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.
When I was 18 and four weeks into a new relationship, I found out I was pregnant. The news was shocking and isolating. I had known my partner, Matthew, since I was 10, but things between us were still fresh, so we weren’t fully leaning on each other yet. For a while, I felt a real sense of disappoint in myself, and bullied myself into thinking I was stupid and irresponsible, as if I were the only woman to have ever done this.
Regardless, we were both still in education with our sights set on bright careers, so we both knew straight away that abortion was our only option. I was so scared to tell anyone in case they would judge me—it took me at least four months to tell my mum. The abortion itself was rather traumatic in my case, and I suffered from depression after it happened, but from day one, Matthew has been fully supportive. And I’ve never asked him if he has struggled with the decision since, so now is my opportunity to ask.
Violet: What was your preferred form of contraception before I got pregnant, and did that change after?
Matthew: Condoms. After, it was the pill.
Before we were seeing each other, were you comfortable having conversations with women about birth control? Are you now?
I didn’t feel awkward bringing it up because I wanted to establish the birth control we were going to use (which was condoms). So I suppose I did feel quite comfortable. I’m even more comfortable talking about it now since I’ve been with you.
Were you worried about getting me pregnant?
It never really crossed my mind. You think it’s never going to happen to you. Looking back, I should’ve been.
How did you feel when I told you I was pregnant?
I felt like an idiot because I saw myself responsible, despite it taking two of us for it to happen. My first thought was: Something has to be done, we can’t have a baby at this point in our lives.
Did you feel like you had a say in whether I kept the pregnancy?
Yeah. You could argue it’s your body and you can do what you want with it, but it would’ve completely turned both of our lives upside down. So I think yes, I did have a say.
But do you think because you knew I’d never want to go through with the pregnancy, that made your suggestion of abortion easier?
I didn’t think for an instant you’d turn around and say to me, “I want to keep it,” so I felt comfortable suggesting the abortion, yeah. Still, I think I would’ve felt like I had a say either way.
Did the fact you’re a practicing Catholic affect your position about having an abortion?
No. I think you need to put your own conscience and perception of what you think is right before anything like that. When you let religion sway your judgement and make decisions for you that conflict with your own moral compass, I think that’s when it can generate a bad name for itself.
I do wonder how people in my church would react if they found out. It’s not exactly a secret that Catholics oppose abortion. But I’ve never believed religion is like a manuscript; I don’t believe I have to abide by every teaching. I know some people would severely frown upon that, maybe go as far as saying I’m not a “proper Catholic,” but I believe we should be free to make our own choices.
There are a lot of things the church needs to address—I’m not ignorant to that just because I’m a part of it. Those who aren’t a part of it might look at the church from the outside and think it’s doing a lot wrong, but trust me when I say there are a lot in it who want it put right.
Did this experience change the way you feel about abortion?
I was never opposed to it. If anything I am more in favor of it now, of giving people the freedom of choice. Accidents happen. I don’t think people should have to go through with having a baby they’re not ready for. Isn’t that cruel for the baby, too? If we’d had a baby, it would’ve turned our parents’ lives upside down, too. We would have probably had to move in with either mine or yours, and how is that fair? There are so many things to consider.
How far did your mind go down the road of what would happen if I didn’t get an abortion?
I don’t think it went down that road at all. You were finishing up your last year of college (high school in America) and me my first year of university. We knew instantly where we both were at with the situation from the get-go.
We did have times when we talked about how different our lives would be, though, maybe in a sense to reassure ourselves we did the right thing.
We’d always dwell on it, yeah, but for me, it was never in a negative way. And I think you’re spot on. Whenever we do talk about it, it’s reaffirming the fact we made the right decision because I highly doubt we’d have gone on to be able to do the things we both had planned for ourselves.
How did you first feel when the decision was made?
I suppose I felt more foolish than anything. And when we established we were getting an abortion, I was relieved we were both on the same page.
Did you want kids at the time? Do you want them now?
I wanted them at the time. I was 19 and pictured myself having them mid-20s, although I’m nearly 24 now and can’t see myself having them anytime soon. I think I still want them, but my perception of parenthood has changed as I’ve grown older. I want to put our lives first. I want us to accomplish what we’ve set out to achieve, travel where we want to travel. I want to have children knowing the feeling is right. It’s easy to say “I want kids,” but having them when we’re ready is important to me.
