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Integrating Men Into Abortion Care
Erica Barnett, 21 Sep 07
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Every year, an estimated 46 million women worldwide obtain abortions, making abortion one of the more common reproductive-rights choices around the world.

Here in the United States, where abortion is legal but restricted, the debate around abortion often centers on how much autonomy a woman should be allowed to have when considering an abortion. Various state laws have required women and girls to obtain permission from husbands or parents; required doctors to "fully inform" women by providing them misleading information about supposed links between abortion and various diseases; and imposed waiting periods so that women can "think about their decision."

Amid all this noise, one aspect of the decision to have an abortion is rarely discussed: how involved male partners should be in the abortion decision. According to the Guttmacher Institute, fully four in ten unintended pregnancies to married women in the US end in abortion, a rate that certainly argues for more male involvement in the discussion about whether, when, and how to end a pregnancy. (Worldwide, married women account for two-thirds of all abortions; among unmarried women who have abortions, fully one-third live with partners.)

Courtney E. Martin, a writer for Alternet, argued recently that men should be more, not less, involved in the abortion discussion. "After all," Martin writes, "where is a pro-choice man who wants guidance, community or counseling around his experience of abortion to turn?"

The pro-choice movement, and feminists in general, seem to have historically shied away from the difficult but imperative task of involving men in conversations about abortion. It is understandable that the movement has been weary; no hot-button issue brings out more manipulation than this one. But it is time that feminists' commitment to equality, as well as the quality of both women and men's lives, trumps their fear that acknowledging men's hardships will only serve as fodder for pro-life spin doctors. There must be a way to talk about men's perspectives and experiences without compromising women's bodies.

It's an intriguing question, particularly when you consider that the only men whose voices are usually heard are anti-abortion activists, and politicians eager to impose their religious and ethical views on women. Men whose partners choose to have an abortion have few places to turn to when seeking counseling and advice; in fact, most clinics don't even allow men beyond the waiting room. And that's unfortunate when, according to one survey, the single greatest concern of these men is the well-being of their partners, and more than half wanted to be in the room during the procedure.

It would be beneficial for both partners involved in an abortion to acknowledge that men have feelings and concerns about abortion, and for men to be included formally in the process, including:

  • Counseling for both the woman and the man;
  • Allowing the man and woman involved to decide if the man can be present during medical tests and procedures, including the ultrasound, counseling, and the abortion procedure itself.

    What's crucial to bringing this about is societal acknowledgment that men as well as women are responsible for -- and affected by -- unintended pregnancies, but that this does not give them the ultimate power over what a woman chooses to do with her body.

    Involving men in abortion decisions would be beneficial for both partners. And in the process, pro-choice women might well gain more allies in keeping abortion legal and safe.

    Do you know of good, programs and resources for pro-choice men whose partners are considering or choosing to have an abortion? Please tell us about them in the comments.

    Image credit: flickr/dabemurphy

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Comments

Congratulations to Erica Barnett for such a thoughtful piece! Many pro-choice women are ambivalent about involving men where they rightly should be out of fear of losing control over the decision. Yet the benefit of including men is powerful: Abortions really ARE the responsibility of both men and women (duh, but in this country we still maintain an antiquated blame-the-woman perspective). Perhaps by including the deserving men in our lives, we can exclude those who don't have any business being involved in such a personal issue, like politicians and religious extremists.


Posted by: Meredith McClintock on 21 Sep 07

One of the questions that sprints to mind is why such women are having abortions. Is it financial pressure? Exhaustion? Fear of abuse? The issue is a complicated one. While I agree that in many cases the men involved in the pregnancy should be involved in the abortion decision, I also recognize that there may be very good reasons why that would be a very bad idea. I think it depends on the situation.


Posted by: Kate on 22 Sep 07

I think that is the dumbest thing i have ever heard. You want men more involved in the pro-abortion side of it so they can increase abortion numbers by adding pressure to their partners. If men would keep their trousers up this debate wouldnt be relevant. U said pro "choice" (abortion) people should listen more to the men.. why? why not everyone pro abortion and pro life? u didnt say men should have post abortion counselling (for those with consciences at haivng a hand in killing their unborn child) you just said they should be more involved in the decision to have the abortion.. hmm a little one sided i'm thinking. And another thing.. alot of the abortions in this country are the result of one night stands, short relationships etc. ( be it via the morning after pill etc) and the men do not want to be left with a child but the mother of the unborn child does want it... what happens then? should this man have the same rights as u have said above? u wrote a very vague... very biased piece... it was disappointing.


