'Fathers Have Virtually ZERO Rights'

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

Those are the words of the second reader below. But first, this one writes:

While I agree that having an abortion should be a woman’s decision, it’s not just a woman’s decision. I am a woman myself, and my significant other and I had a scare not too long ago. I asked him what he wanted to do if I were pregnant, and he said “I don’t care. It’s your body and your choice. I’ll stand behind whatever decision you make.”

Although I am grateful for his support at that time, IT WASN’T JUST MY DECISION. Men: Take a note. If you impregnated a woman, it’s your choice too. It’s not just her DNA growing in that womb; it’s yours too. You have every right to stand up and say “I want to keep this child and have a life with you” or “I’m not ready yet.” If a woman asks you what YOU want to do, think it over and tell her. Being pregnant when you’re not ready is a scary and confusing thing and it means the most to us when you stand up and let us know what you want.

Eventually, my significant other did tell me what he would have wanted to do after we confirmed I wasn’t pregnant: He would have wanted it. He would have stayed in my life, and our child’s, and would have never regretted it. I’m not saying having an abortion is wrong; I’m saying that if you helped make the pregnancy, you should have just as much say as the other person.

We have already heard several stories and perspectives from men confronting abortion—here, here, and here. The following man’s email is a stark contrast to the earlier one from the woman who “never told the ‘father’” because her pregnancy and abortion were “none of his business”:

I was reading some of the amazing personal abortion stories posted in the Notes section of your website. I feel, especially as a man, that I should share my story about how my wife and I were placed in the same situation as many of your readers: ending a life that we had already grown to love, OR bring a child into the world knowing the suffering it would endure. Being thrust into a situation where you’re having to choose whether your own child lives or dies, no matter the outcome, was no less emotionally, physically, and spiritually painful for me, so I’ll make this brief.

My wife and I married young; I was 23 and she just 19. Just enlisting in the U.S. Army, we packed our bags for Europe. Prior to getting married though, we both agreed that we weren’t interested in having children of our own. We both took preventative measures via birth control pills and the religious use of condoms until I was ready to commit to a vasectomy. For four years we partied and lived carefree (between deployments, of course), completely content in just each other’s company. However, as she was heading back for a routine tonsillectomy, a last-minute pregnancy test confirmed that despite our best efforts to avert this situation, she was pregnant.

Disbelief, shock, anger, anxiety, dread—I remember a flood of emotions that day. But out of all those negative feelings, I noticed a glimmer of excitement of the thought of having a baby. There was one hitch, however: My wife was currently taking a very strong medication that, according to her doctor and the FDA, causes severe abnormalities in 100 percent of births. Now off the market, it was such a dangerous drug that it required a pregnancy test before each monthly refill.

Our first OB appointment was surreal. I saw what I nicknamed “my peanut” at just a couple of months via ultrasound and again, felt that twinge of excitement. Even though it had a heartbeat, I knew it was still just a bundle of cells. So imagine my surprise when I noticed that not only was I feeling true excitement, I was feeling love towards this living, growing thing.

Unfortunately the excitement was cut short by our OB who asked, “So what is the plan?” We were stationed in Germany at the time and the medical care was amazing, but the approach to abortion a lot different. Ending the pregnancy never really crossed my mind, until the doctor gave us the rundown on all the terrible conditions our child could be born with. It wasn’t even an IF he was born with an abnormality; it was WHAT KIND, if not many—all being severe and all ensuring our child was going to grow up knowing nothing but pain and suffering.

Through many sleepless nights and long conversations, we decided on a “wait and see” approach. The hope that he might be born healthy was still there for the both of us, but it was short lived. The doctors explained that many disabilities, including the more severe, wouldn’t manifest till later on in the pregnancy which would be past the point of legal abortion in Germany. Insistent that our baby WAS going to be born with many health issues, our medical team relentlessly pressed us to end the pregnancy.

Being extremely young and independent, turning to our families for advice was a hard decision in itself. I already knew my father’s stance; growing up with a severely handicapped brother (also due to medication taken while in utero) took a very hard toll on him and my grandmother. He reminded me of the pain that my uncle lives with everyday, not to mention the severe financial struggle they endured because of the long-term medical care he has needed. “If you love the baby, don’t bring it into this world to suffer,” he would say. Everyone had their own opinions of course, but in the end it was my mother-in-law that had one simple answer: pray.

My wife and I believed in God, but weren’t the best in living a “Godly life,” and our beliefs state that “all life is precious and shouldn’t be taken unless extreme circumstances.” So where did we fall in? So even though we were unsure if we’d even get an answer, we prayed with torn hearts for almost two weeks.

Then one random afternoon we got our answer, at the same time we looked at each other and knew what needed to happen.

The office visits became fairly routine after our decision: Listen to the baby’s heart—CHECK; measure the babies growth—CHECK; ask to reconsider an abortion—CHECK CHECK. Up until my wife was almost five months pregnant, she was constantly asked to reconsider our decision. “If you’re going to do it you need to go ahead because after five months I have to send you to the Czech Republic,” her OB would always add and always with assurance we declined.