Did you tell people while you were going through it?
My friend, yeah. He was older than me, so I saw him as a role model and confided in him. He and his girlfriend had gone through one so discussing it with him normalized it for me. I could also talk to you, but what we were going through was so different, so having someone outside of us was definitely good for me.
Did you tell people after?
I told a couple of close mates. I told my parents ages after.
You told them about four or five months after. We were going through a rough patch after because of the effect it had on me. I asked you to tell your parents so they knew what was going on with me.
I suppose I held off telling them because I was afraid they would be disappointed in me. Not for having the abortion, but for getting you pregnant. Although if I had told them at the time, I know they would have supported me.
How often do you think about it?
I probably think about it most days, but not in a negative way. I just reflect on the whole experience and think that it’s never something I want to go through again. I also look back and think how seamless it was, and am thankful that we had the choice.
Do you feel empowered to share your experience? Do you feel like it’s your story to tell?
I feel like it’s our story to tell. We went through it together and it’s something we’ll carry with us forever, hopefully.
As a man, though, do you feel empowered to share it?
I feel like it’s my duty to share it, especially now. I’ve gone through this and I think men need to speak up about their experiences. Abortion is a woman’s right, but it’s also a human right. That’s how I feel anyway.
Do you have any concerns about speaking out about it?
I don’t have any concerns speaking out about it. I don’t care if someone judges me, they can judge all they want. If it ever happened to them hopefully they’d understand the importance of the choice we made.
Do you have any questions for me?
When you think about it, does it ever make you sad?
It makes me sad to think we got ourselves into the situation, but I mainly feel sad when I think about how I felt after. When I found out we were pregnant, I instantly knew we were going to have an abortion, and I didn’t fear it, because I knew it was something we were able to have. Lucky to have! But because my reaction to the abortion pill was rather severe, making the experience for me not as simple as it is for many others, it took a toll on my mental state. I had presumed the feeling would be like a period pain, but it was beyond that, and I wasn’t prepared for the physical symptoms. But if it hadn’t gone the way it had, I think my feeling looking back would be relief.
So considering we had been together a matter of weeks when we found out you were pregnant, and then you had to go back to school and I was two hours away, were you ever afraid I was going to turn around and say, “I can’t do this”?
No, because we’ve known each other since we were young and I knew you weren’t like that. But even though you could text, call and FaceTime me, I was going through it alone quite far away from you.
How long do you think it took you to mentally get over it? If you are over it?
It was such a scary experience. I ended up depressed and that went on for a good four months after, and I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone because I thought they’d judge me. The healing process, for me, began when I started to tell other people about our decision, because I realized that so many other people had been through it. I think I will continue to get over it as abortion becomes less taboo and easier to share.
The only time I personally feel disappointed is when I hear a couple can’t conceive. Do you think about it then? Because I instantly think about it.
Yeah, I have a horrible feeling that they know, even though they couldn’t possibly. Why should I be able to conceive and others not? When given the chance to have a baby, we turned it down.
To be honest, I never think about that. Maybe I should. But we’re not in a position to have a child, so I have no guilt. I’m 22 and you’re 24, it’s not even in our five-year plan. But every person has a different story, and we should be more aware of that.
At the beginning of our relationship, you tended to bottle things up. Do you think if you told me how you felt during the weeks after, you wouldn’t have felt so depressed?
Maybe. But we were early on in our relationship, and I didn’t want to feel like a burden. I also didn’t know how you’d react to how I was feeling. Plus I think I held such a high expectation for myself, in regards to everything in my life, so finding out I got pregnant unplanned made me really hate myself.
Would you feel comfortable opening up to me if it happened again?
Of course. It’s completely different now. I mean, we both found it hard even admitting to each other we liked each other, you know? Going from how we were as friends to boyfriend and girlfriend, I hadn’t seen that emotional side of you, so I couldn’t tell how you’d react.
So, taking everything we’ve spoken about into account, if you found out you were pregnant tomorrow, would you get another abortion?
Yes. And I couldn’t imagine not having the option. Although the first time was traumatic, we’re still not in a situation to have a child. I’m at university and you’re now seven months into your career. I wouldn’t want to bring a child into this world we couldn’t care for.
Illustration by Andrea Smith.