You might have heard about a "Roe v. Wade for men" by now. It's a despicable matter, but may also be an unintentional opportunity.

On March 9, the National Center for Men filed a lawsuit in a Michigan court on behalf of their headline-maker in a 25-year-old computer programmer, Matthew Dubay, who doesn't want to pay child support to his ex-girlfriend for the baby he says she chose to have. He didn't want a kid, and he wasn't kidding. He wants the "right to choose," too.

The Center argues: "More than three decades ago Roe v. Wade gave women control of their reproductive lives, but nothing in the law changed for men. Women can now have sexual intimacy without sacrificing reproductive choice. ... But men are routinely forced to give up control, forced to be financially responsible for choices only women are permitted to make, forced to relinquish reproductive choice as the price of intimacy."

A "Roe v. Wade for men," however, will only make a messed-up world worse. Dubay and his ex-girlfriend, of course, made a reproductive choice when they engaged in sexual activity.

I'm reminded of a controversial laugh line from comedian Chris Rock: "Abortion, it's beautiful, it's beautiful abortion is legal. I love going to an abortion rally to pick up women, cause you know they are f." The National Center for Men wants that "beautiful" life, no strings attached. Do I really have to offer up courses in Morality 101 and Remedial Maturity for you to know where I'm going with this?

But save for the press guy at the National Center for Men -- and the group's acolytes who subscribed to this illogic -- there is absolutely nothing beautiful about abortion. Aside from the tragedy of a poor child who will someday read terrible headlines about a father who went to great lengths to make clear he wanted nothing to do with her, talk of Roe and men highlights something under the national radar: abortion and its effect on men.

"Roe v. Wade not only takes the life of the unborn child, but it also tempts the natural father to kill off his instinct to protect and provide for his children," says Kevin Burke, associate director of Rachel's Vineyard, a post-abortion-healing ministry of Priests For Life. "Beneath the legal arguments, we have to ask this man, 'regardless of the circumstances of her conception, your daughter now lives, breathes and walks this Earth. How can you still reject her, and withhold your love and support?"'

That's a personal matter, not a legal argument. But it's also a state of mind the culture of Roe has given birth to. "Because of Roe," as Burke puts it, "children are disposable, the gift of their lives is reduced to a 'legal issue' to be debated and decided."

And it's also a lie.

As Burke puts it: "beneath the detached exterior, men often are suffering from their participation in abortion, and need to grieve the loss of their children."

"Man's innate role as defender/protector/provider to his children -- which I would argue is as biologically intrinsic as that of a mother's need to nurture her child -- is gravely violated by participation in abortion," Burke tells me. "Men do not always recognize the symptoms they experience as having their roots in an abortion decision -- but scratch the surface and you will see it. ... They may struggle to make commitments, to be emotionally present to their current wives and children, to embrace their role as spiritual and moral leader in the home ... deep down they know they compromised that authority when they aborted their son or daughter in the past."

As Burke works with men, though, he's optimistic. "The good news is that with healing men can grow to fully embrace their manhood/fatherhood in a life-giving way that is a blessing to families and communities. When you begin to peel away the layers of the effects of Roe v. Wade on women and men, couples, families ... you see that this is really a community mental-health concern."

None of Burke's talk is meant to hand anyone a victim card, but rather than looking for new ways to put a cultural imprimatur on irresponsibility, now's as good a time as any to step back and take a look at what 33 years of legal abortion has done to the lives it's touched (never mind ended).

In recent years, groups have popped out from under Roe to address the pain women feel in the wake of abortions. One of them, Feminists for Life, says that "women deserve better" than abortion. But -- and here's where Dubay's nonsense narrowly comes in handy -- abortion is not just a women's issue. It's a human issue -- touching women, men and, of course, children. We all deserve better than abortion. And the last thing we need is more Roe-ing.

Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.

One in three women and men who pass through Marriage Preparation programs will participate in at least one abortion in their lifetime. This may occur prior to meeting their future spouse, during the engagement - dating period or after they are married. As we reach out to those who have suffered the loss of a child through abortion, it is important to understand a paradoxical tendency common among these individuals:

1. They want to bury abortion-related memories and run away from the feelings.

2. They have a desperate hunger to find an outlet for their pain, to find reconciliation, understanding, peace, and healing.

Those suffering after abortion will struggle to stuff their feelings, and put the event behind them. This complicated and buried grief finds self- destructive outlets in private addictions and compulsions, eating disorders, the abuse of drugs and alcohol, promiscuity, anxiety, depression, acting out, and becoming workaholics to provide a shield against feeling pain or to create a private fortress against future intimacy.

However, these symptoms of post abortion loss do not occur in isolation. They can and do significantly impact marriage and family life. Abortion creates a relational and spiritual wound. A healthy marital relationship is marked by a deep bonding between husband and wife with a foundational trust that leads to vibrant and satisfying emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy.   Abortion is a traumatic death experience that is closely associated to relational/sexual intimacy creating a profound fracture of trust that strikes at the heart of a relationship. Because of the nature of this wound, secrets and extra marital affairs are not uncommon for persons with abortion in their history.

This reality creates a real dilemma for friends, family, and pastors who want to reach out to those hurting after abortion. The issue is so agonizing; there is marked sensitivity to the subject. Most women and men “don’t want to go there.” Many cannot even say the word! Often parents, boyfriends, husbands, counselors, and friends play a major part of the decision to abort, often encouraging or even forcing abortions. They too will be reluctant to listen to the suffering individual because of their own unresolved feelings of guilt, which are activated when their loved one is hurting. They will minimize their pain, telling them, “It’s time to move on”, and “You made the right decision”, or “there is no need to talk about this.”

How can we reach out with love and hope to those wounded by abortion?