I’m not saying we KNEW our baby was going to be perfectly healthy, but what we did know is that no matter what happened, we could handle it. I knew it was going to be tough (to put it lightly), taking care of a child with severe physical and mental handicaps. But I was at peace with our decision and I knew without a doubt that there was a reason we needed to forego the abortion. And in my eyes, no matter what the capabilities of a child are, each child is a blessing and I was going to love him unconditionally, no matter what.

Fast forward: NOW my child is an extremely intelligent, funny, handsome nine-year-old little boy. He was born absolutely healthy, without even a small indication that things could have easily turned out different for us.

I know many facing this situation and ones similar aren’t religious, and I’m not attempting to imply that “all you need to do is pray and it will make everything a-okay!” But this is what worked for us, and without prayer, things could have turned out much differently.

I know my story got long, but it’s one I feel strongly compelled to tell, mainly because I’m grateful for two things: One, because of my mother-in-law’s advice and realizing I didn’t have to make a blindfolded decision. I could make one that not only was I confident in, but one that wouldn’t fill me with regret later. Second was the fact that I WAS able to help make the decision regarding my child, one that many fathers don’t receive. Fathers have virtually ZERO rights in determining the outcome of THEIR child.

Coming from my perspective as a man and also experiencing similar situations via close friends of mine, it seems as though we get lost in the arguments of “a women’s right to choose.” What about the man’s rights? Fathers often get overlooked and many don’t realize that for some men, the decision of an abortion is JUST as emotionally painful, with many carrying their guilt their whole life just like so many women. It can be equally devastating and heartbreaking learning your partner has terminated a pregnancy without your knowledge, especially in cases that I’ve seen firsthand, where the father would’ve HAPPILY taken the child and had the means to raise it in a comfortable and loving home.

But these fathers are often overlooked in the constant debate of women’s rights vs. child’s rights. If the child is kept and raised by the mother, many times the father is taken to court and through child support, legally bound to ensure the child is receiving proper care. The fathers in these situations are denied a choice, so why does it seem that so much attention is giving to the “mothers choice”?

Some may deny any parallels, considering it’s the women’s body and therefore her right to choose. So in considering this, there really isn’t an easy answer or fix. I just hope and pray that in the near future we can AT LEAST recognize the fathers’ feelings and one day perhaps give them a voice too.

Another would-be father’s voice:

My girlfriend and I found out we were pregnant recently, in the last week of January 2016. We have been in a happy, healthy, and committed relationship for a year. We were already openly talk about the possibility of starting a family together in the future—“future” being the key word, as we are both in our mid-to-late twenties at the start of careers, and my girlfriend is about to start graduate school in the fall while taking out student loans. In our plans, we didn’t see the possibility of raising kids for another 2-3 years, when we would be more secure with our finances and relationship.

Our situation was even more complicated due to the fact that we are currently in a long-distance relationship until Summer 2016, since I had previously committed to a temporary work contract in another state before we had even met the year before. Fortunately, my job brings me back to our hometown frequently so I can see her.

During one such work trip back home, my girlfriend expressed concern that her period was two weeks late. Although we use condoms every time, we immediately went to buy a pregnancy test, which came back positive. I immediately felt in shock, and I was distraught that I had not tried harder to convince her to use additional methods of birth control such as pills or an IUD. She was also in disbelief. As these thoughts swirled inside both of us, we outwardly tried to calm each other and talked about our options.

My girlfriend quickly decided to terminate the pregnancy. Although I immediately gave her my support in whatever she chose, my feelings were still in a jumble, and I seriously entertained the idea of having a child. Having a family is one of my main goals in life, and I felt conflicted to not embrace this opportunity, however surprising and untimely it was. After a good night’s sleep, however, pragmatism set in and I was 100 percent behind the decision to terminate.

Her health provider did not perform abortions, but they offered referrals to clinics. Unfortunately, Planned Parenthood did not have an available appointment for two weeks and I was scheduled to return to work out-of-state the next day. Her provider had agreements with another clinic that had an appointment available two days later, which my girlfriend preferred. I also wanted to be there through the process to support her and ensure her health, so I changed my flights on my own dime and stayed home.

The worst part was not feeling like I could tell my work and my family why I had extended my stay. Although I work for a liberal organization and come from a liberal family that is incredibly supportive, I still felt a taboo in discussing what we were going through. The clinic experience was fast, safe, and comfortable for her, which was amazing, but even the clinic did not have resources available for men to talk about their trauma.

It has been five days since the abortion and I have since talked to my sister and have plans to talk with a couple friends in person this coming weekend. I also plan to talk to my parents in the coming weeks once I have fully wrapped my head around what just happened, but I am still hesitant to talk to my boss. My girlfriend and I talk every day like we always do, although we are both experiencing a mild depression and feeling out of sorts at work, which we assume is normal. She is eager to get an IUD soon so we don’t go through this again. Ultimately, we’re both satisfied with our decision and are actively working to make this experience bring us even closer together.

Part of me wants to reveal my name to break the chain of taboo, but I know my girlfriend is not ready to share this with the public, and in all honesty I worry that this could impact my career. I feel weak requiring you to keep my name anonymous, but also empowered that I was at least able to share my experience and read those of others.