(p288, Experiencing Abortion, Eve Kushner, New York:Harrington Park Press, 1997)
Many factors influence how a man will respond to an abortion e.g. his background, values and beliefs, the part he has played in the decision and the actual process, current situation and ambitions... Thoughts and feelings before or after an abortion depend on whether or not he allows himself to get in touch with his feelings surrounding the pregnancy and abortion, and realises what the abortion means in real terms. This realisation may not happen till later in life, when his situation and circumstances change, for example, to include a family.
Men can be affected by abortion in similar ways as women and many have reported post-abortion problems such as:
feelings of grief and helplessness,
feelings of guilt and shame
self-esteem and confidence problems
fear of relationships
increased risk taking and suicidal behaviour
greater tendencies to becoming angry or violent
a sense of lost manhood(1)
It needs to be understood that talking about abortion is an even greater taboo for men than for women. If a man wants to shed a tear, he had better do it privately. If he feels that the abortion had denied him his child, he had better work it through himself.(2) Typical male grief includes remaining silent and grieving alone. In the silence a man can harbour guilt and doubts about his ability to protect himself and those he loves. Some become depressed and or anxious, others controlling, demanding, and directing. Still others become enraged and failure in any relationship can trigger hostility from their disenfranchised grief. A guilt-ridden tormented man does not easily love of accept love.(3)
The attitude of the male partner is an important factor in how a woman might adjust after the abortion. Some studies found support from the partner to be an important predictor of good adjustment afterwards, but more recently, research findings indicate that his accompanying her to the abortion is often a predictor of greater post-abortion depression. (4)
The existence of a stable relationship may heighten ambivalence about the abortion for a woman.(5) If a spouse or partner is perhaps initially non-accepting or hostile about the pregnancy and she feels she is doing it for him to protect the relationship, or if she is feeling subtly coerced or manipulated, and is wondering about the depth of intimacy and questioning his commitment to the relationship, then after the abortion there may be a build-up of resentment and increased likelihood of anger and depression.(6)
Sally had been involved with her partner for only six months and they conceived while using the rhythm method. Her partner was very distressed because he had impregnated his previous partner, who claimed to have been using contraception. She gave birth around the time that Sally had conceived. Sally said, “My partner was totally traumatised and rushed out to obtain a vasectomy.” Sally had an abortion.
1. Men and Abortion - A Path to Healing, C.T. Coyle, Ph.D. Life Cycle Books, Canada 1999
2. Portraits of Post-Abortive Fathers, Devastated by the Abortion Experience, Strahan, Thomas, Assoc. for Interdisciplinary Research in Values and Social Change, 7(3), Nov/Dec 1994
3. The Effects of Abortion on Men, Rue, Vincent, Ethics and Medics 21(4):3-4, 1996
3. Psychosocial and Emotional Consequences of Elective Abortion: A Literature Review, in Paul Sachdev, ed., Abortion: Readings and Research, Toronto: Butterworth, 1981, p65-75
5. The Abortion Choice: Psychological Determinants and Consequences, God, et al., 1984,
6. Identifying High Risk Abortion Patients, Post Abortion Review Vol 1, No 3, 1993
Fathers Don't Forget
(Article in P.A.T.H.S. Newsletter 2010)
Men have a right to mourn their abortion losses and have their trauma recognised.
The veil of silence remains in this country around negative abortion reactions whether you are a woman or man. Relationships surrounding past and recent abortions are complex and the male involved is an integral part of each scenario. When men share their stories we are reminded that this is not just a woman’s issue. Nothing is simple and there are always two sides to every story. Bringing understanding into situations can often bring hope and greater healing. For many men it is a long hard road to find peace and make sense of an abortion in their lives. The first step is talking about their abortion experiences with someone who understands.
One such man attended a P.A.T.H.S. seminar recently, and offered insights into his pain, confusion and anger as a man, husband and father around his wife’s abortion. The impacts have been huge for him and his family. He struggles with his own grief and reactive behaviours and maintaining a marriage which is irrevocably changed. Fear is invariably part of the abortion story, and for this man, in his words..
