Men and abortion: The paternal paradox

By Sarah Quale — No uterus, no opinion? Not so fast. Men’s roles in abortion are varied, and society’s standards for fathers and men’s voices are contradictory and complex. To understand their involvement in abortion, and the repercussions that result, we need to examine the paternal paradox…

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No uterus, no opinion

It isn’t too often that men get a say. Not in the deaths of their own children, unless of course, they support the mother’s decision to abort them. Not in the case of Ryan Magers, the father in Alabama who is suing the abortion facility and pharmaceutical company in the wrongful death of his aborted child, who Alabama law and the Alabama Supreme Court declare is a person with rights. Just yesterday, Judge Chris Comer heard arguments for and against dismissal of Ryan’s case, which he declined to throw out.

Over the past several years, the abortion industry and its feminist allies have run an aggressive campaign against fathers like Ryan, to bring more men into their movement, right alongside the “no uterus, no opinion” mantra. While this seems like a contradiction on the surface, there is a consistent, underlying criterion for membership in the #BroChoice in-crowd. You must unequivocally and unabashedly champion legal abortion.

On Twitter in May, feminist author and Vox media host Liz Plank called for men to respond with stories of how legal abortion benefits them. Responses to her controversial tweet varied.

From submissive…

Personhood - Men and abortion

To dismissive…

Personhood - Men and abortion

Personhood - Men and abortion

To repentant and bold…

Personhood - Men and abortion

According to #BroChoice men, who reflect an oversexualized culture that discourages chivalry and responsibility, women have the absolute right to “do whatever they want with their own body.” But there are rules.

  1. Bodily autonomy especially applies to a woman who enters an abortion facility.
  2. Bodily autonomy doesn’t apply to a woman in a dorm room, at a party, or in Hollywood.

Why is that?

Because abortion frees men, not women.

Abortion frees men from responsibility and commitment. It frees them to be totally unaccountable to a woman’s heart and to any life that’s created from his sexual relationship with her. But there is a cold truth that remains.

Every aborted child has a father.

The six roles men typically play

When it comes to abortion, the father is typically involved in one of six ways:

  1. He supports the abortion and usually brings her to the appointment and/or pays for it.
  2. He pressures her into having the abortion, sometimes threatening harm or loss of support.
  3. He abandons her and the decision altogether.
  4. He passively leaves the decision to her, often because he is confused or feels voiceless.
  5. He fights for the life of his child, but fails to convince her not to abort.
  6. He doesn’t even know about the pregnancy or the abortion until later, or possibly never.

Out of this complexity of roles springs the paternal paradox, described in brief by another response to Liz Plank’s tweet.

Personhood - men and abortion

Here’s what this paradox looks like a little more broadly:

  • When women have an abortion, it’s viewed as an exclamation of their “reproductive rights” and freedom from male oppression.
  • When men pressure women to abort, they are labeled controlling, abusive, and oppressive.
  • When women ignore a man’s objection to an abortion, men have no legal recourse for the death of their own children.
  • But when women allow their children to be born, men are legally obligated to take financial responsibility.

To further understand this paradox, we must also consider what research shows about how men’s involvement, or lack thereof, impacts an abortion decision.

The father’s impact on decision making and outcomes

Ever since Roe v Wade, academic journals and research institutes have published studies on the reasons women have abortions. More recently, inquiries have focused on how lack of support and coercion impact the abortion decision and the effect coercion has on post-abortive emotional outcomes. Here is a small glimpse into this ever-growing body of research:

Sources of pressure from the father of the child can range from threats of abandonment to domestic abuse, and even homicide, which is one of the leading causes of death of pregnant women.  Other sources of pressure come from:

  • Parents of minor children that fear a pregnancy will bring shame on the family
  • A shame-based or secretive environment within a woman’s church
  • Counseling that’s rushed and driven by abortion profits
  • Doctors who insist women abort pre-born children with poor or terminal diagnoses
  • Traffickers in their attempts to control or punish their victims
  • Situations in which children are conceived in rape or incest, as Jennifer Christie, a mother from rape, can attest.

