In the early 1980s, anti-abortion forces began to heed criticism that their reverence for the fetus came at the expense of women. In short order, Crisis Pregnancy Centers sprang up around the country. Armed with baby blankets and diapers, they preached that having an abortion not only kills “unborn children,” but leaves women grieving and dysfunctional. Shortly thereafter, they coined the term Post Abortion Syndrome— the feelings of guilt, shame, and sadness that supposedly follow the surgery. Then came the specious link, decried by the American Medical Association, between abortion and breast cancer.
Now, after years of riding the talk show circuit with these assertions, the anti-choice movement has conjured a new victim: men.
“Lost Fatherhood,” a workshop at the 35th annual Right to Life Convention this June, brought psychologist Greg Hasek and attorney David Wemhoff together to describe the adverse mental health risks for men whose partners have abortions. It’s a message sure to resonate with media, coupling “sensitive” men who confide their feelings with hard-core misogyny.
Hasek, a licensed marriage and family therapist at a Christian counseling center in Oregon, began the session by blaming abortion and feminism for the crisis in American families. “Women are angry at us and believe we’ve hurt them,” he begins. “But men also hurt even though they don’t come to therapy and say, ‘Hi, I’m struggling with abortion.’ Men hurt through their symptoms and show anger as a way of processing grief. When they feel shame, they hide because the shame is so powerful.”
That shame, he continues, may be buried in addictions. But the catalyst? “One of the pains in men’s lives is abortion. He may have pressured the woman to abort or encouraged her to have the abortion. He may have abandoned the woman, saying, ‘It’s up to you.’ He may have unsuccessfully opposed the abortion or learned about it after the fact.”
Men who are kept out of the abortion decision are always the angriest, Hasek adds. “They have higher rates of domestic violence, child abuse, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and an inability to bond with children, stepchildren, their spouse, or God. Half are pornography addicts or have other addictions. Their unresolved pain about abortion comes out in their symptoms. Remember the Garden of Eden? We have a community of Adams.”
Gender relations are at the core of Hasek’s analysis. “God created men to care for women and children. Women look to men for decisions. The fear of abandonment—powerful in most women—means that they’ll choose love from a man over love from a child.”
New Age gobbledy-gook meets age-old sexism as Hasek describes his ideal universe where, not surprisingly, abortion is illegal, autonomous females are non-existent, and men are in charge as “the husbands and fathers God created them to be.” Wemhoff goes even further, lambasting contemporary feminism for diverting the culture away from “how men and women are hard- wired. Men are meant to protect and provide, building a family. It’s the natural law, the will of God,” he says.
Dead-beat dads and the physically or sexually abusive seem to evaporate in this worldview. “There are lots of men out there who are willing to raise a child,” Wemhoff says. As he speaks, he becomes visibly distraught, angry. His personal pain— which he says emerged after he told his girlfriend it was okay for her to end a pregnancy 20 years ago— seems heartfelt. The audience reacts sympathetically. Tears flow. “It was important for me to acknowledge that what I did was a sin,” Wemhoff says. “Once I did that I could find healing from God.”
Such confessions are central to Hasek’s reparative therapy. “God never turned his back on me,” Hasek says. Like Wemhoff, he got someone pregnant and was complicit in choosing abortion. “He laid repentance on my heart. That’s key. I confessed my sin in the abortion. I gave it to God and knew I’d been forgiven.”
Men’s mental health woes, he implies, require them to get on their knees, confess their transgressions, and make peace with God. Hasek does not say whether this will stem sex addictions, end drug or alcohol abuse, or stop men from abusing their partners or children, he believes that men’s testimonies about the “pain of abortion” will go a long way toward strengthening families and curing pathologies. “We have to make a bigger deal about how abortion affects men,” he says. “Psychological woundedness is powerful. We are our brothers’ keepers.”
Eleanor Bader is a freelance writer, teacher, and co-author of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism.