When I hear people debate pro-life versus pro-choice, I often wonder who in the argument has experienced an abortion. As with most debatable topics, it is easy to get into if you’ve never actually had to face it.
A couple years ago I decided to share my experience with abortion on my own blog. The title of the post was “Abortion: What It Feels Like for a Man.” Plenty of people told me the title made them raise an eyebrow in skepticism, but after reading it, they realized I had the right to share my experience.
Recently, New York Magazine took a similarly personal approach to the pro-life/pro-choice discussion by publishing a cover story called “My Abortion.” The writer, Meaghan Winter, talked to 26 women who opened up about what they went through, some of whom also agreed to be photographed. Winter writes:
“Abortion is something we tend to be more comfortable discussing as an abstraction; the feelings it provokes are too complicated to face in all their particularities. Which is perhaps why, even in doggedly liberal parts of the country, very few people talk openly about the experience, leaving the reality of abortion, and the emotions that accompany it, a silent witness in our political discourse.”
Her piece is a powerful and provocative framework for discussing this highly charged issue, and it brought back feelings of my story, and the way I felt after I shared it. It happened more than 11 years ago, the summer in between my sophomore and junior years of college, and while I don’t think about it everyday, like I once did, I have never forgotten it.
The New York Magazine story mentions a startling statistic: One in three women has an abortion by the age of 45. What the article doesn’t mention is that every single one of them involves a man. I understand that there are many men who are the enemy to abortion rights, enacting legislation that makes it more difficult for women to do what they decide is best for their lives and their bodies. But we can be allies, too, standing beside women and, in some cases, standing up for them and their right to choose. We can listen, and though not understand the pain they feel, emotionally and mentally, we can be in concert with a woman because we know what it feels like to be a part of that decision.
I talked to three men who graciously shared their sides of an abortion story. This is not an easy topic for guys to discuss. For the men who did open up, all of them asked to change their name, just like some women did in the New York Magazine story. I obliged, but I hope as a result of hearing these men, more guys are willing to step up and interject some personal experience in the politics. Women need to know that we feel an abortion, too.
New York City
It was 1998, and I was 17 going on 18. I was in my senior of high school, and she was a junior. We just finished messing around, actually, and then she said, “I have something to tell you: I think I’m pregnant.” I was like, “What?” Before she even took the test, she started asking me what we were going to do. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about keeping it. I think I could’ve talked her out of an abortion. If I said things like I’d be a good father to the child or even if I told her I was against abortion, I feel she would’ve kept it.
But I think she also knew my situation: I started getting college acceptance letters, and I knew I was heading down South for school. She still had a year to go at a good Catholic school. Last but not least, to be honest, I didn’t want to deal with the consequence of telling my parents. The conversation teetered off to not doing it, but it went back quickly to us getting it done.
It cost $275. I paid for it by taking money from an account that my dad had set up for me. Only he was putting money into it. We went to this spot in the Bronx, N.Y. As we drove there, I asked her if she was OK, because, you know, it wasn’t my body about to go in for a medical procedure. Some guys don’t think about that, but I didn’t feel comfortable going inside with her, so I waited outside in the car. When she came back, she was in tears.
I had nightmares for a while after. It wasn’t consistent, but every now and then. Eventually, I even asked her if it was mine because my conscience was getting hit hard by the whole thing. I was looking for a way out. My dad accused me of stealing money, and I had to explain it was for a real reason. I wasn’t stealing it. I had no choice. His response wasn’t what I expected. For my dad, lying, cheating, and stealing are his cardinal sins, so he thought I committed one of those. But when I had an understandable motive, he let that part slide. I didn’t get in trouble. I wasn’t grounded. I guess he understood the magnitude of the situation I was in, and I guess he thought I was handling it with a certain level of maturity because I said I had to take care of it. He and I never talked about it again. He never even told my mother.
This was in 1992. I was 26. My girlfriend at the time and I already had children from previous marriages. She told me over the phone she was pregnant. I said, “Are you sure?” She was sure. She took a test. I was surprised and not happy. I felt betrayed, because I often suggested using protection and her thing always was, I’m telling you, I’m not trying to have a baby any more than you are. I thought precautions were being taken.
I said, “Hey, we don’t want any more kids, anyway.” She said, “Well, I’m not sure. It’s something I have to think about.” What it caused me to experience is powerlessness. All the power you have to create this situation—now you have no power to rectify it one way or another.
In terms of being supportive, I made it very clear I was not in support of bringing a baby into the world. That probably lasted for a week until she made her final decision. She was going to keep the baby. While I was not happy about it, at least it was a decision. I may as well come to grips with it, sooner rather than later, so I was accepting of it. Still, we broke up, because all the feelings of betrayal. I needed a break.
