by Catherine Coyle, RN, PhD
Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team, recently wrote a provocative opinion piece entitled Men Should be Allowed to Veto Abortion. Ablow argues that men who are willing to assume full responsibility for the care of children they have conceived should have a legal right to prevent the abortion of those children. Furthermore, he suggests that women who proceed with abortion in such cases should be held liable for the suffering of their male partners and for the deaths of their unborn children.
While there have been attempts by men to legally prevent their partners from obtaining abortion, none have been successful. A married man in New York filed a suit against his wife seeking divorce and monetary damages after she had an abortion without his knowledge or consent. Not surprisingly, he lost the case. While Roe v. Wade (1973) gave women the right to abort for any reason at any time during pregnancy, two later Supreme Court decisions effectively denied men any rights. In 1976, the court decided that a woman seeking abortion did not need her husband’s consent (Planned Parenthood v. Danforth) and, in 1992, the court ruled that married women who choose to abort are not required to inform their husbands (Planned Parenthood v. Casey).
Ablow is not the first to make an argument for men’s reproductive rights. The National Center for Men (NCM) has also done so but focused on men who do not wish to be fathers. In 2006, NCM filed a suit in Michigan on behalf of Matt Dubay. This is the suit referred to as “Roe v. Wade for Men.” Dubay claimed that he clearly informed his girlfriend that he did not want to be a father. His girlfriend assured him that she could not get pregnant. Later, after the relationship ended, Mr. Dubay’s girlfriend notified him that she was pregnant, wanted to keep her child, and expected him to support the child financially. NCM lawyers argued that equality for men necessitates the right for men to decline fatherhood in the event of an unwanted pregnancy just as women can do by exercising their right to abortion. The judge dismissed the case.
Since the legalization of abortion on demand, there have been approximately 50 million elective abortions performed in the United States. As a result, 50 million men have been involved in and affected by abortion. Findings from the limited research on this topic suggest that abortion is not an easy experience for many men. In fact, men who lose children by induced abortion may suffer from anger, anxiety, grief, guilt, relationship problems, and sexual dysfunction (Coyle, 1997). Clinicians have also documented men’s suffering related to abortion (Rue, 1996) and a recent study found that, when men and their partners disagreed about the abortion decision, the men were significantly more likely to experience traumatic symptoms of intrusion and hyperarousal and were more likely to experience full-blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Coyle, Coleman & Rue, 2010).
Dr. Ablow’s editorial has helped to bring attention to the fact that men may experience suffering from abortion. However, he goes further as he observes how men’s lack of equality in terms of “reproductive rights” implies a lack of responsibility on the part of men as well. The importance of Ablow’s commentary lies in this discussion of the consequences of reproductive inequality. His argument is not just about men and their pain but about how the corruption of men’s natural roles damages the family and therefore our entire society.
Coyle, C.T. & Enright, R.D. (1997). Forgiveness intervention with post-abortion men. Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, 65 (6), 1043-1046.
Coyle, C.T., Coleman, P.K. & Rue, V.M. (2010). Inadequate preabortion counseling and decision conflict as predictors of subsequent relationship difficulties and psychological stress in men and women. Traumatology, 16 (1).
Rue, V.M. (1996). The effects of abortion on men. Ethics and Medics, 21 (4), 3-4.