Because of the deep wounds and sensitivity of persons who have experienced a trauma like abortion, many persons are fearful of aggravating their symptoms or causing more harm. They would prefer not to address this painful issue and avoid speaking about the topic. However this silence serves to only abandon them in their suffering. If we do not reach out with education and resources for healing, we leave many wounded persons to live in isolation with their pain and the myriad of symptoms associated with abortion loss. This comes at a very high cost to emotional, physical, spiritual health and to their relationships with spouse and family. Many marriages experience dysfunction and even divorce because of unhealed abortion pain.

So how can we reach these individuals and couples with the good news of healing in a sensitive and effective way?

1. Everything we do must be a gentle invitation to healing offered within a message of love, hope, encouragement and non-judgment…nothing should ever be forced. At an appropriate time in the marriage preparation process, we suggest offering a brief gentle educational introduction to participants in Marriage Prep concerning the role that unhealed abortion grief can play in individual and relational difficulties. Most important, this message must be clearly one of hope and healing.

2. This information should be shared in a group format to protect the confidentiality and lower the anxiety of the participants when receiving this information.

3. Share Information about the counselors, clergy and retreat programs available in your diocese that are very effective in relieving the buried pain and anguish women and men can suffer after abortion. The Lord through His Church extends His love, mercy and forgiveness to all who have participated in abortion and seek reconciliation and forgiveness. Because abortion often leads to a complicated type of grief, a special healing process has been developed that responds to the unique nature of this loss.

4. Encourage them to contact the post abortion healing coordinator in your Diocese. She will be aware of any Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats in your area and also have a team of Priests, counselors and lay volunteers who can offer a wealth of experience and support that you can call upon when needed. Reassure them that post abortion healing in the archdiocese is offered by professionals and laypersons many who have experienced their own abortion healing and understand the pain and fear of opening up this wound.

5. With healing, they will discover the deep peace and relief of symptoms associated with abortion loss that will bless and strengthen marriage and family relationships making them stronger and more intimate than ever.

Here are some other ways to reach out to those wounded after abortion:

Educate yourself about the symptoms and life experiences of those wounded by abortion. A good place to start is to read Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion by Theresa Burke, Ph.D. You might also consider attending a seminar on post-abortion trauma and healing.

Explore your own involvement in abortion You won’t be able to recognize this issue and address it effectively if you have your own unresolved issues with a previous abortion. It is difficult to give people permission to talk about their grief if you have not done your own work. Perhaps you have lost a child or a member of your own family to abortion, a niece, a nephew, or a grandchild. Dealing with your own emotions first will put you in a much better position to reach out to others. Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend Retreats for Healing after abortion are open to women and men, couples, grandparents, and even siblings of aborted children and persons involved in the abortion industry. You can learn more about hundreds of retreats in your region and across the country and lots of information on Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries at www.rachelsvineyard.org

Listen. As a Christian community, we must reach out with love to those mothers and fathers who are grieving the loss of their children. Remember that the wounds of abortion are imprinted upon the heart and soul, and then quickly sentenced to a secret prison of isolation and grief. They are silenced by shame. They are silenced by the belief that they are alone and that no one can understand their pain. They fear being judged by others. Even more than this, they judge themselves. They are assaulted by their own self-condemnation, and have difficulty trusting.

Acknowledge their pain/ Help them to seek recovery

If someone says, “I’ve had an abortion,” simply reply, “That must have been very difficult for you.” By saying this, you give the individual permission to acknowledge their pain. By our awareness of how difficult it is to deal with a past abortion, we can respond with sympathy, patience, and understanding, and thereby open the door for them to receive information and referral for healing resources available in the Diocese.

No judgments. It is important for them to know that you will not judge them. Be careful not to communicate any condemnation. Regardless of their public statements or personal opinions about abortion, be assured that beneath the surface there is often great shame and fear of being judged. Make sure your heart is filled only with love and a clear desire to listen, to support, and encourage when the time is right.

Understand the fear. Many fear that if they open up the door to their abortion experience and face their deepest feelings, it would be overwhelming or even destructive. We need to acknowledge this fear and assure them that help is available. It also lets them know that they are not alone. Many others have successfully made the journey to reconciliation and healing. This reality gives great hope.

Encourage them by expressing God’s love for them. No matter what we have done or who we are, God loves us. If another person views you as compassionate, they will be more likely to open up to you. If they think you will only criticize and condemn, they will continue to feel shame and fear. One’s sense of goodness and trust is colored by memories of feeling unspeakably alone. Without encouragement they will guard their wounds in secret silence. Genuine encouragement will help break this vicious cycle.

Keep their confidence and continue to be supportive. If they can trust you, they will listen and count on your suggestion for help.

Be a light in the darkness. Abortion serves to cut off avenues of love before they are fully traveled. By grieving the loss of life, we open ourselves to being comforted by love. Through effective post-abortion ministry, we can light the pathway to Christ, the Healer who binds up the bleeding wounds in our throbbing souls.

The Rachel’s Vineyard Weekend Retreat, with more than 450 retreats this year in 46 states and 17 countries, is an integrated emotional and spiritual process for healing after abortion. As part of the suffering body of Christ, we travel through the paschal mystery of our own lives and unite our suffering with Christ. On the third day, out of the trauma and the many tears shed in grief work, we discover resurrection and new life. Those who could barely lift their heads from the weight of shame on Friday night are transfigured into radiant faces on Sunday of the retreat because of releasing their grief and experiencing a profound encounter with the Living Lord.

We close with a brief account of a couple that recently attended a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat during their engagement period. Each situation will be unique and this account does not suggest that all couples must follow this path. Because they were aware of the healing resources available they were able to respond and seek healing. We must always respect that God will move people in His own time, and we simply can share the good news of healing and entrust them to the Lord. Remember that in working with individuals that have experienced trauma, everything we offer is a gentle and hope filled invitation.

