'Abortion Is Not Solely a Woman's Story'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

From one of the few male readers to contribute to our abortion series thus far:

The ultimate decision is the woman’s. (As the old Southern saying goes, men are involved; the woman is committed.) But men need to realize that abortion is not solely a woman’s story.

I was 18, a college student, when a friend became pregnant the first time we had sex. It was, hard to believe, only the second time either of us had intercourse. We both knew immediately that we did not want to have a child. Abortion was still illegal, so it was a “friend of a friend” who put us in touch with someone (I have no idea if it was even a doctor; we were assured that “he knows what he’s doing”) in a state 800 miles away.

My friend went by herself. A friendly college advisor loaned us the money but didn’t want any further involvement due to the illegality. During the most traumatic event of my young life, I had no one to turn to.

Our friendship failed soon after; neither of us had any idea how to deal with this. We saw each other several decades later. We both had families and agreed that we had done the right thing.

In the 45 years since, I have never told anyone about this. But you can use my name, Peter Noris.

If you are also a guy who went through an abortion with a woman and want to share your perspective, drop us an email. That last line from Mr. Noris—giving us permission to use his name—stuck out for me because almost all of the dozens of women who have emailed their abortion stories have preferred to remain anonymous. One of the few women to allow her name be used, Danielle Lang, makes a core point about the social stigma that accompanies abortion:

I am one of the lawyers featured in the amicus brief profiled in Emma Green’s note, and, per your request, I’m happy to share my story (you are certainly free to use my name). My story is simple and unremarkable in its details but, of course, remarkable to me because access to abortion undeniably changed the course of my life. Here is what the brief said about me:

I had an abortion when I was 22. I was three weeks pregnant after a contraception failure, single, waiting tables for a living, and studying to apply to law school. At the time, I did not have the mental, emotional, or perhaps most importantly, economic resources to have a child. Living in New York, I was fortunate to have easy access to the services I needed. However, because of the arbitrary limitations Pennsylvania put on abortion coverage in health insurance plans, my Pennsylvania-based health insurance did not cover my abortion and I had to pay for it on credit. The following spring I was admitted to Yale Law School. . . After graduation, I served as a law clerk to [a Judge on the federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit] . . . and worked as a Skadden Fellow at a legal aid office in Los Angeles representing . . . victims of wage theft. During that time, I collected hundreds of thousands of stolen wages for individuals workers and worked with litigation teams that collected millions more for low-wage workers and victims of human trafficking. Both NPR and the L.A. Times chronicled my clients’ stories. I have been published in the Yale Law Journal and the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law. . . The foregoing is not meant to congratulate myself for my achievements but only to highlight all that would have been impossible if I became a mother before I was ready. I cannot imagine that I would have gone to law school in that circumstance. I now look forward to the opportunity to have a family and encourage my children to follow their own dreams and work for the public good. I can lead by example. I am thankful every day for that opportunity.

I have never regretted it. I will say, however, that the experience was extremely difficult for me. It was not difficult because I felt guilty, but rather because I felt acutely that society now judged me as a woman that must shamefully hide my experience. As a young woman, I did not have the emotional resources to process this sudden transformation into a woman societally marked for shame. It was particularly difficult because it was so obvious that the man involved did not feel marked in the same way.  I recently wrote about this feeling in an essay on Medium:

What was very difficult, however, was suddenly finding myself a person with something to hide. I had always prided myself as being someone willing to be honest about who I was, mistakes and all, of which my abortion was, as I understood it, not included.

But the first rule of abortion (for women) is that you don’t talk about your abortion. As far as I can tell, this rule applies even to women who are otherwise proud, confident, and pro-choice. They are happy to shout about women’s right to have an abortion — just not their own.

I felt, too, this obligation to shroud my abortion in private remorse. It was as if we’d all struck some sort of societal bargain that women could have the right to choose so long as they were properly ashamed. But I didn’t agree. I still don’t. It struck me as particularly unfair that I was saddled with the weight of this perverse social contract while the man involved was not. While the right lies with the woman, the decision to have an abortion is, often, made by men and women alike and together. Mine was. Yet, the vitriolic, slaveholder comparisons, are graciously reserved for the women who have abortions, not the men by their sides. Abortion is considered a women’s problem, for which women must pay the price.

Thanks for drawing attention to this important brief. If you have any questions for me, I’d be happy to talk further about this topic.

If you have a question for Ms. Lang, let us know.