The Mourning After
Pity the man who conceived four babies with four women and suffered anxiety attacks and nightmares after all four, with his consent, were aborted. Pity the man who saw his soon-to-be-born baby on an ultrasound and instantly came to believe that he "had killed two of my own kids" through abortion. Pity the man who abused alcohol after his girlfriend aborted. Pity the man who suffered a nervous breakdown, depression, psychosis and nearly suicide after his girlfriend had an abortion despite his pleas.
And pity these men who, wittingly or not, are allowing their pain to be co-opted for political gain. Whatever the cause of their suffering, it is real and they deserve support. But they are also the new face of the antiabortion movement: Post-Abortion Syndrome--for men. In conferences and counseling, they're being wrapped in the fuzzy blankets of men's healing, but behind these men and their stories are the same crackpot research, coercive counseling and policy-by-anecdote that have defined the antiabortion movement's tactical emphasis on women's suffering after abortion. It's a maxim among the antichoice crowd these days that there are "two victims of abortion"; the men's PAS movement wants to take that to three.
A casual prochoice activist might dismiss this movement out of hand. After all, politically speaking there's no great constituency for men's PAS. The men's rights movement--which fights to improve men's standing in custody, child support and fatherhood-related issues, on which they say the law favors women--doesn't particularly embrace men's PAS: men's rights advocates are divided on abortion, and besides, some say, the pain of losing a child to abortion simply doesn't measure up to the pain of losing one's born children. Plus, the Supreme Court has definitively told men, including husbands, that they have no rights when it comes to abortion, which leaves antichoice activists no judicial openings to revive, for instance, spousal notification laws.
Still, it's clear that men's PAS is a syndrome whose moment has come. The first conference dealing with men's pain after abortion was held in San Francisco last fall, and the National Right to Life Committee included men's PAS in its annual convention last summer. Many counseling centers dealing with women's postabortion suffering now include resources for men, while activist groups are collecting men's testimonies about their postabortion suffering for use in the courts.
This isn't all just coincidence, and it's not all about healing. Post-Abortion Syndrome has rocked the antiabortion world. It has given new humanity to a movement that even a decade ago seemed locked in violence and lacking in empathy. More important, by blaming abortion for divorce and child abuse, depression and drug use, sex addiction and suicide, it has given conservatives a very distinct culprit in the disintegration of American family values--and another argument for ending the thirty-five-year reign of Roe v. Wade.
Time was, fighting abortion was about the unborn: think "pro-life," and images of clinic protesters and posters of fetuses come to mind. But the softer side of the movement has been growing, embodied first and foremost in the argument that abortion hurts women. "Abortion hurts women" was a major rallying cry in the effort to ban abortion in South Dakota and other states, and in numerous informed-consent legislative efforts. Most recently, it is the target of "scientific" investigation by Missouri Governor Matt Blunt's Task Force on the Impact of Abortion on Women, convened in October and made up of abortion foes only.
In a coup for PAS advocates, Justice Anthony Kennedy echoed their argument in the Supreme Court's Gonzales v. Carhart decision, which upheld the "partial birth" abortion ban. "Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision...[which] some women come to regret," he wrote, not specifying but clearly referring to the assumptions of devastating harm. "In a decision so fraught with emotional consequence," he argued, "the State's interest in respect for life is advanced" by disclosing "the consequences that follow from a decision to elect a late-term abortion." Oddly, Kennedy asserted that not just pregnant women but everyone--"the political and legal systems, the medical profession, expectant mothers, and society as a whole"--would benefit from such disclosure. And one didn't sense late-term was his only concern: while acknowledging the dearth of "reliable data" regarding abortion, Kennedy signaled that if faced with better evidence that the procedure hurts women, he might give it a second look.