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The Human Cost: ‘Because of the stigma of abortion, men don’t want to talk about it’: Roe v. Wade reversal has life-changing effects on male partners

In late June, with the reversal of Roe v. Wade leaving the future of abortion access in Tennessee uncertain, Daniel A. Collier faced a dilemma. 

The 42-year-old assistant professor of higher education at the University of Memphis and his wife were on a journey with their third pregnancy. But it wasn’t easy — his wife had previously had two miscarriages. 

With Tennessee poised to ban most abortions, the Colliers worried they might not be able to access needed care if their third pregnancy ended in miscarriage. About a week later, the Colliers would learn they had lost the pregnancy at six weeks.

“It’s a different kind of hurt,” Collier said. “There’s nothing you can really do for her, except for, ‘Can I get you something? Can I hold your hand? What can I do for you physically to make you feel better?’ … Because you can’t take that pain away.”

Miscarriage management can involve the same procedures used for some abortions. A dilation and curettage (D&C), which removes tissue from the uterus, is used to prevent hemorrhaging and infection for a miscarriage, but has also been banned in some hospitals located in states where abortion is no longer legal. 

“Miscarriage management can involve the same procedures used for some abortions, which can present additional complications since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.”

Abortion is now banned in approximately 10 states, according to a New York Times tracker, and more states are expected to institute bans in the coming weeks.

Now Collier is concerned about seeking care during potential future pregnancies. While his wife, 36, works remotely for a nonprofit, moving to a state that does not have an abortion ban would mean Collier leaving a job he loves.

“If I ever choose to bounce, or if I’m forced to because of my wife’s health concerns, will it be easy to walk into any other tenure-track job? It may not be,” Collier, who has written about his family’s experience in part on Twitter, told MarketWatch. He shared this account with his wife’s permission, but she asked not to be identified or interviewed by MarketWatch for privacy reasons.

On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling that had guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion since 1973, leaving states to decide their own abortion laws. More than a dozen states, including Tennessee, have “trigger laws” in place to ban most abortions immediately or within days or weeks after Roe was reversed. 

“‘If I ever choose to bounce, or if I’m forced to because of my wife’s health concerns, will it be easy to walk into any other tenure-track job? It may not be.’ ”

Researchers and abortion-rights advocates say that the impacts of stricter abortion laws primarily impact pregnant people and their ability to choose whether or not to continue with a pregnancy, but their partners are also affected. 

Young men whose partners had an abortion had higher academic achievement and achieved a higher socioeconomic status compared to their peers who became teenage fathers, according to a 2019 article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Adolescent Health. Teenage fathers tended to enter the workforce a lot earlier in lower-paid jobs, the study found.

“In the context of a healthy relationship, the decision of whether and when to have children is a decision couples make together,” said Oren Jacobson, the co-founder and co-executive director of the nonprofit Men4Choice, which advocates for abortion rights. The group aims to encourage more men to take an active role in its mission to support abortion rights as partners and allies. 

“When my partner can have her reproductive decisions controlled by the state, that means the state can control how we plan our family,” Jacobson told MarketWatch.

The group hosts small group conversations regularly with young men. It aims to help them understand the issues concerning reproductive rights, health and justice — and, specifically, what losing abortion rights means to a family, Jacobson said. As partners, men have a stake too, he said.

One of the things they discuss, he said, is debunking the “mythic narrative” that most people had abortions because they were “young and reckless.” A majority of people who have abortions are in their 20s and already have children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost half of abortion patients in 2014 lived below the poverty line, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.

“In many cases, [the decision to seek an abortion is] largely built around not lifestyle choices, but economic choices,” Jacobson said.

The anti-abortion group National Right to Life acknowledges that financial considerations are a factor for women seeking abortions, but says those are not a reason for a termination. Republican lawmakers say they oppose “taxpayer-funded abortion,” and anti-abortion groups say “the unborn” have a right to life on moral and religious grounds.

Some abortion opponents believe abortion is wrong under any circumstances, while others believe it can be acceptable in cases of rape or incest, or in cases when a woman’s life is at risk.

Regardless of where people stand on the political and legal spectrum, one thing is clear: There is demand for abortion access in the U.S. In 2019, there were more than 600,000 legal abortions in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center, which compiled data from the CDC.

After the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June, multiple medical facilities reported a sharp increase in men contacting them about getting a vasectomy, a form of sterilization or potentially permanent contraception for men that cuts off the tube carrying the sperm.

“Young men whose partners had an abortion had both higher academic achievement and socioeconomic status compared to their peers who became teenage fathers.”

Brian Nguyen, a University of Southern California professor of obstetrics and gynecology who specializes in the relationship between men and their partners’ reproductive health, said more men had become interested in male contraception following the ruling. 

Men and women are often on the same page when it comes to the reasons for going ahead with an abortion, Nguyen said. Whether they are white-collar or blue-collar workers, their reasons typically include career, finances and timing: Either they already have a family, or they are not ready to start one.

“There are multiple cases where people talked about how their abortion was critical to their career, and they would not be where they are without it,” Nguyen said.

Scholars have pointed out that very few cisgender men openly share their experiences with abortion, let alone how their abortion experiences might have affected them or changed the trajectory of their lives. Nguyen said he hoped there could be an equivalent space and movement for men to share the abortion experiences of their partners in a positive light. 

“Because of the stigma of abortion, men don’t want to talk about it,” Nguyen said. “And so what we end up with is a biased account of men’s experiences with abortion.”

For Collier, deciding to move states would seriously impact his career. “It is a super competitive career field, being a tenure-track professor. It’s hard to get these jobs,” he said. “It’s hard to get tenure, and it’s hard to maintain productive research.”

Fortunately, the Colliers live a few hours away from the border of Illinois, where abortion is legal. But if they were to face a situation where moving is imminent, Collier said he would have fewer places to apply. “But,” he adds, “my wife’s health matters more than my career.”

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