Men: Invisible Allies in the Struggle for Choice

The rise of ever more disturbing anti-abortion rhetoric
containing violent imagery gives a false picture of men.  While it is true that some men spew
hatred and engender fear with the intent of increasing stigma and decreasing availability
of abortion services, I have had a different experience of the men inside
abortion clinics.  About half of
women choosing abortion bring a man along.  Some bring their brother, dad, grandfather, uncle, friend or
boss; most who bring a man bring their partner.  More men would have accompanied the women had they not
stayed home to care for the other child or children (most women choosing
abortion already have at least one child), or they are working, or she
preferred to have her friend or mother with her.

Reading the latest wave of woman-debasing epithets could
create a false impression of men and their loving support.  Clinics all over the country are
inviting men into the counseling, the procedure itself, and the recovery room,
depending upon the woman’s consent and the clinic’s ability to accommodate
support persons. They are our allies in patient care and politics, all the
while providing a supportive balance to the screaming, swearing, and ranting
men on the sidewalks outside our clinics. 
 Men are more likely to label
themselves pro-choice when included in information sessions, counseling, or any
part of the visit to the clinic.

Allegheny Reproductive Health in Pittsburgh has been
welcoming men for decades.  For
many years our waiting room journals labeled “For Men Only” have become a
repository of heart-rending support, love, and sorrow, but also messages of
hope and self-reflection.  Anyone
who doubts the importance of men’s presence need only read a few of the entries
to become aware of a whole different man than those spewing threats, bile and

Such as this message:

“…Today is not about right or wrong.  It’s about happy and sad.  You may be sad for the situation in
which you find yourself, but be happy, in a quiet way, that you had the courage
and decency to step up when you were needed most…I accept her choice because I
love her.  This choice is right for
her.  I will not judge…Love is
about acceptance…You, yes, you are a precious child of God.  Treat her and yourself with the dignity
you both deserve.”

This one:

“…P.S.  To
my  unborn I’m sorry for all the
wrong choices I made.  I wish I
could turn back the time and bring you into the world but I know I can’t.  I will never make another mistake this
big again (not using protection). 
I’m sorry and I love you always and forever.”

And this one:

“…I am a grown man, but after reading this [journal], my
body feels little and my heart does too. 
I see all the support we have for our ladies.  Everyone’s stories are different…I always promised myself
I would honor and do right with my kid. 
I think this is doing right…God bless you all.”

If we want supportive men’s voices to balance the messages
of violence and hatred, we need to reach out to men even more. Waiting rooms in
clinics are filled with men who sit patiently for many hours.  From the moment they enter our clinics, let’s
be sure to welcome them.  Making
certain that front desk greeters offer a “thank you for coming” is a good

Abortion providers can have brochures on hand specifically
designed for men.  They can have
magazines of male interest in the waiting room, not just women’s
magazines.  They can have packets
of information scattered about addressing birth control, explanations of the
procedure, helpful post-procedure hints, political action suggestions, and
voter registration forms.  Referral
cards to the website direct them to the answers to
frequently asked factual, emotional, and spiritual questions.

Since the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973, at least 45 million
abortions have been performed. 
That means that at least 22 million men have accompanied women to
clinics and physician’s offices for nearly four decades.  As we are asking women to come forth
and announce that they had an abortion, let us ask me to do the same.  If each of those 22 million told just
one other man, a brother, a friend, a dad, a son, we could double the number of
potential supporters in a day! 
Think of it!  Men who are
passionate about their causes can exhibit great bravery and courage.  Here is an opportunity for men to stand
up verbally to the bullies whose voices are currently the only male voices
being heard.

Women on campuses throughout the US can schedule events to
which each woman can bring at least one guy who is or may be pro-choice.  Abortion does not only affect women;
inviting men to university events when classes reconvene is a good way to start
off the new year.  It’s also a
positive way to expand the number of supporters by pointing out to men that we
want and need their voices of moderation. 
With the 37th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade coming up on
January 22, a marvelous opportunity awaits us.  Whether the men in attendance have had a personal experience
with abortion or not, we want to welcome them into the fold.

Abortion providers are again under attack.  That means that all women are under
attack.  The men who write such
things as “if you are ripped to shreds, it will be just” and “loose women burn
in hell” and “the blood of your crotch will rise up against you, you whores”
hate all women.  Rather than focusing
attention on them, let’s focus on our allies, the men who are reasonable,
responsible, loving and good.   By allowing abortion to be only a
woman’s issue, we are ignoring those who could be our very best supporters if
only we knew better how to invite them.

If each of each who has had an abortion were to tell two
people over this holiday season, more stories of the truth and goodness of
abortion would be out in the world. 
I am constantly amazed when I meet women who tell me of their abortion
ten, twenty, thirty years ago about which they never told anyone!  Secrecy breeds stigma, which is how a
medical procedure that 35-40% of American women experience in their
reproductive lifetimes can still be associated with shame.  This season when friends and family
gather, you can break the silence. 
And invite men to do the same!

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  • pegjohnston

    Peg Johnston is the President of the Abortion Care Network, an abortion provider in upstate NY, and creator of the Pregnancy Options Workbook series.

