In light of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade, advocates from all sides of the issue have called for men to be part of the conversation. The Times heard from hundreds who wanted to share their stories.
When Quenton Albertie, 29, found out his college girlfriend was pregnant, he was surprised at first — and then elated.
He was 23, she was 19 and they had been dating for roughly five months while attending Mercer University in Georgia. "I called my mom the next day to tell her and she was excited, too," Albertie said. "She always goes on about how she wants a grandchild."
But two months later, his girlfriend got an abortion without telling him. She informed him after the fact, saying she couldn't manage school and the pregnancy at the same time, Albertie recalled.
Albertie, who considers himself in favour of abortion rights, understood her perspective, but was torn because he had been looking forward to becoming a father — and thought his opinion should have carried some weight. However, he said, he recognised that "you can't tell anybody what to do with their own bodies".
Albertie's internal conflict is representative of a broader question about abortion in America: what place do men's opinions and feelings have in the matter?
Brian Nguyen, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Southern California and the founder of Emerge Lab, a reproductive health research organisation that seeks to engage men in the abortion rights conversation, said men have been minimised, if not completely overlooked, in the conversation. That fosters "a societal expectation that they shouldn't speak about it even among their closest network of friends and family", he said.
Men who are opposed to abortion don't feel heard either, said Bradley Mattes, the president of Life Issues Institute, an anti-abortion organisation. "Men are often told, 'It's my body, my choice. Be supportive or get out of the way.' That needs to change."
The fact that reproductive health policies have been largely dictated by men in positions of power has created a perception that men are speaking out — and that men and women have diametrically opposed views on abortion. In reality, public opinion on abortion is more likely split along party lines than gender.
An estimated one in five men in the United States have been involved in an abortion (meaning their partner's pregnancy ended in an abortion), according to a recent analysis of data between 2015 and 2017 from the National Survey of Family Growth.
"Men really need to consider what losing access to safe and legal abortion means for them," said Joe Colon-Uvalles, an organiser at abortion rights group Planned Parenthood.
On Friday, the Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion, and the procedure is already restricted or illegal in over 20 states. In light of the shifting landscape, The Times asked men who have grappled with abortion in their own lives to share their stories. Hundreds of respondents revealed a range of emotional reactions, including fear and frustration, happiness and hopelessness.
The reality of abortion
Some men said they viewed abortion as an abstract philosophical concept until they came face to face with a woman who was thinking about having one.
Paul Noble, 57, a retired high school teacher in Illinois, grew up in a "very white, very Catholic" community in the suburbs of Chicago. He said he learned from those around him that he should be "pro-life".
His perspective changed during his sophomore year of college in Wisconsin. He was a resident assistant in his dorm at the time, and a young woman came to him for advice.
"She sat down and immediately started to cry. She said, 'I don't know what to do. I'm pregnant,'" Noble said. She explained to him that she had broken up with her boyfriend and that having a baby was not an option.
"I was just kind of agog listening to her talk," Noble said. "This feeling washed over me — I don't know if it was shame or humility — and I remember thinking to myself: 'Why did I think I had a right to have an opinion on this subject?'"
Two days later, Noble borrowed a friend's car and drove a few hours to take her to an abortion clinic in Rockford, Illinois. There were protesters outside the entrance, he said, so he put his arm around her and helped push past them.
A romantic idea of fatherhood
For men whose partners had abortions, there is often a sadness about what life could have been like for them as fathers, said Jennifer Reich, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado Denver who has studied the male discourse on abortion.
Albertie said his girlfriend's pregnancy had seemed like an opportunity to be the kind of father he had wanted in his own childhood. "I had grown up in a single-parent home with my mother, and I thought this is my chance to do something different," he said.
He is still hoping to become a father at some point. "I feel like there are a lot of guys out there who, like me, want to have kids and build stable homes."
Dr Reich said that for many of the men she interviewed for her research, pregnancies represented "something aspirational". "Men are more likely to talk about parenting in somewhat romantic ways — about being a role model or playing catch in the yard," she said.
That was how Theo Purington, 37, a salesman in Florida, felt back in college when his girlfriend at the time told him she was pregnant. He wanted her to keep the foetus, he said, and planned to take on a job while finishing school so that he could support a family. She wanted an abortion.
"I said that I would take full custody of the child and I even had my mom talk to her," Purington said. "She just wasn't having it."
The experience had left him feeling helpless, he said. "The night before the abortion, I tried one more time to see if she would change her mind," Purington said. "She said no, so I kissed her stomach and I said, 'Daddy loves you and I'll see you in heaven,' and I left."