Here is a report from a Retreat Facilitator from the Midwest on a couple that recently attended their Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat:

We had a couple attend the retreat that truly touched everyone who attended and served on the team.  The girl had an abortion before she met her fiancée.  On their engaged encounter weekend she felt a strong desire to share this with him.  He was absolutely wonderful to her.  The priest gently invited them to consider attending our Rachel’s Vineyard retreat before they got married the following month, and they immediately signed up. It was so beautiful to see how supportive this young man was of her throughout the weekend.  But it was also touching to hear some of his own story.  They will have such a beautiful and holy marriage because it is rooted in the love and spirituality that they now share together.

As we enter a process for healing, we travel into the heart of the fiery blaze of our own passion…the abandonment and betrayal, recognizing the death in our own hearts caused by sin, and express the grief caused by relinquishing our children to the cross of abortion. Yet when it is finished, and the cup of grief is emptied to the bitter dregs, we rise up from the ashes into a world of grace and a new identity in Jesus Christ. Our heart and soul are now free to fully embrace our loved ones and accomplish the Lord’s will as it mysteriously unfolds in our lives.

Theresa Burke, Ph.D., Kevin Burke, MSS/LSW are the founders of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries. Theresa is the author of Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion. Rachel’s Vineyard will hold more than 450 retreats this year in 46 states and 17 countries. In addition, Rachel’s Vineyard provides leadership and clinical training for CE credits and treatment models for groups who seek to minister to those suffering after abortion. For more information on this powerful ministry of Christ, visit www.rachelsvineyard.org or call our national hotlines at:

Rachel's Vineyard: 877 HOPE 4 ME (877-467-3463)

Concepts of Truth: 866-482-LIFE (866-482-5433)

Footnotes

1. Garfinkel, et al., Stress, Depression and Suicide: A study of Adolescents in Minnesota, “Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Extension Service, 1986)

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“The clinic was a very cold place. We spoke to a counselor who asked us if we felt that we knew what we were doing. They told me it would be better if I left and came back to pick her up later. So I went out to get some air. I found out later that she’d had second thoughts and come out looking for me. But I wasn’t there. So she went ahead with the abortion. That was the hardest thing because I wasn’t there when she needed me.”

Ryan Hunter was 24 when his girlfriend, Kathy, told him she was pregnant. At the time they were both students at a technical college and had been dating a few months. Although Hunter felt secure in the relationship, he didn’t feel ready to be a parent, and he worried that if Kathy’s parents found out about the pregnancy they might force her to stop seeing him.

“We chose the easy way out, but it didn’t seem easy at the time,” says Hunter. “We had many deep discussions. There were a lot of tears. Both of us were fully involved in the decision, and neither one of us pushed the other.”

The Hunters hoped the abortion would bring an end to the crisis caused by the pregnancy. But instead of a sense of peace, they found it had brought a different kind of pain into their lives. Ryan was haunted by the fact that he had not been in the waiting room when Kathy had come out looking for him. Kathy remained emotionally fragile, occasionally tearing up when she saw pictures of babies and children. Although they remained together, they had a hard time communicating their feelings to each other.

“We never talked about it,” recalls Hunter. “We would drive along the highway and I’d see one of those big pro-life billboards and try to distract her so she wouldn’t see it. I was trying to protect her. I didn’t realize at that point that I’d been affected, too.”

Ryan and Kathy married two years later, but the abortion continued to cast a shadow over their relationship, particularly around the issue of children. “We never talked about having kids. I think we both felt that we had sinned seriously and didn’t deserve to be forgiven. There was always this idea in the back of my head that God would punish us by not allowing us to have children.”
Delayed reaction

It is estimated that almost 40 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 45 have had at least one abortion. Rarely, though, does one hear the obvious corollary that a similar proportion of men have fathered a child who has been lost to abortion. Some of these men encouraged or pressured their partners to abort. Others strongly opposed the abortion. Many submerged their own feelings and took refuge in the idea that their role was to support their partners’ decision.
There is increasing recognition that abortion can have an emotional impact on women that is serious and in some cases long-lasting. While there continues to be debate about the prevalence and intensity of psychological symptoms, a growing number of therapists recognize that abortion—like other forms of pregnancy loss—can have long-term emotional consequences.
What is less well known is that men, too, can suffer emotionally and spiritually as a result of abortion. “So often the man’s reactions are delayed,” says Randall Wyatt, a psychotherapist and director of the Crosswinds Counseling Center in Dublin, California. “He may think he is supposed to be supportive of the woman and may not offer his own opinions. So his feelings—whether they are relief, grief, anger, resentment, or shame—don’t get processed, and that can come out later.”
Wyatt’s practice involves work with couples and post-traumatic stress counseling, and he has encountered abortion in both contexts. “I’ve never met a person who went through it who thought it was easy or who didn’t have at least some sense of regret,” he says. “But it’s not always traumatizing. It depends on the person and their experience.”

There is limited literature on the psychological impact of abortion on men. The most well-known study was conducted by sociologist Arthur Shostak and is featured in his 1984 book Men and Abortion: Lessons, Losses, and Loves (Praeger). Shostak interviewed 1,000 men who had accompanied their partners to an abortion clinic. He found that a large number of them had thoughts about the child, had dreamed about it, and anticipated misgivings after the abortion.
Some studies suggest men may actually be more likely to have an adverse psychological reaction to an abortion than women. A 1989 Los Angeles Times survey of men and women who had an abortion in their past found that two thirds of the men regretted the choice compared to one quarter of the women. A 1993 study by sociologists Eileen Nelson and Priscilla Coleman found that 33 percent of women and 52 percent of men reported a sense of regret following the abortion.

Finding forgiveness
Most post-abortion counseling programs have been designed, for obvious reasons, to meet the needs of women. The most well-known Catholic ministry of this type is Project Rachel, which was developed in 1984 by Vicki Thorn in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and has spread to a large number of dioceses around the United States. Although her program was aimed at women, Thorn found she was getting calls from men as well. “The pain of fathers is so incredibly desperate,” she says.