    The Abortion Care Network has recognized Claire Keyes for her pioneering work involving men in the abortion experience and have given all the clinics in our Network materials on men and abortion. We have created a handout, “Especially for Men” that has been distributed to all of our clinics. It acknowledges some of the many feelings men may have, their possibly differing views, and advice and resources. It will be available in English and Spanish as a free download in January.

    The holidays are a good time to talk to others. What about designating this Roe v Wade anniversary as a focus on Men as Allies?

  • brucechris

    Back when my fiance and I decided that we were ready to start having sex, the first thing that we did was to research available birth control. Then we had sex. This was in 1968.
    Now I know that birth control is not 100% effective, but we were careful and/or lucky. For my money, being pro-choice refers to the choice that you make Before you have sex.

  • crowepps

    It’s odd that you would call making choices ahead of time ‘common’ sense when the ability to grasp reality, foresee likely consequences, make sensible choices to forestall negative outcomes and follow through this appropriate action steps is apparently not at all common. The average person is, unfortunately, pretty average, and half of people are even less competent than that.

  • frolicnaked

    … the first thing that we did was to research available birth control. 

    Research is to be commended, but I will point out that which forms of birth control are practically "available" can vary an awful lot from couple to couple. The only free forms of contraception that I know about are abstinence, outercourse, fertility awareness, and withdrawal. A fair number of people don’t like to rely on the first two for the entire time they’re trying to avoid pregnancy (since that can be decades), and the latter two have typical use failure rates on the higher end of the spectrum.

    And while it’s certainly true that birth control is cheaper than a baby and can be cheaper than an abortion, that still depends on having the money to obtain that contraception in the first place. Pills, patches, shots, rings, IUDs, implants, diaphragms, cervical caps, and permanent sterilization procedures all require an appointment with a health care provider — which costs money, and maybe a lot of money if that person is un- or under-insured. Even condoms, which typically have the least upfront cost and which are fabulous, fabulous inventions, can be expensive in situations where income is extremely limited or for folks who have latex sensitivities (and need to use the more expensive non-latex condoms).


    Research is great, but it doesn’t automatically translate into access. And lack of access is not lack of common sense. 


      For my money, being pro-choice refers to the choice that you make Before you have sex.


    Also, please understand that there’s a certain amount of privilege inherent in this statement. It assumes that every time one does — or doesn’t — have sex, that person gets to make a *choice.* While I understand that the original article is about men who are allies in issues of reproductive justice, there are women who encounter — or are in long-term relationships with — men who are not allies in this. They’re in situations where their partners don’t respect their sexual choices — whether it’s using contraception, whether it’s saying "no" to sex at all.  

  • harry834

    for writing this. I’m happy to read it.

  • kenscort

    I have been escorting at our local clinic for the better part of a year now. It has opened my consciousness to the myriad issues surrounding reproductive health and justice. The single most important thing I have learned is that as a middle-class, middle-aged white man, I MUST embrace these issues. Just as the civil rights movement took hold when white people stopped accepting racism as normal in their white families and white work places, so will “woman’s” issues start to take hold when men start calling out other men on their sexist ways. It begins by shutting up and listening to women when they talk about these issues. Ask questions and then shut up and listen.


    Shut up and Listen.


    Then come the changes. Rape jokes are not funny. Misogyny is not acceptable. It is not okay to withhold knowledge and skills from female co-workers so as to promote and advance your buddies. We must create uncomfortable silences at family gatherings when Uncle Idiot oppresses Aunt Submissive. We must no longer allow our fathers, nephews, sons and friends to think any of this is OK. We must pick up this fight and stand with our sisters, mothers, aunts and wives. Not as champions or knights, saviors or rescuers but rather as brothers-in-arms, side-by-side making the world a better, safer, more powerful place one living room, one office, one sidewalk outside a clinic at a time.


    A blog about escorting here in Louisville –

  • prochoicegoth

    Say the couple did research, chose the method that is right for them, and it fails them due to bad luck? Do they have the right to abort in your eyes or not? 


    It’s pro-choice or
    NO choice.

  • crowepps

    It begins by shutting up and listening to women when they talk about these issues. Ask questions and then shut up and listen.

    One of the hard facts which many people fail to grasp is that when the listener holds strong opinions about an issue, and makes statements like "you shouldn’t feel that way", "people aren’t really like that", "you’re exaggerating", "you wouldn’t say that if you really understood what you were doing", etc., the listener is not going to hear the truth.  A person is not going to confide their real feelings or their real problems to someone who is trying to herd them, however gently, into the corral of stereotype.


    Most women learn very early that it is futile to tell men the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth because men don’t want to hear it.  Many men resist strongly hearing anything that disturbs their fantasies of what ‘women’ are like and tend to instantly respond with argument, insist the woman is trying to manipulate, or label women who are attempting to tell them the truth as overly emotional, mentally ill, stupid, immoral, etc.  There certainly have been numerous instances of this kind of labeling in the discussions at this site.


    In the stereotype, all women love and want marriage and children, all women prefer that a man make the big decisions, women’s interior lives are full of sticky-sweet sentiment wrapped with pink bows, women are ‘happier’ if they are submissive, women feel ‘joy’ through self-abnegation, and women are familiar with rage only as its victim.  This stereotype has as much in common with women’s actual interior lives as the revolting stereotype of the Happy Darkies Who Love Master.


    I really, really appreciate your willingness to listen and recognize women as they actually are.