I can’t remember how long it was; maybe a few weeks went by before she decided to change her mind. So now I’m faced with another mixture of feelings. I’m somewhat relieved, but then there’s suspicion, like, why was she sure two weeks ago? Was I the only possibility? But what it boiled down to was that we both weren’t in the best financial place because we were reeling from our own divorces. It wasn’t a good thing. I think what happens is the man tends to really walk that line very carefully with a woman. No matter what decision she makes, especially if she makes the decision you kind of wanted in the beginning, you can’t seem too joyous about it, and as a matter of fact I wasn’t very joyous about it. So I was walking very carefully with this thing.
We began to make arrangements, and I was very active in that as well. At the time, there was no Google. I was trying to find the right place, arranging an appointment and how she was going to get there. I put things in motion immediately. Clinics were pretty much right here in the area, but the thing about them was you almost had to be from that culture where they were. There wasn’t signs out. The clinics are unremarkable places.
The day of the abortion, I left to pick her up at 7; the appointment was at 9. I went in the house, and it had the feel of an execution, which is another reason I wanted to get it done when she first told me. Early on, it feels like it’s pregnancy, it’s just a thing, it’s not a person. But as weeks go by, you see more babies and pregnant women than you have ever seen in your life—you just see them everywhere.
I paid for it. It was $200. By now we were back to being friends again at least. There were not a lot of guys in the waiting room. There weren’t a lot of people in there, maybe seven or eight, but me and another guy were the only guys there. When they called her to come to the back, it was rough for me. I think it may have been about 45 minutes. She comes out and she had been crying, which of course was a really hard thing for me to see. We stared at each other, and she says, “OK, let’s go.” I felt a sad relief. It was bittersweet. It doesn’t leave you.
I was a sophomore in college in Atlanta, and my girlfriend was going to college in another state, so she told me she was pregnant over the phone. it was maybe a couple of weeks before we were actually able to see each other and talk about it.
Both of us were stereotypical good kids who did all the things we were supposed to do. Graduated high school, did well in school, went off to college, made our moms and dads proud. In our relationship we talked about things like abortion. We both were pro-choice but said that wasn’t going to be our choice. Then this happened. I think I brought it up. I said, “Well, you’re pregnant, and I’m going to respect whatever decision you want to make, but this is how I feel.” If we quit school, got jobs, included our parents in the conversation, well, having a baby, raising a baby, was something that was possible, but it would have changed our lives in a drastic way. We both wanted to be together, and I truly believed that even if we decided to have an abortion, this wouldn’t be our last opportunity to have children.
She felt similarly but there was also a lot of guilt, and both of us didn’t believe we were right. We agreed that whatever decision we made, it was going to be one we made together. Even though to me I was like, this is her decision, she really empowered me. We were on the phone a lot. I still felt like I was making these decisions on something that ultimately wasn’t my decision to make, so being conscious of the fact that this is not my body, I won’t be going through the changes.
We looked up what was going to be the most affordable and most healthy way to do it. Doing research and figuring out all these things was trying to make up for me not being able to be there. I think I came up with a list of like three places that seemed trustworthy and were affordable. I remember us not having cash to pay for it, so I used a credit card to cover the cost. It was $400. I think of it like, anytime a crime happens they look at who bankrolled it. Paying for it put me right there with it as much as I possibly could.
That day, I slept in in the morning and skipped class. Sleep was the best way to avoid thinking about it all. I slept until noon and I remember checking my cell phone for messages. What if she changes her mind? She called me right afterward. I asked her how things went. She said everything was good. She said she thought she was OK. I asked what they recommended. What did she need from me? I don’t remember what she said after that.
What I do remember, though, after it happened I made a trip without telling her. The stress of not being there just wasn’t cool. At the time, we were doing AirTran, and you could do a standby flight for $60 one way. I remember waiting the whole day. After about two or three flights, I finally got a seat. It was the only thing I could do that showed I was supporting. Once I got to her city, I went to her place. When I got close, I called her and told her I was there. We hugged for a long time. Tears on her part and relief on mine that she was OK. We’re married now. We’re not trying to have children at this time but we definitely will be.
Jozen Cummings is a contributing editor at The Root. His column, His Side, brings us men’s perspectives on the latest events in news and pop culture. He is a writer for the New York Post, where he covers the blind date column, Meet Market, and writes for his own blog, Until I Get Married. Follow him on Twitter. He can be reached at jozenc@untilIgetmarried.com.
Jozen Cummings is the author and creator of the popular relationship blog Until I Get Married, which is currently in development for a television series with Warner Bros. He also hosts a weekly podcast with WNYC about Empire called Empire Afterparty, is a contributor at VerySmartBrothas.com and works at Twitter as an editorial curator. Follow him on Twitter.