In Thorn’s experience men’s emotional reactions following abortion vary widely. Men who opposed the abortion might feel anger and helplessness immediately. Those who may have encouraged the woman to have an abortion or at least supported her decision might not feel the impact until years later when an event—marriage, pregnancy, the birth of a child—brings the emotions to the surface. Thorn has also noticed that men with unresolved issues about abortion often act out, engaging in risky behavior such as using drugs or alcohol.

There is also a spiritual dimension to the pain many men feel about abortion. A man who encouraged or pressured his partner to have an abortion—or failed to convince her not to—may experience a crisis of faith and feel estranged from God. On the other hand, there are men who were not particularly religious prior to the abortion who find consolation and healing by returning to an old religious tradition or embracing a new one.

Father Mike Mannion, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden, New Jersey and author of Abortion and Healing: The Cry to Be Whole (Sheed and Ward), has found that for Catholic men struggling with abortion the sacrament of Reconciliation can have particular power. “The timing of the sacrament is important,” says Mannion. “If it’s too early, the person may not feel forgiven.”

Mannion suggests readings to the men he counsels so that they better understand the sacrament and can come to believe they really will be forgiven. “The ultimate issue is how much the individual believes in God as creator with the power to heal.”


Even some abortion clinics are recognizing the need to provide better emotional support to the male partners of their clients. According to a recent article in Psychology Today, Planned Parenthood in New York City found that the response to a trial run for male-targeted counseling services was overwhelming.

Since 2002 abortion clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area have been making referrals to Project Exhale, a post-abortion counseling service with a pro-choice philosophy. Executive director Aspen Baker runs a hotline aimed primarily at providing emotional support to women who have had abortions. But about 10 percent of the 200 calls she receives every year are from men.

Baker’s experience is that men tend to avoid dealing with their own feelings and focus on their partner. “They ask questions like ‘She cries all the time, shouldn’t she be over it by now?’ or ‘She doesn’t want to talk about it, what should I do?’” says Baker. “I’ve had men say to me, ‘I wish I could have had the abortion for her.’”

A large number of Exhale’s male callers are pro-choice. While one might think such men would be less likely to suffer emotional distress as a result of the abortion, that may not always be the case, says Wyatt. “Some of these guys want to be so supportive of the woman’s choice that they neglect their own experience. They don’t feel they have a right to their own emotions.”

Despite his pro-choice convictions, Tony Cantalamessa found that abortion brought more emotional consequences than he had expected. Cantalamessa, who lives in New England, has faced the abortion decision twice, both times involving the woman to whom he is now married. The first time he and his then-girlfriend, Beth, were in college. She was overseas when she discovered she was pregnant with his child. After some phone conversations they agreed she should have the abortion.

“It was mainly her decision,” says Cantalamessa. “I was in support of whatever she wanted to do. We were young, and we didn’t think we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.”
But Tony and Beth ended up getting married after all. Realizing the abortion could create issues in their marriage, they worked with a supportive minister on a ritual they hoped would bring closure to that chapter of their lives. They placed some writings and photographs in a vase, corked it, and cast it into the ocean.

While they had worked hard to put the past behind them, there were signs that some emotional issues remained unresolved. When their first child was born they delayed naming him. “We thought about names but didn’t name him until after a week,” says Cantalamessa. “I never thought about why we didn’t name the baby.”

Tony and Beth’s spiritual paths diverged somewhat in the years after the abortion. Tony, a self-described agnostic before the abortion, did not find that the experience led him to reconsider his religious beliefs in any significant way. Beth, however, found the experience deepened a call to Christian ministry that she had already been feeling. She decided to focus part of her thesis for her master of divinity degree on the topic of abortion. Tony supported his wife’s decision to pursue a career in ministry, and he participates in the life of the congregation where she ministers. But he does not consider himself a strong believer.

Two years after their son was born, Beth became pregnant again unexpectedly. With Beth working in ministry and Tony home full-time with their son, their financial situation was precarious. They discussed the possibility of abortion. This time Tony was more strongly in favor of the abortion, but Beth was much more ambivalent. In the end they decided to go ahead with the abortion.

Afterward Tony recalls feeling a jumble of emotions. “I was relieved, but my wife wasn’t, so in some ways I didn’t want to feel what I was feeling. I was confused about whether I was feeling the right thing.”

Tony remains strongly pro-choice, but he does not dispute that there have been emotional consequences for him and for his family. “It’s definitely left some sort of mark. There is a sense of loss. There needs to be more support for people who go through this.”


One of the most successful post-abortion ministry programs in the United States is Rachel’s Vineyard, developed by Theresa Burke, a Catholic psychologist and author of Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion (Acorn). Burke initially designed the program as a curriculum for support groups of women who were grieving the loss of their children through abortion.

In 1995 Burke expanded and adapted the curriculum into a format for weekend retreats. Despite the fact that Rachel’s Vineyard did not have an office, budget, or staff other than Burke and her husband, Kevin, the retreat format spread rapidly by word of mouth and through the support it received from the organization Priests for Life. In 1999 there were 18 Rachel’s Vineyard retreats. By 2004 the number had grown to 250, and retreats were being held in 45 states and 11 countries. Although not officially affiliated with the Catholic Church, the program has been adopted by a large number of Catholic dioceses.

One change the Burkes made when they developed the weekend retreat was to welcome men as participants. “For many years post-abortion outreach was mostly geared to women, which makes perfect sense,” says Kevin. “But I think over the last two or three years, there has been increasing recognition that men need healing, too.”

The Burkes at first had some concerns about opening the retreat up to men. “We wondered how the women would react, because so many of them feel that they were abandoned by their male partners when they became pregnant,” says Burke. “What we found was that it was a powerful moment of healing for these women to see men grieving the loss of their children.”

The presence of women can also heal some of the pain men bring to a weekend. Scott Miller attended a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat in British Columbia in late 2003. For many years, says Miller, he felt anger toward women because of his own experience of abortion 25 years ago.