A fear of feeling
And a fear for life.
A fear of being,
with the fear of strife
A fear of meeting
the fear of my wife.
The seminar was helpful for him to explore and ponder what might have been happening for his wife and also provided him space to share a male perspective.
At the recent Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat another man, husband, and father, also had the courage to come forward and share his story. The abortion happened in the context of a history of hurt and abandonment, substance abuse and violence. What was most deeply touching was this man’s willingness to go to that place of pain and vulnerability, in front of his wife and the group. It was very profound and humbling to listen to the cry of his heart for his little girl. Deeply moving was his honesty about his life, his part in the abortion, his hurt and regret over failure to support his pregnant wife and the special love he bears the child lost to abortion.
Poignant too was the pain of confronting what it means now for him, and for his family. He wrote and shared this poem Without a Face.
To the girl without a face
Whose features I cannot trace
In my heart I have mourned
I wish, that day, you were born
The grief and shame that is near
Is the cross that I must bear
I think of you every day
How you look, do you play?
Would you give me the time of day?
I am sorry for what took place
Will you extend
some of God’s good grace?
To the girl without a face
You hold a very special place
In my heart of hearts you dwell
This regret I cannot quell
I ask the Lord for a place
For the girl without a face
Whose features I cannot trace
Each man’s experience is different and post abortion adjustment is unique. The taboo around talking about abortion supports the typical male grief responses of remaining silent and grieving alone. In the silence a male can harbour guilt and doubts about his ability to protect himself and those he loves. He may become depressed or anxious, compulsive and controlling, or enraged.
Repressed hostility from unexpressed grief and carrying the secret can trigger issues in subsequent relationships. Men may adhere to the line “It was the right thing to do” but deep in their hearts carry the burden of knowing they had participated in the abortion by what they said or did, or didn’t say or do. This conflicted state can be a real torment. There may be obstacles of guilt, feeling undeserving, trapped by others’ opinions, social pressures, role confusion or pride which hinder speaking about it. Their pain is hidden but no less real.
It is with these thoughts in the forefront of our minds that we remember post abortive dads on Father’s Day. May you give yourselves permission to remember and love. And if you would like to talk or share your experience know we are there for you too.
Abortion From A Father's Perspective
(Excerpts from a paper by Gerald White)
Women make life and death decisions unilaterally, choices must be made as a partnership, there is a power imbalance at the moment. Men are conditioned to accept they have no say. Men feel it is not their place to grow children..... there is a gender and culture imbalance.
Although there has been work completed on abortion, both the effects on mothers and the community, the author cannot find any Aotearoa New Zealand research, which has been carried out with fathers and the effect, if any, this has had on them. This masculine perspective has, for various reasons, not been seen with the same critical regard as with the views of women and as a consequence, the voice of men who have been through this experience has been not heard....
To find out the views of men who have been through this experience, it was deemed an essential part of the process for the views of men to be sought, from an individual interview between each respondent and the interviewer.
The first impressions received by the author upon beginning the interview process was the amount of pain expressed by those being interviewed.....
The interviewees reported a wide range of personal and emotive experiences that frame their responses to abortion. Their voices include “this happened over thirty years ago, and we still feel the pain”, “it was a girl, and I wanted a daughter”, “it has an ongoing effect on both of us”, and “she said that ‘you realise if we’d kept the child, she would now be thirteen years old.”
From each interview the feeling of tragedy was apparent, both from the verbal language of each participant and their body language. This included tears, clenching/unclenching of fists and tenseness of their bodies as we conducted the interview process.
During the interview process, each participant appeared to go back in years as they recounted the events, emotions and sense of loss that happened at that time. Of interest to the author was the fact that this loss extended to the present day, as can be seen from the statements made by those interviewed.
