The Mourning After
More important, the men's PAS healers share with their colleagues in the broader men's movement a distinct sense that on parental issues, the legal system is stacked against them. "When it comes to reproduction in America today," wrote fathers' rights columnist Glenn Sacks about a man's failed bid to block his ex-girlfriend's abortion, "women have rights and men merely have responsibilities." It is the most common lament of men's rights activists: if a woman decides to have a child, a man must support her for eighteen years, but if a woman decides not to have a child, through abortion, a man has no say. "With the widespread acceptance of abortion," declared Rue in San Francisco, "equality is aborted."
But the movement finds itself in a bit of a muddle when it comes to figuring out what to do about this double standard. Men's rights activists have mainly worked on issues with born children: custody rights, child support. The issue of men's reproductive rights is more complicated. It took the spotlight briefly a few years ago, when Dalton Conley, then-director of New York University's Center for Advanced Social Science Research, argued on the op-ed page of the New York Times, "If a father is willing to legally commit to raising a child with no help from the mother he should be able to obtain an injunction against the abortion of the fetus he helped create." (One prominent fathers' rights lawyer, Jeffery Leving, did persuade an Illinois judge some years back "to enjoin a pregnant woman from removing a child from the state's jurisdiction." In other words, the judge forbade the abortion.)
This is, of course, the most radical possible direction, one that seems blind to the problem of forcing women to be vessels for unwanted children. It also raises a problem for the antiabortion crowd. Says Baier of the Fatherhood Forever Foundation, "If you are going to give men the right to prevent it [abortion], you are also going to give men the right to force it." Mel Feit, director of The National Center for Men, proposes to resolve that conundrum with what he calls a "Roe v. Wade for men." Feit, who describes himself as prochoice, believes that when a man and woman have agreed not to have children and a woman becomes pregnant, a man should have, within a week or ten days, the opportunity to relinquish, through the courts, his rights and responsibilities to be a parent to that child, just as a woman has the opportunity to end her potential parenthood through abortion.
While men's rights and PAS activists work out this rights puzzle, however, there is a more overtly politicized effort with regard to men's PAS in the works: the collection of legally valid declarations, sometimes notarized, from men and women telling their postabortion stories. The Texas-based Operation Outcry spearheaded this effort among women starting in 2004, and hundreds of these testimonies were entered into the legislative hearings in South Dakota and almost every other state that has considered an abortion ban in the past several years, as well as in court cases around the country. It is now collecting men's affidavits as well. "The Supreme Court is listening!" the project's website reads. "Help us collect a million declarations so we can show the Supreme Court how many have been hurt by abortion."
After the Carhart decision, Yale University law professor Jack Balkin blogged that thanks to the Kennedy opinion, "the new rhetoric of pro-life forces is no longer just rhetoric. It's now part of Supreme Court doctrine." In fact, the collection project specifically cites Kennedy's comment that there are "no reliable data" on PAS and states that the "most effective way to show the Court the magnitude of the problem is to collect a much larger number of testimonies."
Beyond men, PAS is becoming a family affair. There's some talk of PAS for siblings, otherwise known as Post-Abortion Survivor Syndrome, which is said to mimic guilt and fear suffered by Holocaust survivors. A combination of these emotions, writes Philip Ney, a prominent antiabortion researcher, "may result in angry, narcissistic, destructive young people. There are millions of abortion survivors who are all too ready to destroy or be destroyed." Ney and others are also working on PAS for grandparents who, "having aborted some of their children or having urged their children to abort...[will] have a deep fear of retaliation."
Suddenly, using nothing but anecdote framed in scientific forms, a single abortion has not one victim, or even two, but three or four or five. And beyond that, millions of abortions have millions of victims: one in four women, and by extension one in four men, and one in four parents, and countless children, until society itself is a victim, filled with all sorts of personal and interpersonal tragedies of divorce, drug use and suicide from which we--all Americans--need protection.
And that becomes a justification for many things: for banning abortion; for spousal notification laws, currently deemed unconstitutional (though the new Supreme Court, in a new political climate, could change that); for compelling women to hear fabricated dangers in the name of "informed consent"; for coercing women into carrying children they do not wish to bear; even for murder--the very kind of violent strategy that had seemed to be replaced by the empathetic stance of PAS.
In a surreal moment in San Francisco in November, Vincent Rue interwove his compassionate PowerPoint presentation on the suffering of the hollow men with a strange selection of text that flashed brightly on a black screen. It read: "'He was upset because it was his child and he was not consulted. It just broke him. When he found out about it, it just flipped him out.' --Emaline Kopp, Stepmother of James Kopp who killed NY abortion provider Dr. Slepian."
Now we understand. Pity the man.