“I was 20 years old, my parents had just divorced, and I had turned to alcohol. In the midst of all this my girlfriend announced she was pregnant. I thought ‘Oh my God, I have to get a job, I have to deal with this, I have to tell my friends, I’m a bad person, I’m ashamed,’” says Miller.

His girlfriend told him she was going to have an abortion. “It kind of stopped me in my tracks,” says Miller. “I didn’t know what to think. I thought it would take care of all these problems. But it didn’t feel right to me.” Miller’s mother, who strongly supported the abortion, ended up accompanying his girlfriend to the abortion clinic.

“After it was all over I felt terrible,” he says. “The shame and guilt hadn’t gone away, and now there was something else—murder, I guess. All I did was add coals to the fire. I made it a hundred times worse. I couldn’t face my girlfriend, and I felt angry at my mother.” His relationship with his girlfriend deteriorated and they eventually separated.

As part of his journey toward healing, Miller would go on to experience a profound religious conversion. He eventually sought out an Anglican priest whom he trusted.

“I told him I wanted to do a Confession, though I didn’t really know what it was,” says Miller. “He read Psalm 51 to me and talked about how God had forgiven David for committing adultery and murder. I didn’t realize God was like that. I couldn’t accept that I had done this. But God was bigger than me. He had more room for love, mercy, and forgiveness than I had for myself.”
Miller ended up going to seminary, and is now an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God. He is married with a 5-year-old daughter. But he says the anger he felt toward women remained with him at some level until he attended the Rachel’s Vineyard weekend.

“I saw the hurt in those women, and it really surprised me. They felt like I did. To see them grieving and crying like me gave me a whole new perspective,” he says.

Miller now serves as a resource person at Rachel’s Vineyard retreats. He recently helped with a retreat in Minneapolis, the city where his mother had taken his girlfriend to have the abortion 25 years ago. “This time, rather than sending my girlfriend to have an abortion, I went there to serve other women,” says Miller.

Burke has found that experiences like Miller’s are common on Rachel’s Vineyard retreats. “We never have an agenda to convert people or demand that they become pro-life,” says Burke. “We’ve had atheists come on the retreat. But I can’t remember anyone who has come who has not had an encounter with a loving, compassionate, and forgiving God. What they do with that is up to them.”

 For decades, abortion has been viewed primarily as a women’s issue, so the focus of research has been primarily on the effects of abortion on women, with fewer studies considering the effects of abortion on men. 
 
But research shows that in 95% of abortions, men are involved in the abortion decision (1). So it is important to understand the ways in which men are being affected by abortion. Current research confirms that men are impacted by abortion, and that abortion also affects the relationships of couples.
 
In the book Changed, a man named Brad tells of his experience with abortion (2).
 
Brad’s girlfriend told him, “I’m going to get an abortion. I know how you feel about abortion, but I don’t care. I’m having one no matter what you say or do.”

Brad says, “I realized in an instant I was powerless. I didn’t argue with her…I stayed calm and tried to support her decision.” Secretly, he hoped he could change her mind through his compassion and through prayer, but she had the abortion. Now, years later, he says, “I often think back and wonder if there was something I could have done to help her…It took me a long time to come to terms with what happened. When I see little children, sometimes tears spring up in my eyes as I envision Trevor--my son who never got a chance.”
      
Examples of similar experiences are reported in the book Men and Abortion, by Dr. Catherine Coyle (3). In one example, Bill says that after going to the doctor with his pregnant girlfriend, they talked with a priest.  Bill says, “I will never forget his words, ‘It’s her decision—you have nothing to say about it—she has to live with that decision, not you.’” 
 
The relationship ended about one month after the abortion. Now, years later, Bill says, “I wish every day of my life that it would not have happened.”
 
Both Brad and Bill and many others describe experiences of being helpless and powerless, an experience that is rooted in societal expectations that this is a woman’s decision, an expectation so strongly enforced in modern society that even a priest could tell Bill, “you have nothing to say about it.”
 
Not surprisingly, several studies document experiences of helplessness and powerlessness among males after abortion, along with various other emotions (4, 5, 6, 7).
 
Dr. Coyle, in Men and Abortion, cites research indicating that only 11% of men opposed the abortion decision (8), but points out that due to the large numbers of abortions that take place, that 11% represents millions of men. And she reports that these men experienced intense suffering because of the abortion.  She says, “The men I have interviewed, who were opposed to their partners’ decision to abort, were truly devastated. They found themselves absolutely powerless to protect their unborn children…Each of these men lost a relationship with a woman he loved, a child he desperately wanted to protect, and the hopes and dreams he held for the future.” (9)
 
Just as Brad described suppressing his own feelings about the abortion and trying to support his partner, Gordon and Kilpatrick reported that men at an abortion clinic “did not express their feelings to their partners and instead felt the need to be a source of support by maintaining a strong front” (10). Shostak and McLouth also reported on men repressing their own emotions as they attempted to provide emotional support for their partners (11). In another study, 77% of men believed they could help their partner by controlling their own emotions (12.).   
 
Dr. Coyle reported that men she interviewed “were confused about the role they were expected to play.” These men believed they should support whatever decision the woman made and they attempted to do so. (13) But Dr. Coyle points out that “by repressing their emotions” men may “prevent others from appreciating their suffering” (14).
 
Because men often process pregnancy loss internally, not discussing their feelings, they may have greater difficulty in recovering from this loss (15).  
 
Dr. Arthur Shostak, Professor Emeritus at Drexel University, has spoken publicly and has written extensively about his own personal abortion experience in the early 1970’s. His own experience prompted him to conduct research regarding men and abortion. 
 
Regarding his own experience (16), he says that his former girlfriend had phoned him about a month after they had ended their relationship. She told him that she intended to have an abortion, a decision he fully supported. At the same time, she insisted that Shostak promise that he would never, ever tell anyone about the abortion. He agreed, but he now believes this promise was a mistake. He also reports interviewing men about their abortions and seeing them cry with relief when telling him about the abortion—the first time they ever told anyone about the abortion. Although I have not seen data on this point, it may be that the woman’s request for complete privacy concerning the abortion has been a factor in the silence of men.
 
