Anti-abortion advocates have long contended that abortion produces two victims: the unborn child, and his or her mother, who, a mounting body of research affirms, risks physical and emotional injury.
But there is evidence that abortion often involves a third victim, one who is typically dismissed when he is acknowledged at all: the child’s father.
Postabortion syndrome, a variant of post-traumatic stress disorder, is a subject of considerable controversy. Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocacy groups maintain that the emotional effects of abortion are “largely positive.” But it is now beyond dispute that after having an abortion, many women experience negative emotions, running from mild regret to deep depression.
There have been at least a dozen studies in peer-reviewed journals that point to a significant link between abortion and depression. Beyond the data, rising prominence of groups for women who have abortions like Project Rachel and Silent No More punctuate that abortion’s emotional impact can be profound and wide reaching.
Recognition of this has made its way to our highest court.
The US Supreme Court cited postabortion pain in its 2007 decision upholding a ban on certain types of late-term abortions. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that it was “self-evident” and “unexceptional to conclude” that “some women” who have abortions suffer “regret,” “severe depression,” “loss of esteem,” and “other ills.”
If it is no longer remarkable that many women are harmed emotionally by abortion, it is worthwhile to consider whether some men areas well.
Studies have shown that some men have negative emotional experiences akin to postpartum depression after the birth of their child.
In an article in the May issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at the Eastern Virginia Medical School examined 43 previously published studies involving 28,000 male and female adults and found that at least 1 in 10 fathers became depressed after the birth of their child.
A study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology even found that half of male partners experienced varying degrees of psychological malaise following their partner’s miscarriage.
If a man can feel negative emotions after every other type of pregnancy outcome, why not after an abortion?
A 2009 study in the journal Public Health examining the associations between abortion and relationship functioning found that “for men and women, the experience of an abortion in a previous relationship was related to negative outcomes in the current relationship.”
It also discovered that an “experience of an abortion within a current relationship was associated with 116 percent and 196 percent increased risk of arguing about children for women and men, respectively.”
Men whose current partners had an abortion were more likely to report jealousy (96 percent greater risk) and conflict about drugs (385 percent greater risk). The authors conclude, “[A]bortion may play a vital role in understanding the [causes] of relationship problems.”
It may be difficult for some to understand why men would react negatively to a partner’s abortion. After all, men are often as much a part of reproductive decisions as the women themselves. Surveys of women who had an abortion reveal that they often feel direct or indirect pressure to abort the child from their partners.
But in a culture that teaches that “it’s her body, her choice,” men are often excluded from the decision, and thus left to feel helpless. Men have no legal voice in the abortion decision.
In Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth, the Supreme Court ruled that the state was not required to notify or obtain permission from the husbands of women seeking abortion.
Either way, it is something of a taboo for men to talk about feelings of loss or guilt after their partner has had an abortion. Women, after all, are the ones who carry the physical and physiological burden of pregnancy, and they are the ones who are often abandoned to address the consequences of reproductive decisions.
Many men who have watched their partners go through an abortion, some probably feeling shame over having failed in their responsibility to protect and provide, try to repress their feelings.
To many, abortion has become a normal and acceptable part of reproductive health care. One abortion takes place about every 25 seconds in America (based on the Guttmacher Institute’s estimate of 1.2 million abortions in 2005, the last year for which comprehensive data were available) making it one of the most common surgical procedures. But the effects following the abortion of one’s child should not ever be discounted when making that kind of decision. Not for the mother, and not for the father.
Gary Bauer, former US presidential candidate, is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families, as well as a father of three and grandfather of one.