When we set out last month to create an abortion series that featured men’s perspectives, we had two goals in mind: The first was to ease the burden on women, who often feel called to lay their hearts out to defend their bodily autonomy, sometimes at the expense of their comfort; The second was to create a more balanced dialogue in general, since the right to choose benefits all of society. First, Natalie interviewed Rob about the abortion she went through with him, then Alana interviewed Lock, and last week, Violet interviewed Matthew. The interview format came about organically, as women expressed interest in guiding the conversations versus stepping back completely, and it led to some really enlightening exchanges.
The responses have been really interesting. Many readers have appreciated finally hearing from a group that is so often silent; others have wondered what it would look like if the women conducting the interviews weren’t involved in the stories at all. Some have pointed out that the first three couples had some similarities—women who were quite emotional about their choice, and men who were supportive through it all—which isn’t representative of everyone. If nothing else, the comments have revealed how varied and nuanced the modern abortion experience is, and how it’s important to always acknowledge that.
This week, I did something a little different. I personally interviewed Jon*, a 43-year-old music photographer who reached out to me when I called for participants. Jon has been a part of five unwanted (and aborted) pregnancies, many of which were the result of unprotected sex. Talking with someone who seemingly represents what many in the anti-abortion movement malign—those who use abortion as birth control—was a difficult exercise for me. Not only did it force me to face the reality that, in rare cases, the assertion that choice may incite careless behavior is true, but it highlighted how much our sexual education system is failing us. And it reminded me that abortion is not a singular issue; it intersects differently with every social strata.
To be honest, this conversation hit neither of the goals we set out with—at least not on the head. It showed us that asking people to speak up doesn’t always mean we’ll like what we hear, but it can reveal some urgent truths. We’re running this interview because it underlines some of the changes we as a culture have to make—in educating our youth, in educating men, in recognizing the breadth of experiences—before reproductive autonomy actually feels like freedom.
Haley: You’ve been through more than one abortion. Can you tell me about the most recent one?
Jon: I was in my late thirties. It was in maybe the first two months of seeing each other that she got pregnant, and I remember her blaming me. Part of the reason I was having unprotected sex was because I thought, Hey, if it happens, I’m emotionally ready to move forward and have a child. Especially with her—even though I’d just met her, I thought we had this connection, I thought we were on the same level. Well, obviously, we weren’t, and after she got the abortion she didn’t want anything to do with me. She didn’t even want me to go with her. She was embarrassed, I believe.
Why did she think it was your fault?
Because I guess she’s had unprotected sex with other men before, and she’s never gotten pregnant. It was her first time.
Did you two have a conversation about birth control and verbally decide not to use any, or was that something you talked about afterward?
Honestly, I don’t remember. We were drunk and it just happened.
You said you’ve been through other abortions as well. Can you tell me about some of those?
There was one when I was in my late twenties, I think 29. I wasn’t in a relationship with the woman, but the condom broke. When I got the phone call, it was like being in a movie. I was sitting there playing PlayStation with my friends, and I get the call: “Hey, can you talk?”
That was a situation where I was like, Whoa, we can’t have a child. Well, not “we can’t,” but I wasn’t in a position to have a child. We also were not in love, and both of us agreed on that choice.
Was that your first time getting a woman pregnant?
No, that wasn’t my first time. I think I’ve had five partners get abortions in my life. There was a situation where I was in a relationship and we were deeply in love, but again the stars weren’t aligned. I wasn’t financially ready. She wasn’t financially ready. We were both at crossroads in our careers. We weren’t even sure the relationship was going to last. Luckily we were able to have the choice to not continue on with the pregnancy. If we hadn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am, happily married and celebrating my son’s first birthday. Having that decision available to us was a big factor in my becoming the man I am today.
So you’ve been a part of five unwanted pregnancies. Were you worried about getting women pregnant? Was that a concern for you or was it something you kind of assumed wouldn’t happen?
