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.
Lock and I conceived the very first time we had sex, about a week after our first date. Even before finding out I was pregnant, those first weeks of our relationship were emotionally intense, with both of us sincerely believing we’d found The One. When we discovered I was pregnant just weeks later, we were extremely conflicted. Lock had just moved two hours away making ours my first long-distance relationship. We were insanely in love, but we barely knew each other, and we had to decide whether we wanted to be parents before our first anniversary.
I had already undergone one abortion, the obvious choice for me at 21, but at 28 I felt emotionally and financially capable of parenting. I was confident in our capability to excel in raising a child, but the timing was more wrong than right. I decided to have another abortion because I wanted my first child to be born to parents who already knew how to be competent partners to each other. We rationalized that we would have our baby together when we were established as partners and fully prepared.
I had my abortion at 8:15 a.m., and at 4 p.m. I was scheduled to speak at a rally. The Seattle Storm had become the first professional sports team to publicly endorse Planned Parenthood and I had been asked a few months prior to speak on behalf of PP patients. I announced to the crowd of hundreds that I’d had an abortion only hours prior to standing at that podium to address them. I could see Lock in the crowd gazing proudly at me.
Now, almost two years after our abortion, Lock and I are no longer in a partnership, but we remain good friends. He still makes me laugh in a way only he can, he’s still one of the most brilliant, interesting, and beautiful people I know, and he still shows up to see me stand on stage and tell hundreds of people my story about an event that is as much ours as it is mine.
Alana: Was this your first abortion?
Lock: It was the second one I had been through with a partner, and the third one I had supported someone through.
You’re pretty experienced!
Yeah, I’m kind of an abortion veteran. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. Of course, it’s not a bad thing to support someone through an abortion, but having risky sex again was me not really learning the lessons of the past.
What was your first thought when I told you I was pregnant?
I don’t think you told me you were pregnant necessarily — you were like, “My cycle’s really weird, but maybe I’m pregnant?” So it kind of crept up on us. This was like… three or four weeks after we started dating, I think.
How did you feel?
I was a little bit incredulous for a second, like, “What?! One time was all it took?! That’s crazy!” But I guess that’s how this always works, regardless of the circumstances. I was also feeling anxious considering we were newly together, but also there was something kind of exciting about that, about having this crazy thing happening whether we intended it to or not. There is something happy about conception in a crazy way — regardless of whether it’s a pregnancy that’s carried to term. It was kind of a mixture of all of those things.
Yeah. That entire first month of being together was very dramatic. We were just in awe the whole time.
Yeah, it was wild.
I remember thinking, “This would happen! Like, we’re obviously meant to be together, of course the universe did this.” It just made sense!
I feel like we made the decision pretty fast?
It was pretty fast. I think within two or three weeks of you finding out, if I recall correctly.
Yeah I knew I was going to do it pretty much the whole time. I think I just wanted to like… not want to. But it didn’t make sense.
Yeah, it’s a complex emotion where you have this desire to have kids at some point, so you feel like you ought to want to keep it, but then you also have this other desire—this is what I was feeling, maybe I’m just projecting it onto you—to have your own life. But in the end, I feel like we both knew we were not at all ready for a kid.
Yeah, and I think we were actually long distance by the time I got the abortion. That would have been a horrible time to try to do that.
Yes. For sure.
I think we made a really good call.
Did the experience change the way you feel about abortion at the time or now?
Well, it was the first time I’d been able to actually be present for the process and actually hold your hand, so it definitely underlined the intensity and the pain of the singular experience. I had heard about it from people who’d had abortions, but I’d never witnessed it. So that made it seem like a situation of much more gravity. Also the people we interacted with at Planned Parenthood were pretty compassionate and nice. So overall I think we got a pretty positive experience? I don’t know if you felt that too, but it was warm, it didn’t feel overly sanitized and scrubbed down. People had a sense of humanity there.
Yeah, I would agree with that. I’m still upset they didn’t give me long enough for the drugs to kick in — that shit hurt — but one of the things I love about Planned Parenthood is you can feel the intention of the people there, like they’re there on purpose, you know? And that is such a comforting feeling. That experience could have been pretty horrible considering how painful it was in a multitude of ways. Did you tell people while you were going through it?
I told people, yeah.
Did it help you?
I found out when I was at a family reunion, so I talked to my sister and aunt about it. I was kind of in a weird emotional state, so having a discussion and getting recognition was helpful. I ended up talking to a couple friends about it, too, and everyone was super supportive. I found talking through the situation helpful, because despite knowing what we were going to do, we still had some conflicting feelings about it, knowing we might like to be parents one day. Those feelings are still valid, and those trains of thought can continue despite knowing this was not the right time.
It was like an emotional earthquake. I could not get footing until the abortion was over and then I was like, Oh, I can stand again.
What emotions have you experienced as legislation has been proposed to limit women’s reproductive rights?
