The topic of abortion has been up for debate for decades—whether or not they should be legal, at what point during a pregnancy they shouldn’t be allowed, who should have access to them—with various outcomes that have either protected or violated women’s rights. Although they are often not discussed openly, they affect many women around the world. In Canada alone, one in three women will have an abortion before the age of 45. While women are faced with confronting this decision head-on, it is also an experience men must face, directly or indirectly.
This leads to the question: where do men come in to the conversation about abortion?
As Dr. Meera Shah wrote in her book You’re the Only One I’ve Told, by considering abortion as strictly a woman’s issue, we “feed into the myth that it’s just cis women making decisions about sex and reproduction, independent of any outside factors.” However, in real life, she explains, there are tons of factors involved when deciding on abortion, including welcome input from partners, career aspirations, faith, family, income and more. A pregnancy will affect the lives of two people; however, abortion is largely spoken about as being a life-changing decision for women.
That is because men’s voices are lacking from the conversation altogether. When it comes to anti-abortion, on the other hand, their voices are front and centre.
“Every year, men are robustly represented at the March for Life (a pro-life organization), both in men-only groups and in mixed-gender coalitions,” wrote Ashley Fetters in The Atlantic. “But in the abortion-rights movement, men are far less visible.”
More than allies.
Men need to be equally educated about reproductive rights and see themselves as stakeholders—not just allies. That’s how author Katie Watson explained it in Dr. Shah’s book.
“But going beyond the philosophical idea of men sharing the responsibility for sexual health and reproduction, research shows that men benefit socially from abortion too,” Dr. Shah wrote.
A 2019 study showed that men who avoided adolescent fatherhood due to a partner getting abortion were more likely to receive a higher education. They were also more likely to graduate from college. “Women’s use of abortion services were associated with educational benefits for men who report teen pregnancies,” the study concluded.
It takes two.
“It is the duty of both sexual partners to be proactive about safe sex, but in reality, too often this burden falls disproportionately on women,” wrote Kaivon Shroff in news outlet WBUR. “Admittedly, I’ve often relied on my female sexual partners to protect me from unwanted pregnancy.”
The co-founder of online network Shout Your Abortion Amelia Bonow told The Atlantic that after spending lots of time listening and documenting women’s stories, the organization shifted to include the voices of men.
“I’ve seen all these signs that are like, you know, No uterus, no opinion,” she said. “I think that’s a reductive, gendered framing that makes it seem like we’re the only ones allowed to talk about it. I think that approach has spooked some men out of the conversation who we really need to be a part of it.”
By sharing men’s stories, speaking about abortion becomes normalized. It removes the stigma. Being open can affect change—whether it’s as sweeping as a law that touches the lives of every Canadian, or as ordinary as opening up a dialogue between two partners about what to do if they had an unwanted pregnancy.
Share the experience.
Another reason to include men in the conversation is for emotional support and understanding. Of course, Dr. Shah is aware that every relationship between partners is different, and women can be victims of “reproductive coercion.” But many women welcome support from their partners, she wrote, and many partners want to be part of the decision in a constructive way.
There is no ultimate judgment on men being or not being part of the abortion discussion. There are many women who feel strongly on both sides. However, as Bonow indicated, the feeling of wanting to introduce men’s voices into the conversation is growing.
“Though it might seem strange to talk about men and abortion, it’s stranger not to, since women don’t have unwanted pregnancies without them,” the authors of a New York Times op-ed article wrote.
If you’re looking for resources and information about abortion, please visit plannedparenthood.org, actioncanadashr.org or optionsforsexualhealth.org.