Honestly, it was about being young and dumb and thinking, Oh, it’s never going to happen, it’s hard to get a woman pregnant, and it’s not going to happen to me. And then it happens. And then you think you’re smarter than science, which you’re not. And it happens again, and then you do the same stupid shit again, and then you do it again and then do it again because you’ve done it other times. And you keep making the same mistake until you actually really fucking learn your lesson. And that’s what it took for me: one final, miserable, embarrassing time.
I think a lot of people who are anti-abortion argue that people are not careful about sex because they use abortion as birth control. I think that tends to get overblown, but I’m curious: Do you think you would have been less careless had abortion been illegal?
Shit, that’s a good one. I think those people are somewhat right, honestly. Yes, I have been one of those people who thinks, Fuck it, lets just do it, there’s the morning-after pill. I’ll pay for it. I’ve been that guy. I know many friends who have done that as well. [Ed note: The morning-after pill does not incite abortion; it is a form of emergency contraception.]
Is that a regret for you or do you feel like those decisions were your right?
Both. It’s a regret and I believe it was my right. At the same time.
What was your sex education like in high school? And do you want your son’s to be different?
Yes, absolutely. I’m about to be 43, so my sex education was very old school—this was in the 80s. They popped in the video and we half-paid attention and laughed, and it wasn’t very serious. And I don’t ever remember having the “birds and the bees” conversation with my father or my mother. It was just very basic.
When my son comes of age, his sex ed is going to be totally different. I just want to be more realistic with him and make it not so childlike, the way it felt when I was getting it. I want him to learn from me and my past mistakes and understand that if it weren’t for the laws that are in place today to protect the right to choose, he probably wouldn’t be here because my life would be totally different.
Right. Your life would have changed drastically as a result of poor sexual education, which is similar to what many kids are receiving today.
Right—poor education. Exactly.
So I know you have a few different experiences with abortion, but can you dive into the emotional experience of one of them—of being told about the pregnancy and then coming to the conclusion that abortion was the right choice?
The one I recall most vividly was in my late twenties, when I was sitting around having a normal day with the fellas and got that phone call. When she said it, my heart dropped. It was heartbreaking. Especially hearing it from a woman I was not romantically involved with—where it was just sex. With her, it became more like a business transaction or something. I felt like I had to be very direct because I knew her emotions were running wild too. But both of us knew we weren’t ready to have a child. It just wasn’t the right situation.
So the decision for you guys was pretty easy.
Yeah, that was pretty easy. Honestly, all of them were pretty easy because I was just… I wasn’t the man I am today. My career wasn’t where it is. I was a playboy. And I was very honest with women about that, but I also tried not to be an asshole.
Why do you think that time when you were 29 is so much more emotionally resonant or sharper in your memory than the other ones? Is it because you weren’t in love, as you put it?
I think because of the way it happened. I remember getting off the phone and telling my friends, and going from playing games to actually talking about real life. And what was I going to do? If there was a mirror turned on me, I know I just had this blank stare on my face. And I had this blank feeling, all inside of me. I felt empty. Because I knew I was going to support her either way, even if I didn’t want a child. It wasn’t ultimately my decision, it was up to her. If she would have said yes, then I would have two kids. And possibly just that one kid and not the child upstairs.
How did you support these women? Did it differ from time to time?
I would usually ask, “Hey, would you like for me to pay for this? It’s the least that I could do. Would you like me to come with you?” But zero women wanted me to come with them.
Never went. The closest I ever got was outside of Planned Parenthood. Downtown. Waiting. That was it. No woman ever wanted me to go with them. After the most recent one, I remember just trying to support her, being there for her as much as I could because I felt really bad about the situation.
How about financially, did these women have insurance that covered abortion?
I know that with the last one, she did not want my money. She had a pretty good job, so I’m assuming she had insurance. The one that I remember from my twenties, I gave her money to put into it, to cover it.
Did you ever think about what having a child might be like?
