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.