Dear Mr. Dad: My girlfriend is pregnant. We’d talked about having children someday but hadn’t expected it would happen so soon. She wants to terminate the pregnancy. But all of a sudden I’m feeling very depressed. I really want to be a dad and her decision to have an abortion is going to put an end to that dream, at least for a while. I’ve always thought of myself as pro choice, but now that the decision affects me, I’m not so sure. Do I have a vote here?
A: Thanks for having the guts to write this. I try to stay out of politics, but this issue involves more than Pro Choice vs. Pro Life (it’s also one that I expect will generate criticism from both sides), so I’m weighing in.
Abortion has always been “women’s issue,” but we’ve forgotten (or, worse, maybe never even realized) that men, too, are deeply affected by the reproductive choices women make. The phrase “a woman’s right to choose” usually means her right to have an abortion. But having the right not to become a parent includes the right to become one if she chooses.
Neither of these seemingly fundamental rights, however, apparently applies to men. The same laws that protect women’s parental choices also allow her to either deprive a man of his right to become a parent, or force him to become one against his will.
There’s been a lot of research done on the psychological effects of abortion on women and we know that women usually grieve—often for years—afterwards. But men grieve too. And in cases like yours, where you want to keep the child, isn’t your grief just as real or worthy of compassion as hers? I think it is. Under the law, she can do what she wants, and when she does, you’ll be left to mourn the loss of the child that might have been.
Now let’s look at this from the other side: She decides to keep the baby and you’re against it. Society’s reaction? “Tough luck, buddy. You should have used birth control.” If you and your girlfriend break up (which more than 25% of unmarried couples who have an abortion do), you’re on the hook for eighteen years of child support for a child you never wanted—and you’ll be forced to have an ongoing relationship with a woman you don’t love. Again, under the law, she can do whatever she wants. But you have no rights at all. As a man, whether or not you become a parent is not up to you.
Now, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that men should have the right to drag a woman off to get an abortion against her will, or to force her to bear a child just because the father insists. In my view, women should have 51% of the votes. But you should have the opportunity to participate in the decision-making process, to express how having—or not having—a child will affect you, to try to convince your girlfriend that you’re right while also giving her a chance to convince you that she’s right.
But completely excluding men—as we currently do—from the debate and denying them a role in their own reproductive choices just reinforces the old stereotype that anything that affects the family is a women’s issue.
So talk to your girlfriend. Tell her what you’re feeling and about your hopes and dreams. Ultimately the decision is hers, but you have a right—and an obligation—to participate in the discussion.