The general public has some sense of the physical and emotional trauma that women who have abortions go through. For many this trauma helps to fuel the pro-life cause, undermining the assumption of its opponents that pro-life activists are only concerned about unborn babies. For a large number of those in the pro-choice movement the trauma a woman endures as a result of abortion is insignificant compared to what such women would endure if they had to carry their babies to term. Some think it part of their task, in the name of supporting women in difficult circumstances, to try and minimize the long-term fallout that taking the life of a child often brings with it.
What is usually entirely ignored is the role and experience of the father of the child. This free pass for the father begins in the very act of sex itself, thanks to the sexual revolution. Despite the aims of the feminists, the inseparable relation of sex to marriage was designed in significant part to protect women from irresponsible men and from having to take care of children by themselves. Separating sex from marriage may seem liberating for women but they are still bound by their basic biology. Birth control fails and women suffer the consequences, while men still have a second chance to run and hide.
Most people act as if men are insignificant in the abortion process as well. A woman can choose to kill the unborn baby within her womb even if the father of that child desperately wants to keep him or her. There are all sorts of support networks available to help pregnant women, but less attention is given to men. In many ways this makes sense, of course. The men are often gone, and they often have no desire to take responsibility for what they have done.
But according to a recent article in Salvo Magazine, abortion is a lot harder on men than is often appreciated. Little research has been done on this, but the little that has been done suggests that men endure trauma after having supported or allowed abortions in a manner similar to, though distinct from the way in which women do. Commenting on one informal study dating to the early 1980s, Terrell Clemmons writes,
Two major themes stood out. The first was “the deep involvement of the men.” Eighty-four percent felt that they had been a full partner in resolving the pregnancy, but few were at peace with the resolution. The second was the men’s anxiety and high level of personal distress. “An overwhelming proportion of them had thoughts about the fetus, had dreamed about the child that would not be and anticipated misgivings after the abortion,” Shostak found. “Ninety-eight percent said that if they could help it, they would never, ever find themselves in this situation again.”
Now a more recent study in 2010 has confirmed these findings.
A recent study by C. T. Coyle and V. M. Rue, published in The Journal of Pastoral Counseling in 2010, confirms Shostak’s findings. “Male participants were found to demonstrate clinical levels of anxiety, higher than normative anger scores, and greater levels of grief than men who experienced involuntary pregnancy loss,” the authors wrote. “Some men will appear to be angry,” Coyle noted, “when, in fact, other underlying emotions such as grief and helplessness are the real source of their suffering.” The primary meaning ascribed by the men to abortion was “profound loss.”
For many men, Clemmons suggests, the abortion of their child strikes at something inherent to the way in which they are wired, the paternal instinct to protect one’s child from harm and danger.
Men are often defined by their ability to: [experience] pleasure, procreate, provide, protect and perform.” Abortion represents a failure on his part to protect his child and its mother. It undermines his very manhood—of course he will go into distress. Furthermore, the loss reverberates and magnifies over time because the abortion forever extinguished his opportunity to protect, provide for, and take pleasure in that child. Abortion loss encompasses more than just the loss of the child. Abortion exacts a loss of manhood.
The reality is, abortion is an unspeakable tragedy for all involved, and we should not even need research or surveys in order to prove this. Most people understand it intuitively, and the American public has an increasingly negative visceral reaction to the killing of the unborn. I hope this progress continues: Legally, politically, and even economically and demographically the ground under abortion-on-demand is getting shakier each year. It is not out of the question for this country significantly to restrict abortion in the coming decades.
To be sure, if abortion is really to be stopped, an important part of the sexual revolution itself must be turned back (the separation of sex from marriage). That will probably be a much tougher struggle than the legal struggle against abortion. We live among a people that are increasingly plagued with the pain and hurt of rampant sexual immorality and irresponsibility, a pain that is only exacerbated by the widespread experience of personal complicity in the murder of innocent children. When we pray for the peace of our city, we should pray about this as well.
It’s better to have same-sex marriage than to privatize it: preserving marriage as a public commitment
In a controversial op-ed in the New York Times prominent traditional marriage defender David Blankenhorn has given up his opposition to same-sex marriage. I was not planning on commenting on this piece, but a friend urged me to consider it more seriously. I want to make a few comments with reference to those thoughtful conservatives who think government should simply get out of the business of marriage and leave it to private organizations, as well as to those thoughtful liberals who think supporting the basic institution of marriage is more important than defining it traditionally.
Blankenhorn’s op-ed is striking because he begins by reaffirming the basic tenants of his defense of traditional marriage. Few critics of same-sex marriage could make the argument as well as Blankenhorn does.
I opposed gay marriage believing that children have the right, insofar as society makes it possible, to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world. I didn’t just dream up this notion: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which came into force in 1990, guarantees children this right.
Marriage is how society recognizes and protects this right. Marriage is the planet’s only institution whose core purpose is to unite the biological, social and legal components of parenthood into one lasting bond. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its children.