Posted by: dee on 23 Sep 07

I think that is the dumbest thing i have ever heard. You want men more involved in the pro-abortion side of it so they can increase abortion numbers by adding pressure to their partners. If men would keep their trousers up this debate wouldnt be relevant. U said pro "choice" (abortion) people should listen more to the men.. why? why not everyone pro abortion and pro life? u didnt say men should have post abortion counselling (for those with consciences at haivng a hand in killing their unborn child) you just said they should be more involved in the decision to have the abortion.. hmm a little one sided i'm thinking. And another thing.. alot of the abortions in this country are the result of one night stands, short relationships etc. and the men do not want to be left with a child but the mother of the unborn child does want it... what happens then? should this man have the same rights as u have said above? u wrote a very vague... very biased piece... it was disappointing.


Posted by: dee on 23 Sep 07

I think that is the dumbest thing i have ever heard. You want men more involved in the pro-abortion side of it so they can increase abortion numbers by adding pressure to their partners. If men would keep their trousers up this debate wouldnt be relevant. U said pro "choice" (abortion) people should listen more to the men.. why? why not everyone pro abortion and pro life? u didnt say men should have post abortion counselling (for those with consciences at haivng a hand in killing their unborn child) you just said they should be more involved in the decision to have the abortion.. hmm a little one sided i'm thinking. And another thing.. alot of the abortions in this country are the result of one night stands, short relationships etc. and the men do not want to be left with a child but the mother of the unborn child does want it... what happens then? should this man have the same rights as u have said above? u wrote a very vague... very biased piece... it was disappointing.


Posted by: dee on 23 Sep 07

Since the father of this unborn child has no legal standing in the matter, to include them in the discussion seems shallow. I would rather move the discussion in another direction.Looking at this issue from an equal rights perspective, why shouldn't the father be able to walk away from an unwanted pregnancy the same way the mother can? Or, from a sense of fairness, since she made the decision alone, why shouldn't she have to take sole responsibility for that decision? Is this a case where the father has responsibilities, and the mother has choices? Hopefully, you will notice that at no time did I say that the father has the right to say that the mother has to have "his" child.


Posted by: Stephen T. Knox on 23 Sep 07

Since the father of this unborn child has no legal standing in the matter, to include them in the discussion seems shallow. I would rather move the discussion in another direction.Looking at this issue from an equal rights perspective, why shouldn't the father be able to walk away from an unwanted pregnancy the same way the mother can? Or, from a sense of fairness, since she made the decision alone, why shouldn't she have to take sole responsibility for that decision? Is this a case where the father has responsibilities, and the mother has choices? Hopefully, you will notice that at no time did I say that the father has the right to say that the mother has to have "his" child.


Posted by: Stephen T. Knox on 23 Sep 07

Sure, it would not be a bad thing for man to be involved in whole process. I'm for letting the woman decide whether or not to let the man in her life into the picture or not. If the choice is to include the man, then by all means provide both of them support. But the idea that a man can force a woman to carry to term is a no go.


Posted by: jufulu, FCD on 23 Sep 07

I think it is interesting that the father's responsibilities rely solely on what the mother decides. If the mother decides to keep the child, the father is legally responsible for taking care of that child. But it the mother decides, on her own, to have an abortion, the father has no say.

So the mother has total control in the decision, but they both share responsibility? If the mother is able to decide to have an abortion alone, then the father should be able to decide not to take responsibility for the child. It wouldn't seem fair if the father could just walk away, would it? So why does the mother have that right?

Conception: Both partners decide to have sex.
Abortion: One partner decides to keep the child or not.
Raising: Both partners have to care for the child.

That seems to wrong to me. If both partners decided to bring that child into this world (sex), then they should both be involved in whether or not to take that child out of this world.

I don't think abortion should be an option at all, but if it going to be, don't take away any legal rights that a man has in this issue.


Posted by: Jaryd Madlena on 23 Sep 07

I think it is interesting that the father's responsibilities rely solely on what the mother decides. If the mother decides to keep the child, the father is legally responsible for taking care of that child. But it the mother decides, on her own, to have an abortion, the father has no say.

