Men: Invisible Allies in the Struggle for Choice

Claire Keyes

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.

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
venom.

Such as this message:

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“…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
beginning.

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 MenAndAbortion.com 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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