A woman’s right to choose whether to have a child was legally recognized in the landmark case of Roe v Wade in 1973, and the pro-choice movement has been focused on destigmatizing abortion ever since. In the internet age, this has often taken the form of first-person narratives by women. This was true when Shout Your Abortion was founded in 2015, and it was true last month, when the Alabama Senate passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country. In the nationwide upset that followed, a new hashtag, #YouKnowMe, called for women to share their abortion stories to highlight both the prevalence and emotional nuance of terminating a pregnancy. It went viral.
While the tens of thousands of responses were moving, they set another reality into stark relief: Men have not been sharing their experiences at an equal volume to women — and that needs to change. To help push this forward, we’ll be publishing a series of abortion stories from the perspective of men — as interviewed by the women with whom they went through the experience. We hope this will offer a path to a more balanced dialogue as well as lighten the burden on women, who feel called again and again to sacrifice their privacy (and, sometimes, comfort) to defend their humanity.
Below, Natalie interviews Rob about the abortion they went through last year.
I found out I was five weeks pregnant eight weeks into our relationship. When I told Rob, he told me he loved me. But he didn’t want to have a child, and terminating the pregnancy was a clear decision for him. It wasn’t clear for me, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel disappointed — in him for being so quick to decide, in us for letting an unplanned pregnancy happen, and in myself for not being prepared to take on something I always imagined wanting. But all things considered — I had just left my job to pursue a new career path, I didn’t have health insurance or any substantial savings, and I hadn’t known Rob long enough to know how sharing a child would impact us — having an abortion was the best decision we could make at the time. We’ve come a long way in the year since: Our careers are thriving, we’ve developed our relationship on our own terms, and we just moved in together. Every day since has been different, the emotions ebb and flow. Some days I still feel disappointed, but most days I feel empowered and outspoken about abortion as an issue; experiencing it instilled an urgency in me. Rob has slowly started speaking about it, too. Most days I’m proud of us and hopeful for our future.
Natalie: What was your preferred (or most common) form of contraception before I got pregnant, and did that change after?
Rob: I used condoms, but if the person I was with was on birth control, [relying on] that was preferred.
Before we were seeing each other, were you comfortable having conversations with women about birth control?
Not really. I feel like it was a conversation that was had before having sex for the first time, or at some point early on in the relationship, but always in the context of sex.
Were you worried about getting me pregnant?
Not worried, but there were times I thought about it because we hadn’t really had a thorough conversation about birth control. We met that first night, we were both kind of drunk, and we used a condom but then stopped using it without really talking about it further. I assumed you were on birth control because you felt comfortable with me doing that.
We’ve talked about how there was a disconnect in the way we communicated about it that first night. In hindsight, it should have been a different conversation that I think we both feel responsible for not having. How did you feel when I told you I was pregnant?
Everything kind of stopped. I was scared, I was worried, I didn’t really know how to react at first. But even though we hadn’t known each other for that long, I felt safe with you, and I felt like everything would be okay if I was doing it with you.
Was this your first time getting someone pregnant?
Did you feel like you had a say in whether I kept the pregnancy?
Yes, I felt like I had a say, but it was also your decision to make with your body, not mine.
Did this experience change the way you feel about abortion?
I was always pro-choice, but going through that process changes your perception of it. I can’t imagine not having the option, I think every couple should make that choice if they want to. If we weren’t able to choose, we would have had to figure out the alternative at a time that would have been very difficult.
How far did your mind go down the road of what would happen if I didn’t get an abortion?
Pretty far. I spent the whole day at Planned Parenthood thinking about what would happen if you didn’t go through with it. Telling my parents, telling my friends, changing my life — work, fun, friends….
Yeah but those things all seem trivial, don’t you think?
Yeah, they are trivial, but — money, a home, I don’t know — it put everything in my life into perspective and how it would have all changed.
When I told you I was pregnant, I was the first one to say, “We can fix this” or something along those lines. I felt like I had to lead with that out of fear, or maybe shame, but I jumped to that solution without knowing fully that’s what I wanted. Part of me wishes I didn’t so we could have had a more open conversation. Was it always the decision in your mind?
In the past I had always imagined that if I had gotten someone I was in a relationship with pregnant, I would keep the baby. But in reality, my only thought was to have the abortion. Maybe more time would have changed that, but it was still early in our relationship and that was difficult to think about.
