Forgotten Fathers: Men Suffer After an Abortion, Too
- 2010 22 Jan
Abortion hurts women. And men, too.
The media and -- pro-lifers too, for that matter -- focus on abortion as being just a woman's issue, and that is indeed how the issue has been framed over the years. But abortion is not just about women and babies. It takes a man to get a woman pregnant, and so that unborn child is every bit as much his flesh and blood as it is hers.
The excitement, or the sense of shock, and other emotions that come about with the realization of pregnancy can be felt by both the mom and the dad. The joys and the sorrows that come from raising children are felt by both parents. So it only follows, then, that the pain of loss from an abortion is felt by mothers and fathers.
There are quite a few studies that document how abortion affects women psychologically and emotionally and not so many when it comes to men. But perhaps that body of knowledge along with the scientific and counseling communities' interest in the area are growing.
The late Thomas Strahan published an article entitled "Portraits of Post-Abortive Fathers Devastated by the Abortion Experience" in the November/December 1994 issue of the Association for Interdisciplinary Research in Values and Social Change. Here, he described some of the problems reported by men. These problems included broken relationships, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, self-hate, risk taking, and suicidal behavior. He also found that men experienced increasing grief, feelings of helplessness, guilt, and depression.
In 2007, Catherine T. Coyle, RN, Ph.D. conducted a survey of the scientific literature concerning abortion and men. Her review included an examination of scientific literature from 1973 to 2006, and she identified a number of common findings among the studies. These included the following: "Men do not find abortion to be a benign experience… men struggle with ambivalence, guilt, grief, anxiety and powerlessness after abortion… men may experience relationship problems post-abortion including sexual problems… and men tend to repress their emotions."1
Things can get more complicated especially since the law and societal conventions leave the decision to abort in the hands of the woman alone. As a result, as noted by Catherine T. Coyle, Priscilla K. Coleman, and Vincent M. Rue, studies indicate that men allow the woman to make the decision to abort, and in the process they suppress their own emotions and wishes as part of their effort to support their partner.2 These researchers found that "men who disagree with their partners' abortion decision may be more susceptible to intense anger… suffer from ambivalence… and their relationships, both social and sexual, with their partners may be strained or come to an end."3
Men are different from women in some ways when it comes to dealing with abortion. Men tend to be "significantly more likely to report avoidance symptoms, particularly the symptom of detachment."4 Coyle, Coleman and Rue are of the view that this difference could be the result of biological and socio-cultural factors, citing various studies. These observations build on conclusions and studies done by Dr. Rue and are published in "The Effects of Abortion on Men", Ethics and Medics 21(4):3-4, 1996. He found that men tend to grieve silently and alone while harboring doubts about the man's ability to protect loved ones. This failure can then "trigger repressed hostility from disenfranchised grief".
Men are also different from women in how they view the loss of a child through abortion. According to David C. Reardon in his article "Forgotten Fathers and their Unforgettable Children", from The Post Abortion Review 4(4) Fall, 1996, "abortion rewrites the rules of masculinity" because a man's role is to protect and to provide for his children and women. Children are a sign of manhood, and the loss of a child through abortion strikes directly at a man's view of himself as a provider, protector, and at his sense of virility. All of this can prove to be crippling to men as they struggle to make sense of it all and carry on with their lives from day to day.
In working with Kevin Burke and Marvin Stockwell on Redeeming a Father's Heart (AuthorHouse™ 2007), we had occasion to speak to a number of men who lost children through abortion. This struggle by men to become whole after an invisible and indescribable wound became apparent to us interview after interview.
The men who told us about themselves and their loss had suffered the abortion of their children by girlfriends and wives. Some men had wanted the abortion, others did not, and some did not even know until it was too late that they had lost a child. Some men were married and others were single, and still others married women who had had abortions from previous relationships. But all hurt, and all could start to heal when they faced the loss.
Healing is not an easy thing to do, especially since most people are not attuned to the hurt abortion causes men. For many, it takes years to even begin to deal with the hurt, but there always seems to come a point when the cost of keeping it inside while it poisons so much around the man gets to be more than the "benefits" of keeping the pain inside.
It may be a crisis in another area of their lives that causes them to examine this life-changing event in their past. Perhaps they come to realize that so much that has changed in their life can be traced to the loss of this child. Or perhaps they come to grips with the need to deal with self-destructive and other destructive behaviors in their lives. Almost always, men will reach out for help when the time comes to face the pain of an abortion, because it is an unknown and difficult path upon which they must tread. For healing to happen, it is vitally important to have a safe environment in which the man can open up and examine this most secret and painful part of his life.
The healing is not easy, and it is not quick. It is a process, a journey of understanding of self and of the situation that lead one to such a painful place all those years ago. As I think back, of all the courageous guys who told us their stories, there was not one who did not seek the Triune God. From Him, the penitent heart finds forgiveness, and with Him, one finds peace. As Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."
January 22, 2010
Along with Kevin Burke and Marvin Stockwell, David Wemhoff co-edited "Redeeming A Father's Heart: Men Share Powerful Stories of Abortion Loss and Recovery" (AuthorHouse™ 2007). David has been a regular speaker at the annual National Right to Life Conference, and resides in South Bend, Indiana.