Five years ago, when Michael*, a graduate student at New York University, was 18 years old, he steered his pregnant ex-girlfriend past protesters to a Delaware abortion clinic.
Michael was panicked at the thought of becoming a father, but equally worried about pressuring his ex into an abortion. In the end, she made the decision and he paid the medical bill.
Years later, Michael, along with many men who’ve faced an unplanned pregnancy, feels a lingering weight from the experience but has no socially sanctioned means of talking about his emotions. The sharply divided politics of abortion can make it difficult even for staunchly pro-choice men, like Michael, to express sadness. David*, a student from Washington state, strongly supports a woman’s right to abortion but had feelings of both “relief and regret” after his girlfriend ended a pregnancy.
“These men often deny themselves the experience of grieving,” says Michael Y. Simon, a California-based psychotherapist who counsels men after abortion. He says the emotional toll can manifest itself in low self-esteem, substance abuse, failed relationships and sexual dysfunction. Men tend not to ask for help, he adds, exacerbating the perception that there is no need to provide resources for them. “Men get the message that the best thing they can do in the situation is to withdraw,” says Simon, “forcing deeper or more traumatic feelings to be kept unconscious.”