I agree. How did you first feel when the decision was made? Was there any part of you that was disappointed?
I feel like the decision wasn’t fully made until you walked inside the doors, and even then it wasn’t fully clear, it could have gone either way. But I don’t remember having second thoughts. But that might have changed if we waited a couple of weeks.
Would you have been disappointed if I walked out and hadn’t gone through with it?
…Yeah. But we would have had more time to talk about it.
Do you think we should have taken more time?
Did you want kids at the time? Do you want them now?
I wanted kids in the future, and I still do, but I imagined having a kid when we were ready, not as an accident. I wanted them then and want them now, but that wasn’t how I imagined having one.
Did you tell people while you were going through it? After?
I only told two people while I was going through it and a few people afterward, but not many. The only person I felt comfortable talking about it to was a good friend who had an abortion with his girlfriend; it felt constructive for both of us to have that conversation. I didn’t want to complicate the decision by talking to too many people about it. But now that time has passed and you’ve encouraged me, I’m glad I’ve told more people about it.
How often do you think about it? How do you feel when you do?
I think about it almost every day. It’s something that I wish could have never happened, but it did and I still think that we made the best decision for us. I don’t regret it or feel ashamed, it’s just something I wish never had to happen, and it’s something I never imagined happening in my life.
Do you feel empowered to share your experience? Do you feel like it’s your story to tell?
I’d say that now I do, but it took time to get to this place. At first, I wouldn’t have wanted to talk about it publicly.
I think just time passing, being able to look back, coming to terms with it. Given what’s happening right now it feels like it is something I need to talk about, especially with other men.
Have you noticed that abortion experiences are almost exclusively shared by women? How do you feel about that?
Yeah, I’ve noticed that. I think that a woman’s experience with abortion is different than a man’s in the sense that they’re the ones who have to go through the procedure, but I think everyone needs to be talking about it. I think because it’s primarily talked about as “a woman getting an abortion” the responsibility falls on them to talk about it, but we’re losing a side of the conversation if men don’t participate: why they made the decision, what it means for them, and how they benefit from it.
What emotions have you experienced as legislation has been or is being proposed to limit reproductive rights?
Frustration, anger, sadness, confusion. It feels surreal to know that a woman signed this bill in Alabama or to hear these male legislators talk about restricting abortion despite knowing they cause pregnancy. It’s really sad.
Do you feel like you know how to support women right now?
Only to a small extent. I think opening up my own dialogue is the best way I can support women in my life. I should have gone to that [#StopTheBans] rally last night. I support abortion and I have my own story with it so I need to take more action to show up for women in that way.
Having an abortion was emotional for me in the sense that I’ve always wanted to be a mom and always assumed that if I got pregnant I would keep it. But that wasn’t actually a realistic outcome for me at the time, and coming to terms with that discrepancy made me sad. But abortion is a very normal part of health care, and I don’t always want to feel sad about it, but sometimes I feel like I make it more sad for you than it would be otherwise.
Yeah, I think I’ve always seen it as something normal. Things happen, and people have abortions, and that’s okay. I didn’t have as much of an emotional connection to it. As I said, I always imagined that if I got someone pregnant, I would keep it too, but the second it actually happened, it kind of changed how I’d always thought about it. It felt like the right thing to do, and something that should be normal.
So you’re not sad about it?
I’m sad that it happened, I’m not sad that we chose to have an abortion.
Do you have any questions for me?
Are you sad that it happened?
How has time changed how you think about it? Now that it’s been over a year, do you still feel the same way now as you did when we were going through it?
Sometimes. I think about the “what if” a lot; it weighs on me believing that on a certain level I think we would have been fine had we kept it. But there were so many other factors to consider, and in those regards, I still think we made the best choice we could. Time passing has made it easier to accept, and a majority of the time I feel okay about it. It’s given me the ability to participate in normalizing the conversation around it, which I try to do. I wish it never happened, but it did instill in me an understanding of how important reproductive rights are, and the urgency of acting on the issues that are happening right now.
Did you always want to have kids and do you want to have kids in the future?
Yeah, I always wanted to have kids, and I always wanted to have them relatively young. I still want kids, even though the current world kind of scares me. Sometimes I wonder if it happened again, would we make the same decision?
I sometimes wonder that, too.
Do you have an answer?
Yeah, neither do I.
Illustrations by Andrea Smith.