The different dimensions of this loss were mentioned by each father and featured as the following: loss of Whakapapa, no say, rights and obligations, loss, no legal recourse.
From the wider perspective of human intellect, spiritual awareness, culture, feelings, long term effects and individual perspective, the responses passed onto the author of this research seem to indicate a deeply felt sense of loss. This sense of loss, from the perspective of those interviewed, centres around individual and corporate (ie whakapapa)... While each respondent talked about the effect of abortion on them at the time, as time has gone on, each person has become more aware of long-term loss and grief. Interestingly, each father has become aware of the loss to their Maori culture and reports a sense of ‘what was, what is and what could have been.’
The responses seem to indicate that relationships between the male and female partner at the time have been affected by the abortion.... If anything, as the years have passed, there has been an increasing awareness of the loss, as one father reported, “seeing my child being a parent themselves.” There is, therefore, the reality of the loss being ongoing, having ramifications through generations as yet unborn.
Although the rights of women are well protected by legal and privacy laws, the rights of men are, to a large extent, ignored when it comes to abortion.
Longstanding and continued damage has been perpetrated against fathers who have lost their children to abortion. This damage is in the areas of spiritual, cultural, paternal, and genealogical. This damage then transfers to the next generation where the unborn child will be missed by their brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, cousins, and grandparents. Damage has been done to relationships since the abortion where spousal disagreements as to the cause and effect continue to the present day.
The spiritual connectivity has been broken at the time of abortion, with those of the past being cut off from those of the future. The entire community misses out on what these individuals, the aborted children, could have contributed to their whanau/family, community, and the gifts these children would bring to the world.
Post-Abortive Fathers & Father's Day
(Article in P.A.T.H.S. Newsletter 2009)
Abortion is so much seen as a women’s issue that sometimes men are overlooked. Soon it will be Father’s Day. What does this day mean for fathers who have lost children to abortion?
A father’s pain from abortion cannot be ignored. Legally they have no rights in terms of what happens to their offspring but reactions for men are as real as they are for women.
Recently I sat with a man whose partner has had three terminations. The effect for him as a man, and as a father was apparent. Raw grief and rage, helplessness... Confronting his own sense of failure and inability to do something more.... Having a great love for children and wanting his own.... Aware he himself needed to sort out his own shit, but also deeply feeling the pain of lost fatherhood.
Men are an integral part of the abortion story yet have no voice. Whatever their part in the abortion, they too can carry pain with them and through their lives. They may develop problems with anger—frequent outbursts, violent behaviour, increased risk-taking behaviours, anger towards self, partner or women in general. Resultant helplessness may exhibit as confusion about his role as a man, feeling inept or finding it hard to function as a man e.g. questioning ability to support and nurture family.
Increased anxiety can create difficulty sleeping, disturbing dreams or nightmares, poor concentration, excessive worrying. There may be relationships issues—isolation (physical or emotional), trust issues, difficulty communicating, promiscuity, impotence or sexual problems.
There may be symptoms of grief and/or guilt including frequent feelings of unexplained sadness, frequent thoughts of self-condemnation, shame or guilt, discomfort or avoidance of babies and small children, crying spells, feeling of choking or tightness in throat, feeling numb or dead inside, alcohol or drug abuse, thoughts of suicide....
It is particularly significant if a man has experienced these problems only after his abortion experience. Men may experience these types of symptoms or problems and not realise they could be related to a past abortion until they openly talk about it.
The taboo talking about an abortion experience applies equally to men as to women, but it is perhaps even harder for many men. Most men, being practical and strong, expect to be able to cope. But the issues involved are complex and emotions deep, and the fear of confronting themselves can be huge. The post-abortive father needs understanding and support to enable him to share his experience and to express what it was like and has meant for him and his life. Father’s Day can be an emotional trigger which ought not be overlooked.
So this Father’s Day let us remember post-abortive dads everywhere. May you find peace in remembering and embrace your little ones with love.