Nearly 30 years ago, when I was 17, I got my high school girlfriend pregnant. Our commitment to each other was as absolute as our commitment to contraceptives was haphazard. When "April" phoned me tearfully with the news, I promised to support whatever decision she made.
The son of a feminist mom, I'd been raised with a deep respect for women's sovereignty, particularly as it applied to their reproductive lives. I was close to my mom. When I confessed to her that "April" was pregnant, she was exasperated at our recklessness - and deeply concerned that I do the right thing for my girlfriend. As she memorably explained it, the right thing meant avoiding a trio of pitfalls. I couldn't pressure April to do something she didn't want to do (whether that was have an abortion or carry a child to term). I couldn't walk away, denying any responsibility. The third thing I shouldn't do - and this my mum stressed more strongly than the first two - was to burden April with my feelings. "She's in a very difficult position," my mother said. "Don't make her feel like she has to take care of you too."
I went with April when she had the abortion, paying half of the cost with my savings. Before and after the procedure, I told her I loved her and believed in her. I kept my own confusion tucked deep inside. As is so often the case, our relationship was never quite the same, and we broke up within a few months.
When we'd gone together to see the doctor for a pre-abortion appointment, he told us the approximate due date: February 7, 1986. At the time I filed it away as the most useless of facts. But when that date rolled around, I was stunned by how heartsick I was. April and I were no longer speaking by that point, and I was off at university. I cried on that due date and for days after, stunned and bewildered by my own delayed reaction to loss. Though my wife and I now have wonderful two kids of our own, not a February goes by that I don't think about a child who would now be 27.
For those of us who support women's rights, there's a paradox when it comes to men's feelings about abortion, one that my very well-intentioned mother taught me years ago. We want and need men to care about every aspect of reproduction, from being enthusiastic users of contraception to (when invited) devoted coaches in labor and delivery. Yet the danger in publicly focusing on men's feelings about abortion is obvious.
One danger is political: Anti-abortion advocates are all too willing to politicize any sign of grief or confusion after an abortion as evidence that the procedure is harmful and ought to be banned. Anti-abortion groups often frame the issue as one of father's rights: the more evidence of men's post-abortion grief or anger, the more potential fuel for the pro-life cause. Another risk is more personal. As my mum made clear, it can be very difficult for a woman to cope with her partner's turbulent emotions as she makes a decision about abortion.