As we said earlier, some research indicates that 11% of male partners opposed the abortion, but the majority did not oppose the abortion. In my own experience, a very high percentage of abortions occur because of pressure from the man or because the man withholds emotional support in regard to continuing the pregnancy. So, the finding that only 11% of men oppose the abortion is realistic, in my experience. But whether the man opposed or supported the abortion, studies show that many men experience significant distress that is often very long lasting.
 
One study of abortion during adolescence showed that abortion was associated with psychological distress in adult life (17). In this study men whose partners had abortions had higher scores for psychological distress compared to men who became fathers.  In regard to men who became fathers, the results were the same whether they married the mother of their child or whether they were single fathers. In either case, the men whose partners chose abortion had greater psychological distress compared to men who became fathers during adolescence. The sample size for this study was 2,522 males, 15.4% of whom had experience adolescent pregnancy. 
 
A range of emotions has been repeatedly observed in multiple studies, including grief (18, 19, 20, 21, 22), guilt (23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28) depression (29, 30) anxiety (31, 32, 33, 34), regret, (35, 36) and anger (37, 38).  There are published reports of intense anger in men who disagree with the decision to abort (39, 40), and a 2010 study that included 198 men showed that lack of agreement on the abortion decision predicted abortion-related anger in men (41). Dr. Coyle discusses that anger may be associated with the helplessness of not being able to protect one’s child (42).
 
There is published literature showing that some men may experience abortion as trauma and some men meet diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder  
 
In order to develop posttraumatic stress disorder, the pre-condition for development is first of all to experience a situation in which you come very close to death yourself, or you experience the death of another person in a situation in which you experience intense fear or helplessness (43). Experiencing the death of your child in a situation in which you are helpless to prevent it can meet the pre-condition for development of this disorder.
 
In one study of 1,000 men who accompanied their partners to the abortion clinic, one in four of the men considered the abortion to be participation in the death of their child (44). In another study (45), 21.3% of men who stayed with partners during the abortion believed it was a traumatizing experience.   
 
And we have already discussed the experience of helplessness that has been described in the published literature.
 
Following the initial experience of trauma, the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder requires symptoms of three types (46). One type of symptom is “reexperiencing” or “intrusion” in which you may have recurrent, intrusive, distressing thoughts that remind you of the trauma, or you may have bad dreams or flashbacks of the trauma.
 
Dr. Coyle tells the story Ted, whose partner had two abortions (47). Both times, he offered to support his partner and the baby, but abortion was chosen by the partner. He experienced profound helplessness. Because of persistent, negative thoughts about the abortion, he lost his job. Then he went to school but had to drop out; he could not concentrate due to the thoughts about the abortion.  
 
In one study by Shostak, 44% reported dreams or thoughts about the “infant they might have fathered” (48). In another study by Shostak 1,000 men were interviewed at the clinic the day of the abortion, and another 75 were interviewed at a much later time after the abortion (49). Forty-seven percent of the men at the clinic and 63% of the men interviewed later said that men involved in abortion have disturbing thoughts about it afterwards.
 
Other types of symptoms required for the diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder include avoidance symptoms, such as avoidance of people or places that remind you of the trauma, and also hyperarousal symptoms such as anger, irritability, sleep disturbance, or concentration problems (50).  
 
As we saw in the example of Ted, some post-abortive men may have significant concentration problems, and anger and irritability have been identified by some authors. In addition, a single case study reported by Holmes reported sleep disturbance in a man six months after the abortion (51).
 
More recently, a 2010 study (52) examined 374 women and 198 men for specific symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder. In this study, 54.9% of the women and 43.4% of the men met DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder. 
 
For the men, lack of agreement between man and woman in regard to the abortion decision was predictive of intrusion symptoms, hyperarousal symptoms, meeting diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder, and relationships. Additionally, for men, a perception of inadequate counseling predicted avoidance symptoms, intrusion symptoms and relationship problems.
 
This study controlled for numerous variables including prior mental health, and also for physical and sexual abuse in childhood and adulthood.
 
The study participants were self-selected, not randomly selected. The authors suggest that “this highly traumatized sample may represent those who drop out of other studies. In some studies, a very high dropout rate has led to the conclusion that those who do not participate in follow up may be the most stressed by the abortion. But in this study, because of the anonymity of the internet-based protocol, it may have been facilitated participation by those who were more severely affected by the abortion.
 
This study was not designed to prove that some specific percentage of men develop posttraumatic stress disorder after abortion. But it does demonstrate that some men do experience trauma related symptoms, and in clinical work with individual men, it may be necessary to evaluate for possible posttraumatic stress disorder in men who have been involved in an abortion depending on the types of symptoms they report.
 
In addition to the problems that men experience as an individual, recent research has shown that men and women experience relationship problems after abortion (53).
 
In regard to the sexual relationship, studies indicate that there are sexual problems in both men and women after abortion and there are more problems in post-abortive couples than in the general population (54). More of the published studies examine women’s sexuality after abortion, without considering the men; studies of post-abortive women show loss of sexual desire, decreased enjoyment, and decreased frequency of sexual relations (55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61). Even one year after the abortion, 5 – 20% of the women are still having problems (62). Clearly, if women are having sexual problems including decreased frequency of sexual relations, this certainly impacts their husbands and would potentially cause problems in the marriage relationship. More limited research indicates that some men have problems of their own after abortion (63).   
 
In an interview with ZENIT International News Agency in 2007 (64), Kevin Burke of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries said, “Tragically, a person will abort with the hope of salvaging their relationship, but the toxic after effects of abortion are like a radioactive seed planted in the heart of the relationship that will, at varying speeds, kill the relationship.”
 
This statement is confirmed by several published studies (65, 66, 67, 68, 69) that show an increased risk for separation or divorce following an abortion.
 
