The mental pain and anguish suffered by women who abort their babies is well known and widely publicized within the pro-life movement. In addition, an extensive, grass roots network exists to assist women who face the aftermath of abortion.
What about a man involved in the decision to abort his baby? Does he too suffer negative psychological effects? If so, where can he turn for help to cope? As we investigate these questions and more, you will be surprised by the answers.
Peter and his girlfriend had sex only once. A short time later she phoned to tell him that she was pregnant, even though they had each used contraception. With him as a reluctant participant, she aborted their child. Their relationship was one of the first casualties of the abortion. Peter cited a lack of trust as the reason for the split. Within a couple of months he was using alcohol and drugs to get temporary relief from the pain. In an attempt to deal with his grief, he reached out to his brothers and sisters, only to be told that he did the right thing. His fear of women kept him from dating for 8 years.
Tad was divorced when his girlfriend got pregnant and they agreed to abort their baby. In the process, the relationship was destroyed. Not long after his second marriage, his daughter got pregnant and he assisted her to abort his grandchild. It wasn’t until his daughter planned her second abortion that Tad realized the humanity of the unborn child. In his effort to bury his feelings about the abortions, he assumed a “wooden demeanor”. During this time Tad said he did a lot of damage to his wife and children by being withdrawn.
These are just two of more than thirty-million men who are struggling to cope with the loss of their children through abortion. For many they willingly participated in the decision to abort and assisted their partners in securing an abortion.
Several even pressured their partners into having an abortion. Sadly, some watched helplessly as their precious unborn child was aborted in spite of their pleas to give their baby life. Still others weren’t told of their fatherhood until after their child had already died in the abortion chamber.
In many ways men and women respond very differently to the loss of a child from abortion. To empathize with a man’s reaction to this profound loss, it is important to first understand what motivates the human male species.
Instinct drives men to achieve success in five key areas of their lives. Men are often defined by their ability to: [enjoy] pleasure, procreate, provide, protect and perform. Let’s briefly examine each of these instincts in the context of abortion.
Pleasure. The desire for men to enjoy pleasure extends beyond the need for sexual satisfaction and fulfillment. It also encompasses the enjoyment of having children, watching them grow, learn and become independent and productive citizens in their own right. Men also seek the pleasure of a life-mate, a wife who will provide companionship through the ups and downs along the way.
Procreate. Perhaps the most important element motivating man is his desire to procreate. Men provide an essential role in the continuation of the human race. Almost every man, whether he verbalizes it or not, values the idea of having offspring of his own flesh and blood — carrying on the family name or bloodline.
Provide. A man’s reproductive cycle ends with the act of sex — the same time that a woman’s cycle begins. Therefore a man’s priority shifts from procreation to providing for the mother and the unborn offspring he has fathered. He instinctively knows that this new family will look to him for many of the day-to-day necessities. In his mind it is important that he succeeds in providing for them.
Protect. Like providing for his family, man is highly programmed to protect his family. During his child’s lifetime there will be many dangers to continually guard against — the threats of illness or injury, making wise decisions and knowing when to say no to a myriad of tempting offers throughout life. The need for a man to protect his offspring should not be underestimated.
Perform. When talked about in contemporary society, this word most often refers to a man’s sexual ability. While this applies, it is not limited to sexual activity. Performance encompasses man’s ability to perform in various aspects of life. Job performance is often primary to defining a man’s success — the income it generates, the social standing it provides and the attained admiration of his peers. Successful performance in the social arena secures friendships and helps a man achieve his desire for pleasure.
Society often judges a man based on his ability to be successful at pleasure, procreation, provision, protection and performance. When a man experiences abortion, these key elements of life are seriously damaged, or often totally obliterated.
Perhaps the most consistent and evident symptom in men due to loss of a child from abortion is anger. A counselor, who personally experienced the abortion decision, indicated that every man he has counseled has a higher level of anger than before the abortion. In addition, each has acted on that anger in some way that was harmful to himself or someone else. Another counselor likened this anger to that of a “ticking time-bomb just waiting to go off.”
