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 in May, 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’re publishing a series of abortion stories from the perspective of men. 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.
First, Natalie interviewed Rob, then Alana interviewed Lock, Violet interviewed Matthew, and last week, I interviewed Jon. For our fifth and final installment of Men Share Their Abortion Stories, Katie interviews her father about the abortion he went through with her mother.
I found out my mom had an abortion when I read her memoir. I was 16—a pure youngin heading into my junior year of high school—and she was dead. I couldn’t run to her with probing questions then, and seven years later, I still can’t. But in the past couple years, this facet of her life has made its way into the forefront of my mind. I’ve come to see my mom as a strong and confident lifeline for what she did; she’s helped me through my own pregnancy scares.
For so long, this story felt like Mom’s. I never thought about asking my father, John, the one who got her pregnant 34 years ago, what the experience was like. But with everything happening, I now know it’s Dad’s story too. I think it would be daunting if we eliminated the men from the equation—forgetting their part, and their responsibility, too. My dad lives by the I’ll-only-tell-you-if-you-explicitly-ask philosophy, so I finally decided to do just that.
Katie: How old were you and mom when she got pregnant?
John: I was 24 and she was 19, it was 1986. It happened in Yellowstone. I think it happened on my birthday, actually.
You were living in Alabama and she was in Pennsylvania when you found out, right?
Yes, I had been in Auburn, Alabama for about three weeks when she called me saying she had been really sick and had gone to her dad [an ER doctor] about it. He asked if she could be pregnant, she said, “No way,” but they did a test and she was pregnant, of course.
What was your preferred or if any form of contraception before she got pregnant?
Condoms. She started the pill once we started to live together, after the abortion, and through ‘till we got married.
How did she tell you she was pregnant?
She didn’t call and say she was pregnant, she called and said, “We made a date for an abortion. You can come up if you want to, but I won’t hold it against you if you don’t.” It was a long drive, but I drove up for the weekend and she had the procedure done on Friday. I left on Monday. I really didn’t have a say in it whatsoever. They [her and her parents] decided she was going to have an abortion and did it at the hospital, and changed [anonymized] her name.
Did you know what the procedure was?
No, not really, because like I said, I had no say. It was a surgery, and it had to be outpatient because she was home the same day. I didn’t even know you could do that outside of an abortion clinic at the time.
Do you know how much they paid for the abortion?
I think they comped it for her dad actually. I don’t know for sure though, because she was under a fake name so maybe they didn’t know it was his daughter.
They never asked you to pay or help out?
Would you have?
Well, sure, if I had to. But like I said, that never came up. I was never a part of the process.
Did you consider not going?
I wanted to be there for her. I’m sure it would’ve been easier if I hadn’t gone, but I was a part of it so I felt I should be there for her when it got resolved.
How much do you remember from that weekend?
Not much, it was a long time ago. I think I just held her. I’m sure there were long pauses between statements, but it didn’t create a chasm. We both knew that was the right decision and we were fine with it. I was just there for the ride.
It’s interesting—the term “along for the ride,” it sounds like it was something that happened and then you just moved on from it.
Well, it was a big decision, but I just wasn’t in on it. I would have agreed with the choice—she was 19, she was in college, we were apart, it would’ve been hard—but it would have been nice to have a discussion about it.
And the abortion was definitely what mom wanted?
Yeah, well you know, that’s something I never asked her. I never asked if she was just told the abortion was going to happen or if she had a say in it.
Did mom seem depressed or changed after?
Well, I was only there a couple of days.
Y’all never talked about it over the phone? How she was feeling and doing?
No, not really. Not that I recall. I mean, we talked about it some, but not monthly or weekly and she didn’t seem to struggle with it. She had anxiety about a lot of things, but that wasn’t one she expressed to me.
Did y’all ever discuss it later into your marriage or when she got sick, especially?
Yeah we did, but more so before you kids. We wondered if they were a boy or a girl, whether they would’ve been healthy, what they would be doing now. She had Nick when she was 26, so the kid would’ve been seven. But once we had Nick it didn’t come up, and then we had you and we were off and running. Then, when she was sick, she said something to Nick in terms of there being angels and maybe the child she aborted. But we’ll never know. She knows it now, but we don’t.
When or how often do you think about it?
That’s a good question. I mean, it’s not like I think about it once a week or once a month. It comes in waves—like if I see something on TV or hear someone talking about it. You know with all these new laws being passed, it comes to my mind. That kid would be 33 now.
How did you feel about abortion before you found out mom was pregnant?
I was pro-abortion. It just makes sense. To raise a child, your mom and I would have loved it, but I don’t think we could’ve cared for it the way we did you and Nick. So that’s where the difference lies. What bothers me in today’s world is somebody that knows nothing about a woman’s life can tell her she has to have a kid because she is pregnant.
Do you think the time period it happened with you and mom impacted how it was processed or how the decision was made?
Yeah I do, because although it was controversial back then, it was nothing like it is today with all the polarization. Roe V. Wade was 1973, and it was 1986 when we got pregnant, so the rule was the law of the land and no one was really challenging it—that I knew of. But I was, of course, in my own little world half the time too, since I was 26
Do you think mom having an abortion impacts how you feel about what’s going in politics and legislation today?
Absolutely. What I don’t like now is that it’s old white guys telling women, “I’m sorry you have to have this kid when it was a mistake, unplanned or an accident.” I heard this congressman compare it to slavery if you force a woman to have a baby, and that’s kind of true when you think about it. That’s a shame. Mom was probably past six weeks pregnant when she found out—I think she was 7 or 8 weeks—so with the new proposed bans, she would have had to carry to term.
[Ed. note: Nine states (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri, Arkansas, and Utah) have passed measures this year to ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, and several others have proposed such measures].
Did you ever tell anyone that you and mom had an abortion?
No, no. Then mom’s book came out, and I actually would’ve taken it out of the book if I could. I didn’t know what people felt after reading that. It doesn’t really matter what they think—it’s what we did—but I guess I care.
Do you think the abortion story is yours to tell?
Yeah, it takes two to make a baby, so I had a part in it, a responsibility, it’s just not a story I particularly like to tell. I’m not proud of a lot of things I did when I was younger. That was a chapter of me not being as good and responsible as I should have been. I should have been more careful.
You think it reflects poorly on you.
Well, thank you for talking to me even though you feel that way.
Yeah, you wanted to talk about it.
If I got an abortion, do you think it would be negative on my character, too?
No, it’s not that. It’s just not a fun memory in my life. We were both very sullen. And I was so far away, so we couldn’t really delve into it and grow from it. I mean, I left two days after the procedure. It became something that happened.
Would you be supportive if Nick or I chose to get an abortion?
You know, what I’ve tried to do with you all is let you live your life, make mistakes, have accomplishments. I just try to be supportive. If you got pregnant and decided to have it, even if it were at a difficult point in life, I would you support you as much as needed. And vice versa, if you decided to have an abortion and if you wanted to talk about it, I would support you then, too. I hope I’ve been better since Mom passed. I will be there no matter which direction y’all choose.
I appreciate that.
Illustration by Andrea Smith.