About those “penisfeels”: Men and abortion

What’s wrong with a man having an emotional reaction to his partner’s abortion?


That’s the word coined by a pro-choice blogger to mock and insult an anguished father-to-be. His girlfriend wants an abortion, and he sought anonymous advice from a newspaper columnist on how to cope.

man and woman pregnantI am, sadly, unfamiliar with “penisfeels.” (Liberals and feminists who try to shock people by chanting words for private parts are kind of like 3-year-olds who do the same thing: sort of funny, but mostly annoying. And trust me: it stopped being shocking sometime in the early 2000s, after The Vagina Monologues became popular on college campuses.) But I assume that the blogger intended to mock the letter-writer for having feelings…because he is, after all, a man.

I have a question for pro-choicers: what’s wrong with a man having an emotional reaction to his partner’s abortion? I’d love a coherent, reasoned explanation. Even if you don’t think a man should have any legal say in abortion, is it not okay to feel what he feels?

Men’s experience with abortion is a murky topic, rarely researched or discussed openly. There is only one academic, nonpartisan (not explicitly “pro-life” or “pro-choice”) book on the topic: Men and Abortion: Lessons, Losses, and Love. The authors, Arthur Shostak and Gary McLouth, surveyed 1,000 men and boys whose partners were having abortions. The results showed that men can and do suffer from abortion – although they often choose to suffer in silence.

Eighty percent of the men thought either “occasionally” or “frequently” about the child who would never be born. Forty-seven percent agreed with the statement “Males involved in an abortion have disturbing thoughts about it afterwards.” Seventy-four percent were interested in some sort of counseling; 91 percent “were emphatic about their desire” to never be involved in another abortion. Eighty percent described their day at the abortion clinic as one of the hardest of their lives.

A follow-up survey revealed that when it comes to men and abortion, time does not heal all wounds. Only 3 percent of men in clinic waiting rooms thought their relationship would break up over the abortion – but later on, 25 percent thought it had. The number who agreed that men would have “disturbing thoughts” about it afterwards rose by 16 percent. Sixty percent still had thoughts about the child who had been aborted – even though the abortion was months or years earlier.

“We heard, over and over again, of day and night dreams of the child that wasn’t born,” the authors wrote, “and about fantasies of their adequacy as new fathers – though all emphasized the effort they made to consciously control these mental maladventures.”

In fact, Shostak and McLouth found men to be at slightly greater risk than women for suffering after abortion. They were more likely to blame the abortion, rather than external circumstances, on their personal failings. A Los Angeles Times survey confirmed this, finding more regret and guilt among post-abortion men than women.

However, men are reluctant to air these feelings, either because they want to support their partners or in an effort to appear strong. There’s still a social stigma against male emotionality and grieving: notice that the letter-writer mentioned above felt comfortable seeking advice only anonymously.

I often hear women my age – especially the feminist-minded ones – complain that men are emotionally unavailable. Wouldn’t it be great if we raised boys to express their feelings as openly as girls? It would certainly make them better husbands, fathers, and friends. Why can’t men be more like women?

But when a man writes in to an advice columnist expressing sadness, guilt, and confusion over a politically charged situation, the same women ridicule his emotional reaction as “penisfeels.”

Pick one.

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