A man’s anger and frustration of not being able to protect and provide for his unborn baby, because of abortion, manifests itself in several ways. He often turns to alcohol and drugs to dull the pain of feeling he participated in or was too “weak” to prevent the death of his unborn baby. Many become workaholics to avoid contact with other people or in a desperate effort to succeed in a crucial aspect of their life.
The relationship most always fails after a decision to abort. In addition, future relationships with women are often difficult or impossible. A woman has total control over the decision to abort their baby, leaving the father no legal recourse. This lack of control regarding a critical, life-impacting decision often generates considerable resentment and mistrust towards women. As a result of a previous experience, they do not want to be put into another situation where another pregnancy may occur and they have no control of the outcome. Some men experiment with homosexuality because it allows them to have a successful sexual relationship with no commitment and no worry of pregnancy. Men may suffer from other forms of sexual dysfunction such as impotency and addiction to pornography and masturbation.
Other symptoms of a man struggling with a loss from abortion may be that he suffers from sleeplessness, panic attacks, poor coping skills, flashbacks, nightmares or self-imposed isolation. He may be unable to hold a job due to his inability to handle decision making, or he may be an excessive risk-taker in work and social environments, setting himself up for failure. This may come from the feeling that he deserves what he gets for being a loser and failing when it counted most — protecting his unborn baby.
DEALING WITH SYMPTOMS
To be most effective, ideally a man should receive counsel from another man when dealing with the grief and shame caused by an abortion decision. A man may better assist another man struggling with the loss of his child and fatherhood. However, women have been very successful counseling men.
In general, men are more successful than women at burying their feelings after an abortion. If a man fails to face the emotional aftermath of losing his child to abortion within the first couple of months, he will often suppress it for many years, making it more difficult to face. Many men acknowledge various problems in their life without connecting them to a previous abortion decision.
Society makes it doubly tough for men to deal with the aftermath of abortion. First, most in the secular realm don’t even acknowledge the existence of Post-Abortion Stress (PAS) in women. Secondly, men are often taught as children that it is less than manly to show weakness or cry. As a result, men have no societal incentive to realistically deal with their abortion decision.
When addressing post-traumatic stress in men, it is not effective to approach it from the angle of PAS. Men tend to be compartmental thinkers. A vast majority of them have bought into the false rhetoric that abortion is solely a woman’s decision. Talking to them about PAS will enforce their belief that this is something that only affects women.
Instead of PAS, a man may be more open to talking about and dealing with the loss of his child in the general context of abortion. That loss has affected him dramatically. However, he may not yet be aware that it is the root-cause of his problems. It may be helpful to talk about the symptoms commonly experienced by other men after an abortion decision. When he realizes that he shares many of those symptoms, he is more apt to look at the cause for his problems in a new light.
Most experienced counselors advocate a gentle but direct approach. This is no time for subtlety. Tell him it’s OK to grieve for the baby he will never see or hold in his arms. Let him cry for his profound loss. Let him cry as much and as often as he needs to. He needs to grieve the loss and shame.
Almost every woman who has begun the road to recovery after her abortion has given credit to the fact that she returned to, or discovered, her religious faith. That has proven to also be true with men. Allow him to experience the joy of knowing he has complete, divine forgiveness. This will enable him to move on to the next crucial stage of obtaining that God-given peace within himself. This is likely the hardest step to complete. Because of his deep fear and distrust, he may feel unworthy of a relationship with God.
Counselors encourage churches to deal openly with this problem. “There are many Christian men, sitting in pews, who haven’t dealt with their abortion decision,” said one counselor. When speaking of his own experience he said, “If one man or the church had said something, I would have responded.”
For churches and organizations that deal with counseling from a religious perspective, there are men’s bible studies available, tailored to suit various groups. Other resources are also available when dealing with men and their grief.
Originally published June 1996.