So long as people think abortions only happen to people they don’t know, they’ll continue to limit our choice.
It is a truism that it’s much easier to discriminate against a class of people whom you have never met. Justice Powell, prior to ruling in support of an anti-sodomy law, is famously said to have remarked to his closeted law clerk that he didn’t believe he knew any homosexuals. This issue was a large part of the rationale behind encouraging gays to come out publicly, and it is behind the nascent movement encouraging women to talk about their abortions.
This is particularly important when the vast majority of people making legislative decisions about reproductive rights are men (83% of Congress, about the same as Libya’s new democracy). What is their personal experience with abortion? How many of them have sat with a partner in an abortion clinic?
The answer should be simple of course. One out of every three women in the United States will have an abortion. No responsible man (and I mean responsible in both senses of the word) would leave his partner to face such an emotionally traumatic event on their own. So that means that 33% of legislators have been inside an abortion clinic and had a relationship with the women whose choices they are eliminating. And 33% of the men reading this article have had to help make the momentous decision of whether to bring a new person into the world, or wait, perhaps, until a better time.
But of course, it’s not that simple, is it?
Some of those abortions are happening precisely because some of those men (but not my readers, I’m sure) weren’t there to provide support. And in many others, the full weight of the decision and its consequences fell on the woman alone. Abortion isn’t something that anyone wants to consider, but only the man is given the option to avoid facing it at all. Also, some clinics don’t allow men; they have valid concerns about abusive partners who may want to interfere with the decision process, in one direction or the other. So a man’s participation may end at the door.
Given the rising tide of anti-choice legislation, I feel it’s very important for us to “humanize” those involved in the decision for an abortion. It needs to be clear that the people who have abortions are your neighbors, your friends, and your partners. And in that process, I believe that the men involved also have a responsibility to tell what it’s like for them. We are one in three too.
So let me tell you what it’s like to be one of those men.
When I was in college, I met a girl. We went out. We got closer to each other. We decided to have sex. It wasn’t the first time for either of us, but it was our first responsible time.
We were safe sex fanatics. We tried the pill, we tried the diaphragm, and we tried condoms. We were open to people about our relationship, and we were open about using birth control. This was pretty novel in the 70’s, and the college health center even referred people to us who had questions about our experiences with different methods.
We went out for about a year, but although we liked each other, we fought a lot, and it obviously wasn’t working. In November, we tearfully broke up.
A month later, she discovered she was pregnant.
We talked about it. It was clearly her decision to make, and she was not at a point in her life where she was ready to have a baby. She wasn’t sure if she ever wanted a baby. She decided to have an abortion.
We were at a small college in a rural state, but there was a city an hour away, and it had a clinic. We decided I would take her to the clinic, and then to a relative’s where she could recover over Christmas vacation. We scheduled the appointment for the first day of vacation, and I told my parents that school got out a day later than it actually did.
The day came, and we drove to the clinic. I don’t remember a lot about the trip. It was a somber occasion, and we weren’t going out with each other anymore; there wasn’t a lot of talking. We parked. We walked into the clinic. She checked in, and I sat in the waiting room waiting for her to be called. While I sat there, I got to see what kind of women go to a clinic for an abortion.
Remember, this was a rural state. I doubt there was another clinic in a two hundred mile range. I was an hour from my college, and two hours from my home town. Who did I see?
I saw my ex-girlfriend, of course; nervous but determined that she was doing the right thing for her life and her career.
I saw the older sister of a friend from elementary school; just a few years older than us, who was always the responsible one in her family.
I saw my high school English teacher; the woman who had written on my report card how she thought I was the next O’Henry.
I saw women just like the women in your life; strong people making a hard decision, but one they were sure of, and firmly believed was correct.
When the procedure was over, she came out. I helped her to the car, drove to her relative’s, and watched her walk unsteadily to the front door and step inside. And then I made the long drive home.
Some thirty years later, I still stop and think about it occasionally. I wonder what he (for some reason, I visualize a boy) would be like today. And I think about what our alternatives were. Two people who didn’t get along, raising a child that neither wanted, with no money, and no college education. I have two grown daughters now, and I’m more proud of them, and how they were raised, than anything else in my life. They were children who were brought into the world when I was ready, and when they were wanted. I always wonder about the path I might have taken, but I never regret it.
A number of the new anti-abortion laws work on the false (perhaps intentionally so) theory that a woman seeking an abortion doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of what she is doing, and that if she did, she would change her mind. There’s a myth that people treat it like a trip to the dentist to take out a tooth. As a man who went through the decision, I know that nothing could be further from the truth. It wasn’t true for me, it hasn’t been true for any of the men I’ve known who have had to make the decision, and it certainly isn’t true for the women.
So long as we remain quiet about our experiences, we allow others to shape the discussion, frame women as victims, and remove the agency of women and men who need to make this important decision for themselves. We need to speak up. We need to tell our friends, our neighbors, and our legislators, that yes, people just like us have abortions.
Read more on Abortion.
Image of woman selecting magazine in medical waiting room courtesy of Shutterstock