Male Attitudes and Scenarios
The prospective father is likely to play an important part in the decision for childbirth or for abortion. It is well recognised that attitudes of the husband or male partner towards a pregnancy can strongly influence a woman’s abortion decision. If there is sufficient practical-emotional support, studies show that over 80% of women would choose not to go through with an abortion.(1) Where a woman is pregnant out of wedlock and receives no help from the father of the baby, or the husband or partner doesn’t want the baby she is carrying, she will most likely feel subtly, or expressly, co-erced or pressured to consider abortion as the best or only option.
In pre-industrial societies female attitudes toward maternity appear to be largely determined by the masculine attitude toward paternity, even where children are ardently desired and fertile women are much esteemed. Even when women abort ‘of their own free will’, including where they abort from spite, or as a result of a domestic quarrel, they do so under the impact of a genuine or expected masculine attitude.(2) Most women desperately need their partner or spouse to demonstrate a reassuring attitude that everything will work out, that the destruction of a baby that was the product of their love-making was out of the question, and that he would protect and care for her and the child.(3)
The scenarios for men, are many and varied and each carry with it a potential legacy of hurt and pain. Fathers become involved in an abortion in one of five ways:
They encourage or support the woman to have an abortion - I knew she was pregnant, and I supported her decision completely.
They pressure her to abort - I knew she was pregnant, and I encouraged her to have the abortion. She wanted to have her baby.
They abandon her to make the decision alone - I knew she was pregnant, but I abandoned her. It was her responsibility, not mine.
They unsuccessfully oppose the decision - I knew she was pregnant. I didn’t agree with the decision to abort, but went along with it because it was her body and it’s what she seemed to want. I knew she was pregnant, and I tried to stop her having an abortion but I couldn’t.
They learn about the abortion only after it happened - I did not find out about the pregnancy and abortion until it was over. I had no say it.(4)
Some men are passive and do not say anything or reveal what they really think or feel. This may be partly due to a belief that the decision for childbearing or abortion lies with the woman, or they consider that their legal status (or lack of) dictates the context for such an approach. They may then, sometimes mistakenly, convey an attitude of indifference or abandonment to their pregnant partner.
The thought of having a baby can be perceived as a threat, and it can feel easier to have an abortion than have a child. Some men struggle to, and perhaps cannot, accept the pregnancy. If a man is psychologically overwhelmed by the pregnancy of his partner, he may attempt to escape the angst the situation generates and avoid or detach himself from the decision making process.
Men may have their own needs neglected during the early stages of the pregnancy, when a woman may become more inward-looking, not as attentive, or responsive. Some men experience resentment and anger, which may be expressed by the withholding of interest and affection, or playing on her vulnerabilities (e.g. concern about body shape and need for reassurance she is loved).(5) A narcissistic man might perceive the unborn child as a rival for his partner or spouse’s affection and he may become hostile to either mother or baby.(6)
Historical experiences for a man can impact on his attitude to sexual relationships and his readiness for the life-responsibility of paternity or for long-term relationships. Significantly more abortion husbands compared to childbirth husbands reported poor relationships with either or both parents, a more unhappy childhood, more psychiatric illness in their family, and a higher incidence of alcoholism, drug dependency, neurosis, and compulsive gambling. (7) Erotic anti-child males, enjoy sexual conquest but do not want to deal with any problems that might ensue.
Some men have difficulty in seeing themselves as a father. Other factors such as career or life goals, financial situation, feeling himself too young, fear of commitment... may feature in his rejecting the co-responsibility of parenthood. His relationship with his sexual partner at the time may not be secure or in the nature of a serious, long-term commitment. In other situations, there may be conflict in the relationship, which may involve third parties, for example, where a man is not sure he is the father of the child, or there is unfinished business with a previous partnership or relationship for either the male or female, or an extra-marital affair responsible for the pregnancy. This can produce huge dilemmas for a man.
There is a general misconception when it comes to abortion that ‘men don’t care’. In reality some men care heaps and abortion is more stressful for men than is publicly admitted.