Because of this serious risk to the marriage, it is essential that both men and women have access to treatment for abortion related problems, individually and as a couple.
 
An important feature of the Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreat program is that men are included. Single men who are no longer in a relationship with the mother of their child are welcome to participate on their own. Married men may come alone, for example when a man has been involved in an abortion with a previous partner. But frequently married men participate together with their wife, and this is frequently the best. In my own experience, I have had some men on most retreats that I have conducted, and the men have always experienced the retreat as helpful. Their presence with their wife has helped to heal the marriage, and the participation of men has been experienced as very helpful to the other women on the retreat. Although men may be more reluctant to disclose their feelings, they have the freedom to choose whether they wish to listen or to speak. They are free to choose their level of participation, and they do find the retreat exercises helpful.
 
In addition, the retreat concludes with a Memorial Service for the children who are now in the care of the Lord. Even if the man does not attend the entire weekend, his wife can include him in the Memorial Service if they both desire this, so that he also is provided with an opportunity to grieve this loss. By including men in the Memorial Service, Rachel’s Vineyard provides an opportunity for the marriage to begin to heal, and the man can attend an entire weekend later if desired.
 
In conclusion, I encourage you in all efforts to provide opportunities for healing for men and women. We have talked about many problems after abortion, but through Rachel’s Vineyard weekends, I have seen lives transformed. I hope you will have the opportunity to see this transformation through abortion recovery programs in your own country.
 
REFERENCES:
 
1.  Zimmerman M.K., Passage through Abortion (New York: Praeger, 1977).
 
2.  Fredenburg M. Changed: Making Sense of Your Own or a Loved One’s Abortion Experience, 82-85. (San Diego: Perspectives, 2008).
 
3.  Coyle C.T. Men and Abortion (Lewiston: Life Cycle Books, 1999).
 
4.  Myburgh M., Gmeiner A., van Wyk S. The experience of biological fathers of their partners' termination of pregnancy. Health SA Gesondheid 2001; 6(1): 28-37.
 
5.  Poggenpoel M., Myburgh C.P.H. The developmental implications of a termination of pregnancy on adolescents with reference to the girl and her partner. Education 2002; 122 (4): 731-741.
 
6.  Gordon R.A., Kilpatrick C. A program for group counseling for men who accompany women seeking legal abortions. Community Mental Health Journal 1977; 13 (4): 291-295.  
 
7.  Coyle C.T.  Men and abortion: a review of empirical reports concerning the impact of abortion on men. Internet Journal of Mental Health 2007: 4(2). URL:
http://www.ispub.com/ostia/index.php?xmlFilePath=journals/ijmh/vol3n2/abortion.xml
 
8.  Shostak A., McLouth G. Men & Abortion: Lessons, Losses and Love (New York: Praeger, 1984).
 
9.  Coyle C.T. Men and Abortion (Lewiston: Life Cycle Books, 1999), 27-28.    
 
10.  Gordon R.A., Kilpatrick C., op. cit.
 
11.  Shostak A., McLouth G., op. cit.
 
12.  Patterson J.  Whose freedom of choice? Sometimes it takes two to untangle. The Progressive 1982; 46 (1): 41-45. 
 
13.  Coyle C.T. Men and Abortion (Lewiston: Life Cycle Books, 1999), 93.
 
14.  Coyle C.T. Men and abortion: a review of empirical reports concerning the impact of abortion on men. Internet Journal of Mental Health 2007: 4(2).
URL: http://www.ispub.com/ostia/index.php?xmlFilePath=journals/ijmh/vol3n2/abortion.xml
 
15.  Wagner T. Perinatal death: how fathers grieve. Journal of Perinatal Education 1992; 6:1058-1243.
 
16.  Shostak A. No, I am not a “rock”: on abortion and waiting room men. 
URL: http://menandabortion.com/art_personal.html
 
17.  Buchanan M., Robbins C. Early adult psychological consequences for males of adolescent pregnancy and its resolution Journal of Youth and Adolescence 1990; 19 (4), 413-424.   
 
18.  Kero A., Lalos A. Ambivalence - a logical response to legal abortion: a prospective study among women and men. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 2000; 21(2): 81-91.
 
19.  Robson F.M. "Yes!-A chance to tell my side of the story': a case study of a male partner of a woman undergoing termination of pregnancy for foetal abnormality. J Health Psychol 2002; 7(2): 183-193.
20.  Speckhard A., Rue V. Complicated mourning: Dynamics of impacted post abortion grief. J Prenatal Perinatal Psychol Health 1993; 8(1): 5-32.
21.  Coyle C.T., Enright R.D. Forgiveness intervention with postabortion men. J Consult Clin Psychol 1997; 65(6): 1042-1046.
22.  Poggenpoel M., Myburgh C.P.H., op. cit.  
 
23.  Coyle C.T. An online pilot study to investigate the effects of abortion on men. The Association of Interdisciplinary Research in Values and Social Change 2006; 19(1).
 
24.  Speckhard A., Rue V. Complicated mourning: Dynamics of impacted post abortion grief. J Prenatal Perinatal Psychol Health 1993; 8(1): 5-32.
 
25  Poggenpoel M., Myburgh C.P.H., op. cit.                                
                                               
26.  White-van Mourik M.C., Cooper J.M., Ferguson-Smith M.A. The psychological sequelae of a second-trimester termination of pregnancy for fetal abnormality. Prenat Diagn 1992; 12(3): 189-204.  
 
27  Gordon R.A, Kilpatrick C., op. cit.
 
28. Rothstein A. Male experience of elective abortion: psychoanalytic perspectives. In N. L. Stotland, editor. Psychiatric aspects of abortion Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association; 1991. p. 145-158.
29. Blumberg B.D., Golbus M.S., Hanson K.H. The psychological sequelae of abortion performed for a genetic indication. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1975; 122(7): 799-808.
30. White-van Mourik M.C., Cooper J.M., Ferguson-Smith M.A. The psychological sequelae of a second-trimester termination of pregnancy for fetal abnormality. Prenat Diagn 1992; 12(3): 189-204.
 
