unfortunately, people often get stuck in trying to forgive before they accept their own feelings exactly as they are. Thinking that they should or must forgive, and attempting forgiveness, prevents them from actually experiencing it.
Dealing With Grief and Guilt
Once the abortion has taken place, males may require as much emotional support as females. For either sex, loss of a child is a loss like no other. Guilt and grief can be tenacious, and they cannot be willed away.
In a real sense, the double standard has been revisited and revised with abortion. While the right to abdicate future motherhood is guaranteed, the right to insist on future fatherhood is not. If women choose motherhood, men are obligated in paternity action. While women may choose abortion over the male's objections, men typically shoulder the bulk of the financial costs.
When men promote abortion for their partners it is typified as coercion, lack of caring, insensitivity and selfishness. When women choose abortion, it is the exclamation of women's rights, an affirmation of the right to health and freedom from male oppression, and a confirmation of sovereign territoriality over the female body and reproductive functions.
Sociologist Arthur Shostak observed in an article for The Family Coordinator that three out of four male respondents studied said they had a difficult time with the abortion experience and that a sizable minority reported persistent day and night dreams about the child that never was,
and considerable guilt, remorse and sadness.
For men and women alike, the feeling of emptiness may last a lifetime, for parents are parents forever, even of a dead child. Emotional resolution is nearly impossible because there is no visible conclusion — just a memory. Because the unborn child was denied humanity, he or she is denied a grave or marker. The grieving process is left unfinished. Some Results Are Tangible
Because of the basic inequality between partners in the abortion decision, the capacity to develop trust, communication and problem-solving skills, intimacy, honesty and companionship is severely restricted. This same inequality has the potential to breed displaced male aggression via child abuse, spousal abuse, or self-abuse.
Clinical experience shows that men become hostile when they have been excluded from decision making and when they discover they have been deceived and manipulated.
Men, like women, are human and imperfect. They may undergo equivalent feelings of shock, denial and anger. It is not a simple process, but a natural one requiring frank, open, sensitive and caring communication. It may be difficult, but communication ultimately breeds caring, maturity and intimacy.
In the abortion decision, all too frequently the male's role is marginal and passive. He may be bypassed by his sexual partner, ignored at the abortion clinic, and helpless in the act and aftermath of the abortion itself. This role conflict may well be responsible for some of the increase in male sexual dysfunction.
Male Role Not Obvious
One young man's experience is recounted in Arden Rothstein's Men's Reactions to Their Partner's Elective Abortion:
"I thought I was a much more liberated man. I'd be able to walk in here and sit down and say 'Here's an abortion' and that would be it. But now that I'm here, I'm a wreck. . I don't think anyone could depend on me in this situation . . . I'm shaken . . . I really want to know what they will do for her . . . How about me? Do they have something for me to lay on while I die?"
Nowhere is the abortion experience more painfully felt than in the area of a man's role expectation to be responsible and to protect his loved ones. The results of a national poll indicate that three out of four respondents still believe that the ideal man is one who will fight to protect his family. Yet how can one protect, when one is not allowed by law to be involved in a life-or-death decision?
On the other hand, abandoning responsibility fits nicely into the mainstream of abortion thinking. For men who don't care about the women they impregnate, abortion is a neat disposal system for the evidence of their sexuality and a conclusive abdication of any responsibilities.
Abortion is a far greater dilemma for men than researchers, counselors and women have even begun to realize. Many men are victims of abortion along with women and unborn children. For now, they are often silent sufferers, bewildered and frustrated by their responses to abortion. With time, perhaps a true equality of the sexes will provide for more democratic decisions, more love and less pain and the realization that abortion is no solution at all.
© 2002, Vincent Rue, Ph.D