Last Saturday, more than 600 protesters gathered outside a Charlotte, North Carolina, abortion clinic to shame women seeking abortions. Many urged that “abortion is a men’s issue, too.” Justin Reeder, founder of Men for Life, recently remarked, “The truth is, this is more a man’s issue than a woman’s issue…We forget about the men so often in this story.” Apparently what happens inside of women’s bodies actually matters more to men than women. But far-right abortion protesters are right about one thing: abortion affects men, too. Yet women disproportionately bear the shame, costs, and risks of abortion. Abortion benefits men–even when they won’t admit it.
How Abortion Benefits Men
When women don’t have abortions, they have children. Those children need at least 18 years of food, clothing, parenting, education, and myriad other costly forms of support. Single fathers are more likely than mothers to neglect these responsibilities. But they still have to pay child support, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars over the course of childhood. Abortion prevents men from paying for children they don’t want or never see. It protects them from a lifelong relationship with a partner they don’t want to be with. It ensures that both men and women can pursue educational and career goals. And, in the case of very conservative men from very conservative families, it may protect men from the stigma of an unwanted pregnancy.
These aren’t trivial benefits. Men who can’t afford child support can find themselves in bankruptcy. Teen fathers are more likely to dropout of college and high school. Ongoing conflict with a mother the father no longer has a relationship with is a source of chronic stress. And of course, the ability to have sex without fear of being forced to raise a child to adulthood is a significant benefit that frees men to think about more pleasant topics.
Why Men Don’t Get a Say
So if abortion benefits men, too, why don’t they get a say? Men’s inability to stop a partner’s abortion has been a rallying cry of the far-right for decades. The obvious answer, of course, is that the fetus is in the woman’s body. Most anti-abortion activists are undaunted by this. So here’s another issue: the odds of a man actually serving as the primary caregiver for a child he forces a woman to bear are vanishingly slim.
Dozens of studies have documented that men continue not to do their fair share of childrearing. Some studies even show that men see equal division of childrearing as a form of inequality. When couples don’t live together, the discrepancy grows even larger. Following a divorce, a third of men drop out of their children’s lives altogether.
It’s a fantasy to believe that a majority of men who want to stop their partners from having abortions actually want to raise the child. Instead, the mother will be stuck parenting a child she didn’t want–or worse, the child will end up in foster care. It’s just one more way the anti-choice movement has proven to be an anti-family movement.
Women Still Bear the Cost of Most Abortions
Researchers have paid little attention to the role men play in abortion. A small 1999 study found that only slightly more than 1% of men whose partners had abortions wanted their partner to complete the pregnancy. This suggests that men know they benefit from abortion. But what support do men offer? Not much. In an even smaller study, only half of men whose partners sought abortions even bothered to accompany their partners to the abortion clinic.
Women are still significantly more likely than men to pay for abortion, even though men earn more money than women. Women also bear all of the risk of abortion, and most of the stigma. Abortion clinic protesters, after all, don’t call men whores or sinners. They’re more likely to insist upon a man’s right to control his partner. Male abortion protesters are protesting abortion, not going to the local foster care office and petitioning to adopt unwanted children.
It’s a sign of the privilege that infects virtually every aspect of relationships between men and women. Men benefit from someone women do, while denying that benefit and demanding even more of women. The male anti-abortion movement is male fragility at its worst.