In the 10 months since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision overturned Roe v. Wade, perhaps the only point of bipartisan agreement on abortion has been that men must take more responsibility for their children. For example, after Dobbs, abortion advocate and filmmaker Ken Olin told his 280,000 Twitter followers that men should be “financially on the hook from the moment of conception.” His replies quickly filled up with conservative pundits voicing their agreement and a few months later, Republican lawmakers, including Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), introduced a bill that would require such financial obligations.
The Other Men in the Abortion Conversation
It’s important that our culture and laws support pregnant women and their children, including by holding disengaged fathers accountable. But it’s also important that we recognize other men in the abortion conversation: men whose opportunity to take responsibility for their children was ended by abortion and men whose support for an abortion left them dealing with regret, shame, and other lasting effects.
These segments of the population are rarely discussed, in part because relationship difficulties are a primary reason women experience abortion. However, a newly published survey by Support After Abortion found that while over half of men who lost children to abortion said they had a voice in the abortion decision, 71 percent also said they experienced an adverse change in themselves afterward, often lasting for years. And 83 percent either sought after-abortion help or said they could have benefited from talking to someone.
Women face the greatest burdens when it comes to carrying and bearing children, as well as the most social and cultural pressure related to abortion. These burdens and pressures are often eased when fathers step up to the plate. However, the call to accept more responsibility should also include giving men a voice in the abortion conversation, from advocating for their child to grieving loss afterwards.
Deep and Unhealed Wounds
I know the impact abortion can have on men, and how our culture’s social pressures can amplify suffering, because it happened to me. I was 18 when my girlfriend’s mother pressured us into an abortion and 22 when an ex-girlfriend called to say she was aborting our child. I was the father who stepped up, telling her I would raise the child, but she said the pregnancy would interfere with her new career.
Sobbing, I begged her, “Please don’t kill my baby.” Her last words to me echoed what many devastated fathers have heard: “It’s not a baby. And it’s not your choice.”
Those abortions and an unrelated miscarriage created deep and unhealed wounds in me and altered the course of my young adulthood. I was full of anger and shame, living in 13 cities by the time I was 28, trying to escape a pain I didn’t even know I felt. Unhealed childhood abuse and the loss of three children before the age when most people graduate college also left me plagued with fear and anxiety, overly protective of the children I would eventually raise.
It wasn’t until I was 39 years old that I began to understand how many of my life’s issues could be traced back to the loss of my children. Yes, childhood traumas negatively impacted my early adulthood. But my ex-girlfriend’s remark that the end of my child’s life wasn’t my choice couldn’t erase my desire to be part of my children’s lives. It was only after accepting that my deepest desire was to love all of my children — including the three I lost before they were born — that I attended therapy, accepted my grief, and began to heal.
Encouraging Men to Fulfill Their Role as Fathers
Women will always bear the brunt of pregnancy-related challenges. That’s why men should be responsible fathers, even if their reason for stepping up starts with cultural pressure or legal requirements. Of course, experiences vary, and Support After Abortion’s women’s and men’s surveys notably indicate that men may suffer psychologically after abortion more frequently than women. Sixty-three percent of women who experienced medication abortions sought help or could have used someone to talk to afterwards — 20 percent less than men. And 34 percent of women — less than half the proportion of men — reported adverse effects from an abortion. It took me decades to unravel the impact of childhood abuse and lost fatherhood. I made many mistakes carrying pain and grief for the children I never knew. But healing helped me let go of the regret and shame that haunted me, and to make peace with the past. Today I have a wonderful wife, four grown sons, and three grandchildren who bring more joy than I can hold.
The current national conversation about abortion provides a unique opportunity to improve how we view men’s roles in families. It starts with a legal and cultural framework that encourages men to fulfill their role as fathers and partners — but it can’t end there. Men must also have a voice in the abortion conversation and the space to grieve their lost fatherhood.
Greg Mayo is an award-winning author and speaker who helps men suffering from abortion-related lost fatherhood. He wrote the novel Almost Daddy and chairs Support After Abortion’s Men’s Task Force.
Originally published at Newsweek.com. Reprinted with permission.