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There is a lot of research papers on abortion, which are predominantly focused on its implications regarding the women involved in the process. By contrast, research paper about abortion discussing the men involved in the process has been quite limited. In Australia, there is no standard national database that records abortions, and moreover legislation differs across different states and territories. Owing to these limitations, obtaining a nation-wide estimate of abortions undertaken is difficult however according to information published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS; 2015) 83,210 known females between the ages of 20 and 29 have had an abortion. This would place the national rate of abortion at 2 per every 1,000 women or 2% between the ages of 15 to 44 (typical childbearing years).
In every pregnancy at least one man is involved and thus there are at least 83,210 men in Australia who have been at some stage affected by abortion. This is a significant number, even if it is small proportionate to the overall population, and illustrates the need for more research around the mental health of men in response to abortion grief – a common reaction to the, and during the event of abortion. It should also be noted that this number of both men and women effected by abortion is likely to be an underestimate, due to the aforementioned limitations, and that the number of abortions in Australia is said to be higher than those accounted for in Germany and the Netherlands.
Although the research pertaining to men and abortion is limited, a few studies have been identified nonetheless. One of the first known studies regarding men and abortion was conducted by Gordon and Kilpatrick (1977), the researchers undertook a number of group counseling sessions in an abortion clinic specifically for men accompanying their partners. The study noted that most of the men hid their emotions from their partner so as to be more supportive. The study also reported the men feeling anxious, guilty, regret and confused. Throughout the group counseling session, the researchers had claimed that among the men who participated, denial, projection, intellectualization, and withdrawal were observed. According to the study these projections were seen as defense mechanisms.
Confusion and denial of fatherhood was found in another study by Rothstein (1978). Rothstein interviewed men (N=66) who had accompanied their partners to the abortion clinic using open-ended questions. Rothstein claimed that their research demonstrated that men felt torn between wanting to be a supportive partner, and wanting to have the baby and become a father.
Patterson (1982) conducted a survey at an abortion clinic and found that 77% of the male respondents agreed that the most effective way to support their partners going through abortion was to hide their emotions. These men said they were not able to talk their partners into keeping the child, suggesting that women have an upper hand when it comes to the abortion decision.
By far, the largest study conducted on men and abortion was by Shostak and McLouth (1984). The study involved 1,000 men from 30 abortion clinics in the United States in an initial survey, and a follow-up survey with 75 of the initial male participants. The survey sought to measure men’s thoughts on the unborn child that had been aborted. Less than a third reported not having had any thoughts about the abortion while 9% claimed having had frequent thoughts. Only 11% had opposed their partners’ decision while the rest had suppressed their emotions. If Shostak and McLouth’s (1984) study is a good reflection of the male experience in the United State, its findings could be extrapolated to Australia which has a similar cultural context.
Coyle (1997) used forgiveness therapy (N=10) on the men who felt that their partner had hurt them by getting an abortion. Coyle noted emotions such as high levels of anxiety, anger and grief prior to the start of the therapy, and a significant reduction in them post-treatment compared to those in the control. At three months follow-up she still found a significant positive effect in the treatment group. Asides from emotions such as anger, anxiety, grief, helplessness and issues such as relation problems another constant theme was that of role confusion. This latter problem was related back to the notion that they felt they had been denied fatherhood. Most of the male participants also admitted as with the other two studies, that they had hid their true emotions on the matter.
Taking a slightly different approach and examining the effects of adolescent pregnancy on adulthood, Buchanan and Robbins (1990) investigated and found that men who experienced a partner going through abortion at adolescence had higher distress scores than men who were fathers at adolescence. Coleman and Nelson (1998) also claimed that 51% of the male students in college who went through an abortion experience that they surveyed (N=23) reported feeling regret. The researchers commented that men are likely experience more stress post-abortion because they have had limited opportunities to voice out their opinion.
Lauzon et al. (2000) conducted a study with two groups of participants (N=?). The control group consisted of couples who had not gone through an abortion; whilst the test group consisted of couples who had gone through an abortion during the first trimester of the pregnancy. After the abortion took place, 17% of the men said they believed that the abortion had a negative impact on their relationships with their partners, 30% said they wish they had been given counselling, and 21% of the men who had been present during the procedure (70% of the male participants in total), 21% called it a traumatizing experience. The study illustrated that first trimester abortions can be distressful for both partners.
Kero and Lalos (2004) also followed a similar approach as Lauzon but focused on the men. They distributed pre-abortion surveys to 75 men whose partners had applied for abortion. The survey covered topics on psychosocial history, living conditions, relationship issues with partner, type of contraception used, reason for abortion, records of previous abortion and how the decision was made for the abortion. The participants stated the abortion would bring about a relief and release from responsibility but had also claimed to feel guilty. A follow up study was done 4 months after the abortion, where the authors interviewed 26 of the men. 16 of the men felt positive while the rest still had negative thoughts lingering.
Holmes (2004) however posited a differing opinion regarding the conclusion that Kero & Lalos (2004) had arrived at: they felt that the men interviewed did not feel comfortable being truly open about their experiences because they felt that their true beliefs, if expressed, would be met with disdain by wider society. Thus, they only responded in ways they believed their female partner would approve of/in ways that were supportive of their female partner.
What can be summarized from the research paper is that emotions and experiences such as grief, anxiety, guilt, helplessness, and anger are common for men who have experienced a female partner going through an abortion. Men’s negative experienced are also frequently characterized by role confusion, and the notion that they lost/were denied fatherhood. The theme of repressed feelings and an inability to express one’s true feelings both during the abortion, and even later during the research, was consistent in the literature. Such noted findings illustrate that abortion can be a psychological risk factor for men’s mental health, and also a risk factor for causing a relationship to break down.
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