Aside from coercion, several surveys report that single motherhood and concerns about current relationships also contribute significantly to the decision to abort.

We can reasonably conclude that, in playing the roles of abortion supporter, coercer, abandoner, and passive bystander, men contribute directly to the confusion, fear, and uncertainty that often accompany a woman’s unexpected pregnancy and impact her decision to abort.  So much for “no uterus, no opinion.”

A shift in our understanding

Up until recently, the pro-life answer to “no uterus, no opinion” has been a simple historical reminder that one doesn’t have to be a victim of an injustice to stand up against it. The South’s argument for slavery was essentially “no slaves/no opinion,” yet scores of white abolitionists stood against the horrors perpetrated against those of African descent.

Personhood - abolitionist movement

Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, 1851

Similarly, the fight for women’s suffrage surged forward to obliterate the “no property/no say” argument. Yet there is a rich history of “suffragents” who helped make the right to vote (and own property) a reality for women.

Personhood - The men of women's suffrage

The Men’s League for Women, New York, 1911

But the time has come to move beyond this historical rebuttal, as empirical evidence is beginning to show that men are directly and deeply impacted by abortion, even though they aren’t the ones on the abortion table. Here are a few of the organizations that showcase this work:

  • The Alliance for Post-Abortion Research and Training (APART) houses current research papers, literature reviews, clinical reports, and academic publications on this subject. On the Fact Sheets page of their website, select the Men and Abortion tab.
  • The Life Issues Institute’s Men & Abortion Network (MAN) initiative provides studies on the effects of abortion on men and links to counseling and mentoring services.
  • The Abortion and Men area of the Elliot Institute’s website includes peer-reviewed research, academic articles, and post-abortive healing resources for men.

Anecdotal evidence is also growing and inspiring new ministries to help men work through the deaths of the children they couldn’t or wouldn’t protect. For example:

Lost fatherhood and God’s design

Every person who reports feelings of regret after abortion experiences his or her grief in different ways, yet a growing body of evidence here, too, suggests common behavior patterns and psychological symptoms associated with post-abortion trauma. What’s not often considered, however, is post-abortion trauma in the context of God-designed gender.

Men are created by God to be leaders (Exodus 18:21, 1 Corinthians 11:3), and they are called by God to be honorable (1 Peter 3:7) and sacrificial (Ephesians 5:25-27). Deep in the spirit of a man is an innate need to be respected; to protect his loved ones from harm. To deny a man this core need and fundamental design is to strip him of his natural, God-ordained purpose. The result is a drifting powerlessness that can take its toll on a man’s self-image, causing a profound sense of loss and hopelessness. It can also bring excessive guilt and shame, fear, depression, sexual dysfunction, alcohol and drug abuse, significant damage to his peer relationships, and even suicide.

Men suffer greatly, but differently, from abortion. Yet our society continues to deny there is any suffering or regret from anyone at all.

If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional and spiritual trauma as the father of an aborted child, please reach out using the resources provided above. Men, like women, deserve to replace the death connection abortion creates with a life connection that forgiveness and healing through Jesus Christ brings.

Sarah Quale is president of Personhood Alliance Education, the educational arm of the Personhood Alliance, and the author of the Foundations online pro-life curriculum. She is a member of the International Christian Visual Media Association and Christian Women in Media and is the founder of Educe® online learning.

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3 comments on “Men and abortion: The paternal paradox

  1. Nathan Z says:

    Hurting fathers of aborted children should know they are not alone and that there is healing and freedom available through the blood of the Savior. I wish more pro-life organizations would look into and talk about how abortion does not just affect women and babies, but men too. I’m grateful for the good Personhood Alliance does. I believe the men and women helping to stop abortion are doing heroic work.

  2. Margaret Baron says:

    Thank you for supporting the fathers.
    Their feelings or needs are just as important.

  3. Shan Dixon says:

    I’m going to share this post with my teenage son. If the law holds him accountable for child support, the law should also afford him a place to speak up for his child from inception forward.

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