He turned to his Catholicism, seeking solace, and now runs two crisis pregnancy centres in Florida and New Mexico. Crisis pregnancy centres are anti-abortion organisations that try to persuade women not to get abortions.
"We provide adoption options and help the women who choose to keep the baby with classes, supplies or whatever else they need," he said. "We don't just say 'choose life' and send them on their way."
A rigid idea of masculinity
For some men, the emotional complexity of an abortion — feelings of loss, relief or guilt — is further compounded by broader societal expectations of them, experts said. They may feel compelled to remain stoic in the face of adversity, acting as pillars of support for their partners. When Dr Nguyen conducted a survey of over 200 men who had accompanied their partners to an abortion clinic, roughly 40 per cent would not have terminated the pregnancy if the choice had been up to them. But, he said, "they almost universally wanted to be supportive of their partners".
"In in-depth interviews, men seldom discussed personal concerns about and preferences regarding abortion," Nguyen's research paper said, possibly indicating that men had "prioritised their relationship and the wellbeing of their partner over their own concerns".
Dr Reich said many of the men she interviewed told her she was the first person they had ever talked to about their experiences.
"It is really challenging for men to acknowledge that there may be an emotional component that they're grappling with," she said. Even in particularly tragic circumstances, men said they felt as if they needed permission to grieve.
Two years ago, Matthew Markman, a software salesman in California, and his wife, who was 20 weeks pregnant, learned that their son had a rare heart defect. If his wife carried the foetus to term, he would be unlikely to survive after birth, their doctor told them.
The news was crushing for Markman and his wife; they had been trying to have a baby for over a year and had used in vitro fertilisation multiple times. After three rounds of implantation, one embryo stuck, but resulted in a miscarriage. This pregnancy had been their fifth embryo. They had even settled on a name, Elijah, "because my grandfather's name starts with an E and he had recently passed", said Markman, 37, who considers himself in favour of abortion rights.
When the couple made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy, Markman felt that because his wife was the one carrying the foetus and who had to go through the procedure, he had to be the stronger one in that moment of despair. They cremated the remains and spread the ashes on Muir Beach in Northern California.
"I personally had to take leave from work for a couple of months because it was emotionally a very difficult period," he said. "It took me a while to realise that it was okay that the experience was hard on me as well."
Life after abortion
Another recurring theme in the responses from men who wrote to The Times was the belief that they would not be where they are today without abortion.
There is a vast body of peer-reviewed research that connects abortion access to a woman's emotional, physical and financial outcomes, including the landmark Turnaway study, which followed women who had been denied abortions for five years and found that they were more likely to be living in poverty or be unemployed than women who were able to get abortions. But experts noted that only a few researchers have explored the long-term consequences of an abortion on a man's life trajectory.
One study, published in 2019 in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that men whose partners had abortions while they were in college were more likely to graduate and earn higher incomes than men whose partners did not.
Nam Phan, a 30-year-old engineer in Massachusetts and a father of two, said the abortion his wife got when they were dating as teenagers helped them to eventually become better parents. At the time, they were not financially equipped, nor did they feel mature enough to look after a baby.
"I don't think either of us could even manage taking care of ourselves at that point," he said.
Their first child, who is now 5, was also an unplanned pregnancy, but they felt far more prepared for parenthood when they found out about him; they had graduated from college, settled into their jobs, got married and were about to buy a home.
"It isn't lost on us that having a kid back then would have really changed our lives significantly," he said.
When Kevin Barhydt was 19, the woman he was seeing became pregnant. Immediately, he was overcome with "panic and enormous fear".
"There wasn't a 'gee, let's do a pros-and-cons list' moment," said Barhydt, now a 60-year-old analyst and an author in New York. By that point, he had already had a rough run at life. He had been abused, he had dropped out of high school and he was struggling with alcohol addiction. They were not in a place to look after a newborn, and he did not even have money to pay for the abortion, he said.
Barhydt's second experience with abortion took place about a year or so later with another woman, when he was still grappling with his addiction. He described that time in his life as "terrible".
"The idea of having a child then just seemed insane," he said.
Both abortions, Barhydt said, nudged him toward "a trajectory of healing". He went to college and found a stable job. He got married and had two sons, and he has now been sober for over three decades. Those memories, though, are still painful.
"Do I pray for forgiveness? Yes, I do," Barhydt said. "Do I wish there had been a way to have kept my children? Yes. Do I regret my decision at the time? Not at all."
Written by: Alisha Haridasani Gupta
Photographs by: Peyton Fulford, Richard Beaven, Vanessa Leroy, Ian C. Bates, James Jackman
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