Hidden Male Grief

Men often deny they are grieving after an abortion, but often everybody hurts when a pregnancy is terminated.

By Stacey Kalish, published on May 1, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

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.”

Some 1.3 million women have abortions each year. Anecdotal evidence
suggests that about 50 percent of them are accompanied to the clinic by a
man, according to Leslie Rottenberg, a social worker at Planned
Parenthood in New York City. A 1984 study of abortion clinics in 18
states by Arthur Shostak, a sociologist at Drexel University in
Philadelphia, suggests that some 15 percent of women did not tell their
sexual partners about their abortion.

The emotional needs of men are beginning to gain some attention.
Miriam Gerace, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, says the response to
a trial run for male-targeted counseling services was overwhelming.
“We quickly realized that there is a dire need for services of this
kind.” In 2002, the center initiated the “Waiting Room
Project” in Manhattan, where men watch slide presentations on
topics including safe sex and how to be supportive of their partner
during an unwanted pregnancy.

Many men have found an outlet online. Web sites such as
afterabortion.com, a nonpartisan site that began in 1998, offer message
boards where men can share their experience. A man posting as
“sadguy” on afterabortion.com wrote, “I did not know
where else to turn.”

Years later, Michael says he still thinks about the
experience. He feels it “seeps into the subconscious and always
stays with you.”