Research reveals men’s sense of grief and helplessness in response to woman’s abortion

By Randall K. O’Bannon, NRL Director of Education & Research

Editor’s note. Father’s Day is a week from Sunday. As we do each year we are running stories about one of the most neglected subject areas in the entire abortion debate: a father’s role and responsibility in the death of his child. This story first appeared in the October 2015 digital edition of National Right to Life News.

sadman56reStudies on women’s negative responses to their abortions have appeared frequently over the past couple of decades. But research on men’s reactions to the abortion of their child have been harder to find.

Now, new research by Catherine T. Coyle and Vincent M. Rue appearing in the October 2015 issue of Counseling and Values offers “A Thematic Analysis of Men’s Experience With a Partner’s Elective Abortion.”

Coyle and Rue report on responses to an online survey of 89 men whose partner (wife or more often girlfriend) had undergone an abortion. The size of the sample and the manner of self-selection (it depended on men finding the website) make it difficult to make any broad statistical observations but it still offers valuable experiential data.

Accounts of their experiences are compelling and heart-breaking reading. There are painful commonalities, especially among those whose input into the decision was not welcomed.

The researchers found three common themes among the men’s responses: 1) loss and grief, 2) helplessness and/or victimization, and 3) spiritual healing.

Coyle and Rue offer several examples of men expressing each of the themes. A sample of the ones on “Loss and Grief” include:

I was a father one day and not the next. She told me she had a miscarriage, then I got a call from the abortion clinic, she forgot her medication. I have never felt so awful in my life. (2 years postabortion)

I would have made an excellent father, and I feel now at my age (49) my chance has probably gone. And this makes me sad. (9 years postabortion)

Sometimes, there was an element of guilt involved, even many years later.

The absolute worst thing I have ever done. Words can’t describe the pain and overwhelming guilt that is always with me. I have no one to blame but myself. (26 years postabortion).

Relationships were affected.

Since the abortion we have separated. We constantly argue. She constantly looks at baby things. She desperately wants to become pregnant again. I want our baby back. (1 month postabortion)

The abortion destroyed all the good in our relationship and all the hope I had in the kindness of others. (3 months postabortion)

Coyle and Rue say that “Helpless and/or Victimization” are not qualities typical of many males, but were expressed by the group participating in their on-line survey.

I had no control or no say about the abortion. She said she would have one if I agreed to or not. She had the abortion without me. I would have taken care of the baby myself if she would have just had the baby. (26 years postabortion).

She is going through hell and I can’t help her. I only remind her of it. (2 months postabortion)

Anger was sometimes part of the reaction.

As a man, I was totally in the dark. No one gave me any information or even cared what I thought. (14 ½ years postabortion)

While about 9% (or about one in 11) did not declare any religious affiliation, most (82%) of the men participating in the survey identified themselves as Christian (the remainder labeled themselves as “other” (8%) or said they were Jewish(1%)), and this showed up in responses Coyle and Rue grouped under “Spiritual Healing.”

God has given me grace to confess and feel forgiven. (7 years postabortion)

I have now committed my life to Christ … I know I am forgiven and free but the grief is still felt. (30 years postabortion)

Forgiveness was a common theme, but some men said they were still struggling years after the event.

I know that God forgives me and I am working on my own forgiveness. (27 years postabortion)

Though this self selected sample turned out to be predominantly Christian and Caucasian, the authors felt that “the existential questions raised by abortion would seem to present considerable challenges for men of other faiths as well as for men without a religious worldview.” Coyle and Rue hoped that future research would shed light on how or whether ethnicity or religious belief would contribute to men’s postabortion views.

Coyle and Rue say that the common expressions of guilt and culpability raise important questions about whether men’s innate instincts are violated by induced abortion, whether the cultural expectations surrounding men and their roles are unrealistic or contradictory, and whether men ought to be routinely offered pre- and postabortion counseling.

Men’s sense of helplessness and victimization at their partner’s abortions may be due, at least in part, to the current legal situation which gives them no rights in the matter. Coyle and Rue suggest that efforts to enhance a couple’s communication may help here, but as things stand, the decision will be entirely the mother’s.

At a minimum, though, Coyle and Rue argue that counselors should be aware of such issues and be prepared to explore and address these with their male clients, even if the abortion may have occurred years ago:

When clients appear to be still struggling with the abortion experience, if is helpful to affirm that abortion can be a difficult, even traumatic event. Such affirmation may facilitate awareness and lead to a willingness to work on any unresolved guilt and anger.

Because of the disenfranchisement of men from the abortion decision, men may not feel that they have a “right to grieve” delaying or inhibiting their healing. Forgiveness, both for oneself and for the others involved, may indeed be valuable here, the researchers argue.

Of course, we recognize that not every man responds the same way as these, at least initially. There are those who coerce their partners to have abortions and threaten to abandon the woman if she has the baby.

But this research shows, once again, that the reality of abortion, the destruction of an innocent human life, is not something a mother or a father can simply psychologically shove aside and act as if it never happened.

It’s something a father won’t easily forget.