So the mother has total control in the decision, but they both share responsibility? If the mother is able to decide to have an abortion alone, then the father should be able to decide not to take responsibility for the child. It wouldn't seem fair if the father could just walk away, would it? So why does the mother have that right?

Conception: Both partners decide to have sex.
Abortion: One partner decides to keep the child or not.
Raising: Both partners have to care for the child.

That seems to wrong to me. If both partners decided to bring that child into this world (sex), then they should both be involved in whether or not to take that child out of this world.

I don't think abortion should be an option at all, but if it going to be, don't take away any legal rights that a man has in this issue.


Posted by: Jaryd Madlena on 23 Sep 07

I think it is interesting that the father's responsibilities rely solely on what the mother decides. If the mother decides to keep the child, the father is legally responsible for taking care of that child. But it the mother decides, on her own, to have an abortion, the father has no say.

So the mother has total control in the decision, but they both share responsibility? If the mother is able to decide to have an abortion alone, then the father should be able to decide not to take responsibility for the child. It wouldn't seem fair if the father could just walk away, would it? So why does the mother have that right?

Conception: Both partners decide to have sex.
Abortion: One partner decides to keep the child or not.
Raising: Both partners have to care for the child.

That seems to wrong to me. If both partners decided to bring that child into this world (sex), then they should both be involved in whether or not to take that child out of this world.

I don't think abortion should be an option at all, but if it going to be, don't take away any legal rights that a man has in this issue.


Posted by: Jaryd Madlena on 23 Sep 07

I think there are underlying issues that we'll have to deal with before we can realistically involve male partners in a woman's decision to have an abortion. The primary one I'm thinking of is how we deal with men and parenting in general - still today, women do more childrearing than men. And I don't think this can be simply explained away by the idea that men don't want to be involved in childrearing. Some do, some don't - same as women. Until we can empower men as parents (instead of our fundamental mistrust of men as parents), how can we pretend to involve them in this: the last opportunity to choose parenthood or not. ??

Also, I'm surprised by this reader's comment: "And another thing.. alot of the abortions in this country are the result of one night stands, short relationships etc. ( be it via the morning after pill etc)." For one thing, the "morning after pill" is NOT the same as the chemical abortion pill. The morning after pill (or "Emergency contraception") prevents pregnancy by preventing implantation, while medical abortion ends pregnancy via drugs, vs. the traditional surgical method.

Also, did you read the stats in the article? "According to the Guttmacher Institute, fully four in ten unintended pregnancies to married women in the US end in abortion, a rate that certainly argues for more male involvement in the discussion about whether, when, and how to end a pregnancy. (Worldwide, married women account for two-thirds of all abortions)" So although some abortions certainly are the result of unintended pregnancies from 'one-night-stands' or short relationships, most abortions world-wide are had by married women. I doubt that most of those women are having abortions because they've cheated on their husbands.

Why are so many married women getting abortions? Because they don't want to care for one more child? Because the timing isn't right? How many of those women already have children? Live in poverty? Are in their 30's or 40's? Or is it because most women, especially in long-term relationships, can become lax about other methods of birth control. We can start believing that if we didn't get pregnant in our 20's, it's not going to happen.

I think these are all important questions for women everywhere. I want to live in a world where all children are wanted and have the support they need to have the best life possible. So what can we provide for women and men to help make this happen?

Thanks for the article...you've inspired some interesting conversation in my household!


Posted by: Mary Langford on 24 Sep 07

Involving men in the decisions around abortion need to be left up to the woman who is pregnant. Although it may seem unfair - as several people point out, men must offer child support if a woman decides to continue the pregnancy, yet does not have a say when it comes to an abortion - the unfairness or inequality of the situation comes from biology. It's not fair that women are the ones who become pregnant and bear all the consequences of that, physically and emotionally, whether the pregnancy was planned or desired or not. The reality is that pregnancy takes place inside a woman's body, and therefore she must have the final say on how that pregnancy continues or not. There are better ways to encourage men to be supportive and involved partners (including using birth control if they don't want their partners to become pregnant), and ways to encourage women to demand healthy relationships with men they would trust and turn to in these situations.
In the meantime, there are some organizations that provide information and support to men and women on unplanned pregnancy, abortion, adoption, and parenting - one that comes to mind is Backline, www.yourbackline.org, which operates a toll-free national hotline (1.888.493.0092) on just these issues.


Posted by: parker on 1 Oct 07



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