31.  Coyle CT, Enright RD. Forgiveness intervention with postabortion men. J Consult Clin Psychol 1997; 65(6): 1042-1046.
               
32.  Coyle C.T. An online pilot study to investigate the effects of abortion on men. The Association of Interdisciplinary Research in Values and Social Change 2006; 19(1).
 
33.  Gordon R.A., Kilpatrick C., op. cit.
 
34.  Rothstein A., op. cit.
 
35.  Coleman P.K., Nelson E.S. The quality of abortion decisions and college students' reports of post-abortion emotional sequelae and abortion attitudes. J Soc Clin Psychol 1998; 17(4): 425-442.
 
36.  Gordon R.A., Kilpatrick C., op. cit.
 
37.  Coyle CT. Men and Abortion (Lewiston: Life Cycle Books, 1999), 93.
 
38.  Coyle CT, Enright RD. Forgiveness intervention with postabortion men. J Consult Clin Psychol 1997; 65(6): 1042-1046.
 
39.  Naziri D. Man’s involvement in the experience of abortion and the dynamics of the couple’s relationship: A clinical study. European Journal of Contraception and Reproductive Health Care 2007; 12: 168-174.
 
40.  Reich J.A., Brindis C.D.  Conceiving risk and responsibility: a qualitative examination of men’s experiences of unintended pregnancy and abortion. International Journal of Men’s Health 2006; 5: 133-152.
 
41.  Coyle C.T., Coleman P.K., Rue V.M. Inadequate Preabortion Counseling and Decision Conflict as Predictors of Subsequent Relationship Difficulties and Psychological Stress in Men and Women.
 
42.  Coyle CT. Men and Abortion (Lewiston: Life Cycle Books, 1999), 93.
 
42.  Shostak A, McLouth G. Men & Abortion: Lessons, Losses and Love (New York: Praeger, 1984).
 
43   American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (Revised 4th ed.). (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
 
44.  Shostak A., McLouth G. Men & Abortion: Lessons, Losses and Love (New York: Praeger, 1984).
 
45.  Lauzon P, Roger-Achim D, Achim A, Boyer R. Emotional distress among couples involved in first-trimester induced abortions. Can Fam Physician, 2000; (46): 2033-2040.
 
46.  American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (Revised 4th ed.). (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
 
47.  Coyle C.T. Men and Abortion (Lewiston: Life Cycle Books, 1999), 87-88.
  
48.  Shostak A. Men and abortion: three neglected ethical aspects. Humanity Soc 1983; 7(1): 66-85.
 
49.  Shostak A, McLouth G. Men & Abortion: Lessons, Losses and Love (New York: Praeger, 1984).
 
50.  American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (Revised 4th ed.). (Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
 
51.  Holmes M.C. Reconsidering a "woman's issue:" psychotherapy and one man's postabortion experiences. Am J Psychother 2004; 58(1): 103-115.
 
52.  Coyle C.T., Coleman P.K., Rue V.M. Inadequate Preabortion Counseling and Decision Conflict as Predictors of Subsequent Relationship Difficulties and Psychological Stress in Men and Women.
 
53.  Coleman. K., Rue V., Spence M. Intrapersonal Processes and Post-Abortion Relationship Challenges: A Review and Consolidation of Relevant Literature. The Internet Journal of Mental Health 2007; 4 (2). 
 
54.  Ibid.
55.  Rue V.M., Coleman P.K., Rue J.J., Reardon D.C. Induced abortion and traumatic stress: a preliminary comparison of American and Russian women. Med Sci Monit 2004;10: SR5-S16.
56.  Miller W.B. An empirical study of the psychological antecedents and consequences of induced abortion. J Soc Issues 1992; 48:67-93.
57.  Tornboen M, Ingelhammar E, Lilja H, Moller A, Svanberg B. Evaluation of stated motives for legal abortion. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol 1994;15:27-33.
58.  Fok WY, Siu SSN, Lau TK. Sexual dysfunction after a first trimester induced abortion in a Chinese population. Eur J Obstet Gynecol 2006; 126:255-258.
59.  Bianchi-Demicelli F, Perrin E, Ludicke F, Bianchi PG, Chatton D, Campana A. Termination of pregnancy and women's sexuality. Gynecol Obstet Invest 2002; 53:48-53.
60.  Boesen H.C., Rorbye C., Norgaard M., Nilas L. Sexual behavior during the first eight weeks after legal termination of pregnancy. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 2004; 83:1189-1192.
 
61. Bradshaw Z., Slade P. The effects of induced abortion on emotional experiences and relationships: A critical review of the literature. Clin Psychol Rev 2003; 23:929-958.
 
62.  Ibid.
63.  Lauzon P., Roger-Achim D., Achim A., Boyer R., op. cit.
64.  ZENIT International News Agency, Men and the Abortion Aftermath, Interview With Kevin Burke of Rachel’s Vineyard, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, 29 August, 2007. URL:  
http://www.ewtn.com/library/FATHERS/zmenabort.HTM .
65.  Freeman E. Emotional distress patterns among women having first or repeat abortions. Obstet Gynecol 1980; 55:630-636.
66.  Barnett W., Freudenberg N., Wille R. Partnership after induced abortion: a prospective controlled study. Arch Sex Behav 1992; 2:443-455.
67.  Bracken M.B., Kasi S. First and repeat abortions: a study of decision-making and delay. J Biosoc Sci 1975; 7:473-491.
68.  Lauzon P., Roger-Achim D., Achim A., Boyer R. Emotional distress among couples involved in first trimester abortions. Can Fam Physician 2000; 46:2033-2040.
69.  Rue V.M., Coleman P.K., Rue J.J., Reardon D.C. Induced abortion and traumatic stress: a preliminary comparison of American and Russian women. Med Sci Monit 2004;10: SR5-S16.


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