The repeal of Roe v. Wade has shifted the discourse on abortion into a new phase, ranging from availability and legality to ethics and safety, as well as states’ and women’s “rights.”
But as the policy and legal debates have changed, what has stayed the same is the framing of abortion as an exclusively female issue. Whether the procedure was mutually desired and agreed upon or not, a man’s perspective on an unplanned pregnancy is too often the last heard, or outright dismissed as irrelevant. Some feminists would see that as a good thing, but this one does not, and neither should Christians.
Men who have been affected by abortion are a neglected voice in the abortion debate. It is an oft-repeated mantra that men need therapy — and new research indicates this may be especially true for men experiencing grief after abortion and disenfranchisement of their pain.
Support After Abortion, an after-abortion healing research and education organization, found that 71 percent of men suffered issues after abortion — including almost one-third of men who identify as “pro-choice” — and that 82 percent of men did not know where to find help. Men struggled regardless of their involvement in the abortion decision, and even men who fully supported their partner’s decision found themselves with anger, grief, and other negative emotions when thinking about the child or children they never got to know.
This research is just the latest to show that, just like women, many men need help after an abortion. In Psychology Today, Dr. Mary C. Lamia observes that “post-abortion grief is often silently held as a result of contradictory emotions.” Despite feeling limited relief, “qualitative research has illustrated that [men] experience intense grief over the loss of a child and fatherhood, even after many years post-abortion,” according to Lamia.
Abortion can cause profound problems for men for years, regardless of their involvement in the abortion decision. Yet our culture tells men that their voice doesn’t matter.
Like any mental health issue, after-abortion suffering has profound negative effects. Guttmacher reported 18 years ago that finances and relationships are the reasons the vast majority of women have abortions. And we know that people suffering from trauma often engage in unhealthy relationships and harmful decisions in those relationships — both of which can lead to unplanned pregnancies under difficult circumstances, which often is the catalyst to abortion.
On the other side of the coin, men and women who are emotionally and psychologically healthy tend to make healthier financial and relationship choices. They often work together when facing challenges because they are healthy, equal partners. The Guttmacher research strongly indicates that when men and women work together on their relationship that reduces the chances of an abortion.
Greg Mayo, who authored a white paper for Support After Abortion which discusses the study in context to America’s cultural dismissal of men’s roles during and after abortions, experienced intense grief after losing two children to abortion as a young man. Mayo has spoken publicly about how it took him until almost the age of 40 to come to terms with his lost children and related feelings of regret, powerlessness, and fear.
Men’s after-abortion suffering is a human issue that Christians should address. How we do so will require care and sensitivity. Yet only 7 percent of the men who responded to the survey said they would go to a member of the clergy for help, even though 40 percent said they would prefer a religious healing program.
This poses a challenge and an opportunity for Christian churches. Pro-life religions are often framed and perceived as judgmental for opposing abortion, but they often have a lot to offer to suffering women and men after abortion. Many church critics think it’s all about “abortion is murder” at the pulpit, but there are community resources like spiritual direction, after-church social gatherings, and — in my Roman Catholic faith — confession. Trials of grief counseling programs and support groups designed specifically for men could be a vital lifeline for men who have hitherto suffered in silence.
Support After Abortion is leading on this with a pilot program in Venice, Florida with the support of Bishop Frank J. Dewane, a member of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pro-Life Secretariat. Results are not available, but the support of a leading pro-life bishop is a sign that good change may be coming.
With America and the West less religious than ever, the old approaches to healing won’t work. The path to hell is paved with good intentions — and the path to heaven with initially secular solutions that open people up to spiritual solutions. Christians have an opportunity to use compassion and care to improve lives, change souls, and improve their public reputation on a divisive issue.
Just as Christ often physically fed His followers before he spiritually healed them, churches should tailor their approach to where each man or woman is. Men are dismissed in the abortion conversation and the negative effects are powerful. Our goal as Christians should be to create places where anyone can come to heal in the ways they need.