Definitely. In my late 30s, I remember sitting in her living room in Williamsburg and daydreaming about being in that place with a child. I remember thinking: This is small, but we could do it. I can’t really afford the movers to a new place and everything, but it’s doable. People do it for a lot less. There are families in Queens where 10 people are sharing a studio apartment. I feel blessed just to be able to sit here in this 500-square-foot studio. We can make this work. But I don’t think I ever told her my feelings like that. We were focused on how she was feeling, and it was a no-brainer for her.
Was that the first time you kind of thought, Yeah, I can do this?
But for the other ones, you said if they decided to keep it, you would make it work.
Oh, absolutely. There is no doubt. I was going to be a dad, and a great dad. My father is one of my best friends. Although my mom and dad were never together, my father always was there for me through every moment in my life. He’s on his way down here now for my son’s birthday. That’s my dad.
You’ve mentioned that your career got to where it was because you were able to wait to have children until you were ready. Can you tell me a little about that?
Not having children has allowed me to travel and see the world. To become the photographer I am today. I’m known as one of the top hip-hop music photographers in the world. I wouldn’t be able to get to this point if I had kids. Even if it happened five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to get here. The progress would have stopped for me—I would have to be home more often. Especially if it was under the circumstances of a broken home. It just wouldn’t be right to leave. I would have to move out of New York. But without those things, I was able to progress, let my career flourish, and become, in my mind, the great man that I am today.
Have you noticed that most abortion experiences are shared by women?
Yeah, I have noticed that.
Do you think that it would be helpful to hear from men more?
Yeah, because I think especially with a story like mine, you can learn. Young men can learn to not make the same mistakes I made. Having an unwanted pregnancy can change your life in ways you’re not prepared for. It can fuck you up. If you’re not about that life, if you’re not ready to make that decision with a woman, it can be ultimately heartbreaking.
Why is “wrap it up” not good enough?
It’s too simple. Also condoms break. And if she’s on the pill, she can still get pregnant. [Ed note: The pill is 99.7% effective with perfect use.] You have to protect yourself and protect the world. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t believe abortion should be legal, and you have a kid you’re not ready for, somebody else might have to take care of that kid. It affects everyone.
In response to this series so far, some people have said, “Hey, it’s not always so heartbreaking to have an abortion. Some people view it like a medical procedure.” Of the women you went through this with, do you know where they fell on that spectrum?
I think every single woman that ever got pregnant in my life was happy as hell to get an abortion. I guess I’m not sure if they were heartbroken afterwards, but I know that when it was done and they were able to move on with their lives, they seemed happy. I’ve had friendships with some after the fact, and I remember one woman telling me that although it was a big decision, it was the best decision she ever made. She was like, “Look at me now.”
How have you been feeling as legislation is being proposed to limit reproductive rights?
I think it’s horrible. I really do. I think no one should tell a woman what to do with her body. She should be able to do what she wants—it’s not hurting anyone else. Let people make up their own minds, especially if it’s safe. If it becomes illegal, all people are going to do is go underground, where it’s unsafe.
[Ed note: As Our Bodies Ourselves reports, “Each year around 7 million women are admitted to hospitals for complications of unsafe abortion and between 4.7% – 13.2% of maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortion. Highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates.]
Do you feel you know how to support women right now?
No, I don’t. I think I would be a fool to say that I totally know how to support a woman. I’m still learning how to support my wife—we have our fourth anniversary coming up—but I’m constantly learning.
Do you talk about the abortions you’ve been through very often, or is it something you keep quiet about?
The last time I talked about this was not too long ago, maybe last year. It was guys talking and getting to know each other and the topic came up. But it was brief. It was not deep, not like this.
So what made you want to respond to my call for participants in this series?
I’ve never heard of Man Repeller. But I think that a person like me should tell their story. Maybe someone can learn from my mistakes. I felt like, Hey, why not? Why not help out?
What was your sexual education like? Did it change the way you had or have sex? Have you ever had unprotected sex when you weren’t looking to conceive?
*Name has been changed
Illustration by Andrea Smith.