At the level of first principles, gay marriage effaces that gift. No same-sex couple, married or not, can ever under any circumstances combine biological, social and legal parenthood into one bond. For this and other reasons, gay marriage has become a significant contributor to marriage’s continuing deinstitutionalization, by which I mean marriage’s steady transformation in both law and custom from a structured institution with clear public purposes to the state’s licensing of private relationships that are privately defined.
Well put. And Blankenhorn declares that he still believes all of this. So why is he now reversing his position on same-sex marriage? Simply put, it seems that he is disillusioned with the traditional marriage cause because it is not making these sorts of arguments and it is not making its opposition to same-sex marriage part of a serious effort to strengthen marriage generally. Rather, it is relying on anti-homosexual bigotry.
I had hoped that the gay marriage debate would be mostly about marriage’s relationship to parenthood. But it hasn’t been. Or perhaps it’s fairer to say that I and others have made that argument, and that we have largely failed to persuade. In the mind of today’s public, gay marriage is almost entirely about accepting lesbians and gay men as equal citizens. And to my deep regret, much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus. To me, a Southerner by birth whose formative moral experience was the civil rights movement, this fact is profoundly disturbing.
I had also hoped that debating gay marriage might help to lead heterosexual America to a broader and more positive recommitment to marriage as an institution. But it hasn’t happened. With each passing year, we see higher and higher levels of unwed childbearing, nonmarital cohabitation and family fragmentation among heterosexuals. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the reconceptualization of marriage as a private ordering that is so central to the idea of gay marriage. But either way, if fighting gay marriage was going to help marriage over all, I think we’d have seen some signs of it by now.
I have to say, there is something in Blankenhorn’s argument here that resonates with me. What is the point of being opposed to same-sex marriage if more than half of our children are born out of wedlock? Why waste so much money and energy on this issue if those resources could actually be directed to strengthening marriage and recommitting ourselves to ensuring that all children are raised by their two biological parents?
In short, and here I agree with Blankenhorn, it is better to affirm same-sex marriage and save the institution as a public commitment than to oppose same-sex marriage by advocating its privatization. There is simply too much at stake. Too many of our children are having their lives destroyed by selfish adults committed to sex, pleasure, and having their own way rather than to caring for others in the context of justice and accountability. It is a crime against the next generation to allow the institution of marriage to be destroyed (i.e., abandoned by the government, whose responsibility is to ensure a basic modicum of justice for the most vulnerable members of our society) for the sake of purism. Marriage is absolutely fundamental to the survival and development of both individuals and of society generally. It is patently unjust for Christians or liberals to damage the public commitment to the institution of marriage by defending its privatization.
This is really not that radical of an argument. It is analogous to the argument John Calvin repeatedly made when comparing tyranny to anarchy. Better to have a government that preserves basic peace and order while often abusing its power for injustice than to have a society with no government whatsoever, where everyone can steal, murder, rape, and pillage at will. In short, better to live in China than Somalia. Better to preserve a tarnished marriage than to have no marriage at all.
But are these really the only two choices? Are not the more obvious choices defending marriage as the institution that it has always been and abandoning it to chaos? Take a look at how Blankenhorn arrives at his proposal for tolerating same-sex marriage for the good of the institution as a whole. He does not actually make an argument. He simply appeals to the sentiment of toleration and suggests that since the efforts of the last two decades haven’t really worked we should try something new. What? Your only argument is to “try something new” because who knows, it may just work? It’s not as if we have anything to lose. What about the fact that abandoning traditional sexual norms for the past 50 years has virtually destroyed one of the most vital institutions in any society? Haven’t we been trying something new for long enough? Hasn’t the jury already delivered its verdict on that experiment? (For those not paying attention to life around you, it has, and the verdict is that the sexual revolution has a lot more in common with the French Revolution or the Russian Revolution than it does with the American Revolution. It has ultimately been destructive of society, not liberating or empowering.)
Forgive the sarcasm, but should not Blankenhorn at least make some kind of argument to demonstrate that the argument against same-sex marriage, which he has just recapitulated for us, can be met by some newer, better argument? How is it, again, that redefining marriage in terms of a union of sentiment that has nothing to do with sexual reproduction will help us achieve our overall goal of reestablishing the public commitment to raising children within the context of marriage? How is it that honoring sexual unions that cannot bring children into the world with the lofty institution of marriage will ensure that people start to think of sexual reproduction only in the context of marriage? I am sorry, but I fail to see any argument whatsoever in Blankenhorn’s piece. I simply see capitulation to sentiment (and elite pressure) at the expense of reason.
Again, I want to stress that I find Blankenhorn’s position preferable to that of some of my conservative intellectual friends. I care more about marriage and its relevance to children than I do about homosexual relationships. I would rather stand with Blankenhorn than with the libertarians on this issue, not to mention those who are driven by a hateful bigotry. But if it is the cultural elites who are pushing same-sex marriage why doesn’t Blankenhorn recommit himself to the hard work of winning them back to common sense. What is the purpose of an intellectual if not to serve his community by making arguments conducive of the common good? Defending traditional marriage for the sake of our neighbors is the right thing to do even if all kinds of intellectuals want to “try something new.” Basic justice is not something to experiment with. It’s something to defend.