The first time I supported someone through an abortion, the window of opportunity in North Carolina felt pretty narrow. It felt like we were lucky to be able to do that because the dominant culture was so conservative. To think of that opportunity being legislatively clipped for so many people is really shitty. If we hadn’t had that access, my life from, like, 17 on would have been utterly different.
I have a lot of respect for people who are putting their asses on the line regardless of the political stance these states are taking, and that’s another thing that’s important to remember. It’s a political stance, but it’s also mostly conservative old white men who are making these decisions and not the everyday people of those places. I have no faith that these are the actions everyday people would be taking.
Do you feel like you know how to support women right now? Or people who can get pregnant?
I try to stay open to the ways people request help, because obviously I don’t have the experience of people with uteruses, so I can’t really say for sure I know the best way to support those people except to validate their voices. I think this conversation we’re having right now is kind of a cool effort, because my inclination has been to try to help by rebroadcasting people’s voice who are not cis-men and to make them a more prominent aspect of the dialogue. But it’s also interesting to be invited to step into that in a more active support role, or more vocal role.
Do you feel empowered to share your experience? Do you feel it’s your story to tell?
I think it depends on the context. Without invitation, I probably wouldn’t broadcast this intense thing that happened in your body. It shouldn’t be a concealed, taboo thing, but I think there are details of it that belong to that person, as with any kind of intense experience. I feel like I can talk about my own feelings and how the possibility of abortion has really affected my life in a positive way.
It’s a hard one because I think using “I’ve supported people through abortions” as an invitation to have an opinion on it could be viewed the same way as saying “I have a cousin who’s gay,” or “I have a black friend,” as an invitation to have an opinion on those things. I feel like it’s different, though, but I could understand an argument saying it’s not.
Yeah, I mean that’s the thing about cis men talking about patriarchy in general, because I feel like, on one hand, it’s good—the same way it’s good for white people to talk about white supremacy, or any shit like that. But on the other hand, when someone from a privileged position is talking about a power dynamic, they have to maintain an awareness of their own biases and maintain a humility about it, because there’s only so much you can internalize about another person’s experience. You just have to defer in some ways.
Do you have any questions for me?
This is kind of a big question, but what are your feelings about that experience now almost two years on?
I don’t know, it’s kind of sacred to me. It was a lot bigger than I expected. My first abortion was so much easier and so much less painful and ours was not easy and it was painful. It was just so big, you know?
If I was acting and I needed to bring tears to my eyes, I would think about that experience. I would think about you holding my hand. That part. Like…every time I give that speech, the one you saw me perform?
I almost cry every time I say that, every time I talk about it, every time I read it: ‘As hot tears streamed down my face.’ It chokes me up so hard.
That shit choked me up too! Even hearing you talk about it, I was definitely tearing up in the audience.
But I’m grateful for it. I’m grateful to have had that abortion with you and to have had you there with me. I think everything about it was very right and I’m very glad that the experience happened. Also, it honestly probably propelled our relationship in a way that was super alarming and very fast but probably helped us burn out when we were supposed to.
It certainly prompted us to talk about the real shit, about what we wanted. I don’t think either of us were avoidant, but it made it feel more present in the day-to-day of our relationship and that’s an important thing in determining how you want to live your life with a person, you know?
Yeah! I love that memory. It’s interesting that I love that memory, but it’s also the first thing that makes me want to cry. It’s interesting that although our abortion experience was so sacred and hallowed…it was very beautiful. I’m grateful for the experience of our abortion, with you specifically.
Based on the experience alone—but also based on all of the really gnarly experiences I’ve heard people talk about or seen people through myself—our experience probably went as well as it could have.
Yeah, Washington State came through, the Northwest Abortion Access Fund…it was like legislatively sanctioned also. It was very easy.
Thankful we did it in one of the easiest places to get an abortion.
Yeah, just really grateful. I am not ever sad we did it. It doesn’t feel like the wrong decision. Although I guess I was depressed for a while afterwards, wasn’t I? I was really bummed…I can say depressed! I don’t know why I’m afraid of that word. I would think about it a lot, or wish that we’d had it for a while, actually. Even after we broke up.
Yeah. I remember that.
I mourned. I forget about that. I’m definitely not mourning anymore though, and I feel so good about that. I’m just grateful for the experience being what it was and that it added a new depth to my perspective on abortion.
The first abortion was at 21 and it was just so casual and painless, like getting a flu shot. I did think about that one for a lot longer. I was really conflicted because I was still kind of religious. But our abortion was so different and it had so much more magnitude, and it was at an age, 28, where it was like, “Well…we could….” I’m glad I’ve added some depth to what abortion means to me. It helped me understand how the experience can vary even within the same person. And the feelings can be big. And they can get bigger! I didn’t think they could get any bigger, but they did.
Knowing how big the consideration can be and still making the decision to do it definitely makes me more incensed when legislators attempt to take it away, or even just say, “You don’t know what you want, you really need to think about it longer, give it a few days.” Because, like, by the time you’re ready for an abortion, you’re fucking ready.
Yeah, you’ve been thinking about it, dude.
Illustration by Andrea Smith.