The Mourning After
The first four speakers were all "postabortive men," and they had all had a hard row to hoe. One of them was Jason Baier, now head of the Fatherhood Forever Foundation, who gave a heartfelt biography of his pre- and postabortion life: his secular Catholic upbringing, his parents' divorce, his "very low self-esteem." He told of joining the Air Force, going wild, drinking a bottle of Jack Daniel's every night and having sex with anyone who would. When his girlfriend got pregnant, he said, "I did everything I could to plead with her not to have the abortion." He said he offered to raise the child himself, but she aborted anyway. A nervous breakdown followed, then violent fighting with and separation from his girlfriend, diagnosis of severe depression and psychosis, cocaine and marijuana use and, nearly, a suicide. All, he told the group, because of "what I had lost."
Individually, it is difficult to turn a deaf ear to these histories. But the stories that men's PAS activists present are strikingly homogeneous and uncannily close to familiar conservative culture-war narratives: indulgence in the dissolute mainstream culture, confrontation with abortion, unraveling and then some sort of redemption. Of the millions of men who have been exposed to abortion's harmful potential, a goodly number will be those who pushed the woman to abort; these men, down the road, will suffer extreme guilt. Another goodly number will be those whose partners aborted either without telling them or even though they begged for the life of the child; these men will suffer from extreme grief.
And if women's pain from abortion has been ignored, men's has been ignored all the more because men have been marginalized in our feminist, feminized society. Here the story gets entwined with traditional, and essentialized, ways of seeing men. Because a man's instinct is to protect and provide for his offspring, his very masculinity is challenged when his child, born or unborn, is killed. And because men tend to deny their emotions--their "pain is taboo in our culture," said one conference presenter--they avoid thinking about abortion. Their "impacted grief," exposed as anger, leads them down many nasty roads--inability to connect with others being a key one but also abuse of drugs or alcohol, sex addiction, impotence, abuse of pornography, depression. Finding God seems to be one thing that helps.
Over and over again in the basement of St. Mary's, PAS men and researchers alike argued by anecdote: "You cannot debate an experience," one said. "Testimonies don't lie," said another. "We can't fight the game of numbers," said a third.
And it's true: you cannot debate an anecdote. But you can debate a generalization, and there are many problems with theirs. To begin with, if the science on women's PAS is bad, what exists on men is junk. Mainstream researchers, psychologists and professors agree there is no valid research on PAS and men. Even Catherine Coyle, a researcher who has devoted herself to proving that abortion has widespread deleterious effects, said at the San Francisco gathering that the twenty-eight studies of men and abortion undertaken since 1973 are marred by small sample size, poor measurement tools, lack of control groups and other methodological flaws.
Second, listening to those who treat PAS in men, you realize that they are leading men to blame their abortion experiences for pre-existing and subsequent problems--in ways that mental health experts, including the APA's Stotland, compare to the role of therapists in generating the epidemic of recovered memories of sexual abuse in the 1990s.
Indeed, getting men to accept the PAS claims usually entails breaking down their denial of their emotions. Greg Hasek, executive director of the Misty Mountain Family Counseling Center in Portland, Oregon, organized the 2005 Men's Summit on PAS in Kansas City, Missouri, where he helped create the Men and Abortion Network, a men's PAS task force. He is one of the men's PAS speakers making the rounds, including in San Francisco, and with his fast talk and in-your-face manner, his approach is an awful lot like that of a used car salesman.
Since 2001 Hasek has seen thirty-five to forty men a week. He says he is now testing his hypothesis that postabortion men are at increased risk for sexual addiction. "What the pornographers in this country and the abortionists in this country don't want us to do is put the dots together," he proclaimed. Luckily, Hasek will do that for us. If a man walks into his clinic, the counselor explained, that client fills out a form that includes a question about abortion. That's step one: since half the men who fill out this form, says Hasek, have abortion in their past, he's got a pretty large population to work on. The next step is getting over denial about the abortion's impact. There are a lot of ways to do this. Sometimes he asks the man to draw a picture of what the aborted child might have looked like today. If that doesn't work, he plays sentimental music. "Guys can't withstand it," he told the conference; they cry. And if that doesn't work, he might take the guy to a playground and ask him to think about how old the child would be, to see if the guy can "connect" to his grief that way.
It's hard to get past the sheer fabrications--of data and emotions--that are going on in the men's PAS movement. But the bigger picture is worth seeing: PAS is a political strategy masquerading as a psychological crisis. And men's PAS is that and then some.
That's because in addition to suffering from the effects of abortion, postabortive men are also suffering from the effects of feminism. The clues to this culture-war agenda are hidden throughout the men's PAS materials. The San Francisco conference was speckled with references to being "politically incorrect" with a sort of glee at confronting the culture head-on; it was filled with oblique references to what the women's movement has done to men's emotional lives--a grown-up version of Christina Hoff Sommers's The War Against Boys. Did you know, for instance, that the form of women's healing is a "bowl," while the form of men's healing is a "spear"? (Subtle, this.) Or that women heal through communication, while men heal through action? Because of the protocols of modern therapy, the story goes, men are essentially battered into women's ways of healing, and they are deprived of an outlet for true healing.