Research shows that the majority of men in clinic waiting rooms feel isolated, angry at their partners and themselves, and/or concerned about the physical and emotional damage the abortion might cause their partner.
According to the law men have few rights to protect their offspring, and this for some is cause for anger. Propaganda that talks about abortion being “a woman’s choice” effectively excludes men from the decision-making, and many men who feel isolated from the decision, especially if they are opposed to the abortion feel emasculated and powerless.(8)
Some men do offer and seek to provide both financial and emotional support to their partner/wife and child, but she may have a low attachment to the unborn child and has possibly placed other considerations ahead of having a family or another child at this time. This can be hurtful for a man and very difficult to deal with.
1. Aborted Women: Silent No More, David Reardon, Loyola University Press, Chicago, 1987
2. A Study of Abortion in Primitive Societies, George Devereux, The Julian Press, New York, 1955,
3. The Effects of Abortion on Marriage and Other Committed Relationships, Teri Reisser, Association for Interdisciplinary Research in Values and Social Change, 6(4):1-8, 1994
4. Restoring Fatherhood Lost, Warren Williams, Post Abortion Review, Vol 4, No.4, Fall 1996
5. Expectant Fathers, Sam Bittman & Sue Rosenberg Zalk, New York:Ballantine Books, 1978, 1980
6. Sixty Battered Women, Elaine Hilberman, Victimology 2:460, 1977-78
7. Husbands of Abortions Applicants: A Comparison With Husbands of Women Who Complete Their Pregnancies, F Lieh-Mak, Social Psychiatry, 14:59, 1979
8. Men and Abortion, Losses and Love, Shostak, Arthur, Praeger 1984
(Article in P.A.T.H.S. Newsletter 2003)
There was a presentation of a paper on Teen Dads in October in Christchurch, the culmination of research carried out by Harald Breiding-Buss, Tyler Guise, Tony Scanlan and Terry Voice of the Father and Child Trust. Some key points were:
Only a small proportion of academic research dealing with teenage pregnancy deals with the fathers as a factor, and many studies did not mention the father at all, even though, as E.Pitt (1986) put it "most sexual activity is male initiated, and most sexual behaviour is male influenced... it becomes clear that there will be no resolution of the problem of teenage pregnancy without directing greater attention to the male."
Contrary to popular belief, many teenage fathers were quite keen to be involved with their children, but they had a lot of obstacles to overcome to actually be involved. This includes their backgrounds, often raised by single mothers themselves; the disapproval and lack of support form the maternal and paternal grandparents; the mother’s reluctance to allow his involvement; the seemingly impossible demand on time and emotion; and the financial obligations where little finances exist to meet them. For those who did want involvement, researchers found many gradually lost contact through lack of structured intervention and committed support from the child’s family and both sets of grandparents.
Becoming a father during adolescence has serious con-sequences for individual development, and teenage fathers are not psychologically prepared for their new role. Unrealistic expectations and the inability to combine the development tasks of adolescence with the responsibilities of fatherhood increase their vulnerability to parenting failure. (Jones 2000)
The picture that emerged from the results of the local survey speaks of lost opportunity. The question to be asked is "What gets in the way?" rather than "What needs to be done to motivate the teen dads even more?" We also need to ask whether those young men that are absent from their children’s lives by their own choice really stay away because they do not care, or because they cannot see a useful place for themselves.
The children of young men in the survey were almost always unwanted initially but once accommodated with the fact that there is to be a child, and if supported, most respondents felt good that they were now dads.
It is interesting that for women who fall pregnant unexpectedly the initial reaction of the father of the child bears huge weight in terms of how she might feel about the pregnancy and the future—that initial response often sets the scene for how a woman perceives the support and intentions of her partner and may if negative create unconscious pressure to not keep the child. Looking at it from the male perspective the initial reaction is often one of shock and denial, and hence negative, but from the accounts in the survey, once a man has a chance to work it through and if given genuine and effective support, he may be less likely to be averse to the idea of supporting a woman and her baby. We hear repeatedly from post-abortive women that a woman needs not just to hear words or be given empty promises, but needs to have a "felt sense" of her partner or spouse's genuine support and care.