Patty Knap calls herself a “born again” Catholic. She planned to be a wife and mother of four or five kids with several girls, but as life played out, she’s a single mom with two young adult boys. She counsels at a crisis pregnancy center, teaches CCD, takes online classes with the Avila Institute, and loves the beach, dalmatians, and America’s national parks. She also saves recipes in a pile until it gets big and then throws them out.
The impact of abortion on mothers has been studied extensively. Now evidence of abortion's impact on men and its harm to relationships and families is starting to be explored and acknowledged.
The impact is real, but it's not acknowledged as often as in women: Broken relationships; substance abuse; feelings of self-hatred; risk-taking and suicidal behavior; increasing feelings of grief over time; feelings of helplessness, guilt, and depression; greater tendencies toward becoming angry and violent; and feelings connected to a sense of lost manhood are all part of the psychological picture of the post-abortive father. Counselors who work with men after abortion say they are seeing problems that are a direct result of an abortion experience.
When a family member dies, the rest of the family generally engages in public and familial grief process, which is part of the healing process. But the choice to abort a child makes it much more difficult to acknowledge the reality that abortion involves the loss of a child — a member of a family. It's not uncommon for there to be complete silence on the topic, if the family is even aware that the abortion took place.
As with women, the link between abortion and suicide may go unnoticed except in cases where the person named the cause of their despair. Yet we know from several studies that post-abortive women are six times more likely to commit suicide.
In one very positive trend, crisis pregnancy centers across the country are focusing more on reaching the fathers in unplanned pregnancies. While they don't always come in with their girlfriend or wife for a pregnancy test, abortion info, or someone to talk to, sometimes they do, and other times they simply call or check out the websites looking for help with their decision.
A recent study published in the journal Public Health highlights the traumatic impact of abortions on relationships for men. The study is the first to look at the effect of an abortion with a previous partner on subsequent relationships.
It found that most men carry the pain of an abortion for years. The emotions can be very different for the father who wanted or even pressured for the abortion, compared to the father who was given no say whatsoever in the abortion decision. But the psychological impact is real in either case. Relationship problems are common when an abortion has taken place in that current relationship. In fact, most relationships involving an abortion end. However what the latest research has found is that problems continue into subsequent relationships. Having an abortion with a previous partner was more likely to lead to arguments about children in the current relationship for both men and women. Arguing over relatives, money, jealousy, or drugs are all significantly higher. Alarmingly, domestic violence takes place at a higher rate among post-abortion men. Having an abortion with a previous partner was more likely to lead to arguments about children in the current relationship for both men and women.
The repression and disconnection from the abortion event creates a powerful psychological effect in the mother and the father both. Psychological survival after participating in the death of an unborn baby requires a parent to rationalize that we made the right decision…for ourselves and the child. Friends and family often confirm this denial and the dismissal of any feelings of regret or pain with comments such as: Now you can get on with your life. One day you can welcome a baby into this world when you are ready to start a family.
According to the study, without an integrated emotional and spiritual healing of an abortion loss, denial after abortion means the a deeply wounded person never feels whole and integrated. "If negative emotions associated with an abortion are not acknowledged or resolved, dysfunctional coping can carry over into relationships," causing additional problems, the authors of the above study found. “By recognizing the valence of unresolved pain associated with a past abortion, pastoral, mental health, and marriage and family therapists will be better able to help couples to prevent problems from overwhelming their intimate partnerships,” the authors state.
According to Dr. Vincent Rue, one of the nation's most experienced psychologists in the field of post-abortion issues:
Induced abortion reinforces defective problem solving on the part of the male by encouraging detachment, desertion, and irresponsibility.... Abortion rewrites the rules of masculinity. While a male is expected to be strong, abortion makes him feel weak. A male is expected to be responsible, yet abortion encourages him to act without concern for the innocent and to destroy any identifiable and undesirable outcomes of his sexual decision making and/or attachments... Whether or not the male was involved in the abortion decision, his inability to function in a socially prescribed manner (i.e., to protect and provide) leaves him wounded and confused.
Typical male grief responses include remaining silent and grieving alone. In the silence, a male can harbor guilt and doubts about his ability to protect himself and those he loves.... Some become depressed and/or anxious, others compulsive, controlling, demanding and directing. Still others become enraged, and failure in any relationship can trigger repressed hostility from their disenfranchised grief.... [The act of running from the grief process] fosters denial and forces a male to become a ‘fugitive’ from life, loving, and healing. A guilt-ridden, tormented male does not easily love or accept love.
Post-abortive researcher Arthur Shostak states:
Most of the men I talk to think about the abortion years after it is over. They feel sad, they feel curious, they feel a lot of things; but usually they have talked to no one about it. It's a taboo.... With a man, if he wants to shed a tear, he had better do it privately. If he feels that the abortion had denied him his child, he had better work through it himself. He does not share his pain with a clergyman, a minister; he does not share it with a close male....... It just stays with him. And it stays for a long time.
If you or someone you know is still carrying the weight of an abortion, there is hope for healing. The most important thing to share with someone suffering from an abortion is that God's Mercy is available to every single person. He waits to eliminate and forgive us our sin in the confessional. Releasing the sin and asking for God's forgiveness is an enormous part of the healing process. It's important to continue that healing by finding the right type of counseling. Post-abortion healing is a specialty unto itself. The average psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or counselor of any kind who does not understand post-abortion issues can often inflict more harm than good on the unsuspecting person.
Encouraging fathers to avoid the tragedy of abortion altogether is a greater emphasis today at crisis pregnancy centers. More men are now coming forward sharing their suffering from a past abortion, courageously helping to educate other men on what it's really like to have made the fateful decision. One very positive trend is the number of men now counseling at these pregnancy centers. Sometimes post-abortion themselves, they're trained to talk to the husbands and boyfriends of young women in unplanned pregnancies. Their time, effort, and compassion can help lead fathers away from the tragedy of abortion and help them support the mother in either keeping their baby or choosing an adoption plan instead.
At the pregnancy center where I work on Long Island, we have several male counselors. One of our newest is a young man who recently found himself in an unplanned pregnancy situation himself. Tempted and encouraged to abort, he and his girlfriend rejected the easy way out and courageously gave life to their little boy, the light of their life today. “It wasn't how we planned things and of course it's not always easy, but abortion would've been much worse. All around, for all three of us,” he now says. He gives his Saturday mornings to educating other young men on the life and sanctity of the unborn child, and on the lifelong ramifications of abortion.
A few Saturdays ago Joe met with a young couple leaning toward abortion. The father, in particular, wanted to have an abortion — that very day in fact. They felt unprepared to have a child and didn't have a lot of money, and the man already had a young child by a different mother. Joe addressed these challenges and explained that he and his girlfriend found themselves in a similar situation. Yet he showed them through fetal models and ultrasound that their pregnancy meant they already were parents of a son or daughter, there were lots of resources and support available including the baby's own aunt and grandmother who were supportive of keeping the child and willing to babysit, and that the couple's belief in God created an imperative to honor the commandment, Thou Shalt Not Kill. After a long chat and after seeing the baby's ultrasound, this young father's thinking changed completely to encouraging the mother to give birth to their child. Now that the abortion 'option' is out of the picture, this young couple can go forward and thoughtfully decide whether they should raise this child or choose an adoption plan.
It's so beautiful to witness Joe sharing his example of making the right choice in an unexpected pregnancy, providing hope and a realistic picture of fatherhood to other young men.
For post-abortion healing resources, including testimonies and help finding a qualified post-abortion therapist, visit http://theunchoice.com/healing.htm#Organizations and http://silentnomoreawareness.org/shockwaves/june/overview.aspx.