By Thomas Strahan, J.D.
Editor’s note. This terrific overview first appeared in the April 2002 edition of National Right to Life News. It was written by my friend, the late Thomas Strahan, and is rightfully a part of our year-long “Roe at 40” series which is reprinting some of the best stories that appeared in NRL News going back to 1973. If you are not a subscriber to the “pro-life newspaper of record,” call us at 202-626-8828. Please pass this and any other stories that appear in NRL News Today to your friends using your social networks.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, whether he is a husband or boyfriend, the father has no legal right even to be notified prior to his wife or girlfriend obtaining an abortion. The High Court has taken the position that abortion is exclusively a woman’s issue; the woman is to be treated as an autonomous decision-maker. Thus, she not only has a legal right to make the decision on her own, it is assumed that input of husbands or boyfriends is of little importance.
This could not be farther from the truth, both in point of law and as an understanding of the situation a woman in a crisis pregnancy is facing. In truth, the father’s attitude is frequently crucial in determining whether a woman has an abortion or carries to term.
If the father is hostile or appears indifferent to the pregnancy, then the risk of abortion is substantially increased because the woman perceives that she is abandoned. If the father provides both emotional and economic support for the pregnancy, particularly in a marriage, then the likelihood of abortion is substantially decreased.
For example, anthropologist George Devereux, in his study of 400 pre-industrial societies published in 1955, concluded that “female attitudes towards maternity appeared to be determined by the masculine attitude towards paternity–even where children were valued and fertile women were esteemed.”
Closer to home, Teri Reisser, a post-abortion counselor in Southern California, has stated, “It is my experience in post-abortion counseling that most women desperately needed their partner to demonstrate a reassuring attitude that everything would work out, that the destruction of a baby who was the product of their lovemaking was out of the question, and that he would protect and care for her and the child.”
Interestingly, pro-abortion sources offer evidence that supports this interpretation. In a 1987 study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), it was found that the quality of the relationship with the child’s father and whether or not economic support was available were important factors in abortion decision-making.
In this study, published in “Family Planning Perspectives, “women were asked for the reasons they sought an abortion. Some 23% said their husband or partner wanted her to have an abortion, 68% said they can’t afford a baby now, and 51% said they have problems with a relationship or want to avoid single parenthood.
Another 1994-95 AGI study, also published in Family Planning Perspectives, found that where the father is committed in marriage, the likelihood of abortion was much lower compared to women who were in cohabiting relationships or who were never married.
There is a variety of subtle and overt ways in which males may influence the outcome of a pregnancy.
Some men may be psychologically overwhelmed by the pregnancy as evidenced by these examples from the literature.
When 25-year-old Becky told her boyfriend that she was pregnant, he panicked. “He just didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know how to react. He would hike in the hills all by himself.” Becky saw she had to fend for herself, and had an abortion.
Riana (27) faced a similar situation with her boyfriend. She said, “The whole thing was freaking him out far more than me.” He waffled between extremes, from frightened but solid support to getting drunk and high to try to make it go away. Riana obtained an abortion and the relationship broke up.
Threats of abandonment by the male may also lead to abortion, as illustrated by the following situation.
May was not particularly happily married with two daughters, and lived a small house in the suburbs. She worked part-time to supplement her husband’s small income. At the time she became pregnant, he was investing the little money they had in a business venture (which later failed). May said, “My husband was furious and would not even talk about the idea of another baby. I pleaded with him that if I could have the child then I would be sterilized. I had never imagined having an abortion… but I knew there was no other alternative because I knew my husband meant it when he said he would leave me if I didn’t get rid of the baby. I couldn’t face the idea of being alone, in poverty, trying to bring up three children.”
Conflict in the relationship, which may involve third parties, is also a risk factor for abortion if the woman becomes pregnant.
“We don’t know if I am the father of the child. She told me that if she knew for sure I was the father, she wouldn’t want to have the abortion. I blame her and she blames me. She says that if I hadn’t yelled at her and given her a hard time that night, she wouldn’t have gone out with another guy in the first place…. We have lived together for two years, off and on. I will have a boy someday. I know his name.” Later, his girlfriend found out he was the father, but had the abortion anyway.
Various methods of denial by the male can influence the outcome of a pregnancy. One way to deny a pregnancy is to trivialize it or fail to acknowledge that there is human life present in the womb.
When Charles found out his girlfriend Suzy was pregnant he made a joke about it by buying a little bean bag frog and putting a sign on it that read, “It’s not my fault, I’m only a frog.” Suzy left it up to Charles to make the arrangements for the abortion. She just wanted to wake up and find it over. Later, they decided it was much more of a moral dilemma than they had realized.
Leo said Liane must have an abortion when he found out she was pregnant. Liane said, “No I’m carrying your child.” Leo said, “Not a child, a blob of tissue,” and said his family would be disgraced unless she had an abortion. Liane reluctantly had an abortion and their relationship was badly damaged as a result. Although they later married, it ultimately ended in a divorce.
However the father interprets his passivity or “neutrality” towards the baby, not expressing his desire for the child may be interpreted by the mother as abandonment.
A 20-year-old man in the waiting room of an abortion clinic whose girlfriend got pregnant the second time they had sex said, “It was real important to me for her not to have the abortion, but I didn’t let on. I didn’t want her to feel she was hurting me. I’m fairly religious, a Catholic. I’m totally against abortion. But it was what she wanted to do. And she’s got to have the say, doesn’t she?”
Wanda (23) had her first abortion at age 19 mainly because her boyfriend at the time abandoned her. Later, she became pregnant again by her live-in boyfriend Colin. Wanda felt terrified. “He’s going to walk. I really love this person and I’ve been so happy with him. I’m pregnant and now he’s going to leave.” Colin told Wanda, “Whatever you do I’ll be there.” They talked over the situation at length and Wanda decided to have an abortion. Colin never told her that a part of him was thrilled about the pregnancy because he did not want to influence her in any way. After the abortion, Wanda developed various psychological problems and it became clear that they had different perspectives about the abortion. The relationship languished and may end soon.
These anecdotal reports describe some of the infinite number of circumstances where the woman obtains an abortion because, lacking male support for a childbirth, she perceives that she is abandoned and all alone without a sense of security and well-being.
Olivia Gans Turner, director of American Victims of Abortion, summarized the situation this way:
“According to a growing body of research, one of the most important, most powerful factor in determining whether a woman has an abortion is the attitude of the baby’s father.” Gans Turner added, “It would be difficult to overstate how important the father’s reaction is to this life and death decision.”