Peek behind the doors of your local women’s health clinic and you might see something surprising: men.
“Men are much more involved in decisions involving birth control and pregnancy as well as termination these days,” says Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood.
“It’s part of a generational shift.” Amanda Kifferly sees the change in her waiting rooms every day as the director of patient advocacy for The Women’s Center, which runs clinics in four states. “These men care deeply about the women getting an abortion,” she says. “It’s crucial to include their experiences in the dialogue about the procedure.”
Given that 3 out of 10 women in the U.S. will have an abortion by age 45, says Richards, “there are very few families in this country who have not been touched by an unplanned pregnancy or one that has gone awry.
The more people tell their personal stories the better. It gets these conversations out of the political realm and into people’s real lives.”
Cindy, 23, and Frisco, 24, from New Jersey: “We knew we weren’t ready for a baby.”
Cindy: I went to the eighth-grade dance with Frisco, but then we didn’t see each other again until 10 years later. We both work for a large mortgage lender, and we ran into each other in the employee parking lot. We exchanged numbers, and our first date was at a dog park — I have a Yorkie and he has a boxer. It was his idea. We had been dating only three months when I realized I was pregnant. I was on the Pill, so it was totally unexpected.
Frisco: Cindy told me over the phone on a Sunday. I was surprised but not angry. She was already emotional — I didn’t want to add any negative energy to make her feel worse. I’m not that type of cat. So I stayed calm. My first question was “Are you a hundred percent sure — like a doctor’s appointment certain?”
Cindy: I was sure. My boobs hurt, and I was nauseous and three days late for my period. I hung up and went to buy three more tests. They were all positive, so I took a picture of all three and sent it to him.
Frisco: When I was 18, a girl I was going with told me she was pregnant and wanted an abortion. I asked if she wanted me to go to the clinic with her, but she declined my offer. So I gave her $660 for the procedure, and she disappeared. That felt terrible — I don’t even know if she stayed pregnant. The next thing I heard was that she moved to another state. I told Cindy I would support whatever decision she made, including being there for her and the child if she wanted to keep it. And I cannot understand any man who wouldn’t want to do that.
Cindy: Hearing that felt good. We talked for an hour that day. I knew I didn’t want to have this baby. But I’ve had an abortion before, and I also didn’t want to go through that again. The first time, I was 18 and about to start college. I had to walk past protesters who were screaming and waving posters. It made me second-guess my choice.
I actually went back to my car to think, and then I got mad, like, If I have the baby, are they going to help me take care of it? Are they going to pay my grocery bills and rent? I had all sorts of plans, and becoming a mother that young was not one of them.
Frisco: It takes two people to get pregnant, so birth control should not be only the woman’s responsibility. But if she gets pregnant, then it has to be her call. I can say “I want the child,” but she has to carry and deliver it. I’d be there for her, but I’m not the one throwing up or getting up in the middle of the night to pee. She has more say-so than I do. It was still hard on me. From the minute I heard, I couldn’t stop thinking about her and her situation.
Cindy: I want to be a mom one day. And I know it will be the right time when the idea of being pregnant gets me excited. When I found out I was pregnant this time, I was like, Oh. Shit. Still, I’m a strong person.
I don’t really dwell on it. I have a friend who had an abortion before we met. And I know a family member has too. If it came up in conversation with my girlfriends, I would admit mine. Sometimes your story can help somebody else.
Kristina, 24, and Chris, 26, from New York: “It changed things so much that we split up.”
strong>Kristina: Chris and I met about two years ago at a bar-trivia night. We’re in a generation where everyone’s like, “Everyone gets down! Let’s go!” but we got to know each other. We were tested for STDs and discussed our feelings about abortion before we ever had sex. I didn’t even think I wanted kids then, and Chris agreed.
Birth-control hormones make me feel terrible, so we used condoms. Always. But then I just started getting a feeling that March and thought, I’m just gonna try a pregnancy test. One sort of read positive, so I did another but I wasn’t sure. Those lines are confusing.
That was Oscar night, which will never be the same. I left messages, but Chris wasn’t answering. Finally, I said, “Hey, um, I have to tell you this. I’m pregnant.” He came over late and was like, “Are you sure?” I wasn’t. So we got a bunch of tests the next day and still were both like, “Is that the line?”
My doctor confirmed the pregnancy on Wednesday, and we made an appointment for that Saturday at Planned Parenthood. I appreciated how normal they made everything. Goonies played in the waiting room, and Beyoncé was on the stereo during surgery. In my counseling session beforehand, they asked if I wanted a ParaGard IUD put in following the procedure. I had never been offered one before and was like, “Hormone- and hassle-free? Definitely!”
I had this idea that once I ended the pregnancy, I’d be fine. But I’m not the same person I was, and I never will be. I felt conflicted…and then angry at myself for feeling that way. I am so glad I was able to get an abortion, but I would not do it again. Chris wanted to talk about it, but more often, we just fought. I felt the experience was more mine than his or ours, because I had to go through the physical experience as well as the emotional one.
We broke up that June, and I was a mess. I cried a lot and made my friends uncomfortable because I’d get drunk and talk about the abortion. One friend actually said, “You need help.” I went to therapy, but they just wanted to talk about my parents. I started writing about it instead and made a short film called This Would Be Easier If You’d Understand. That was how I came to understand that an abortion is not the same for everyone. Even your partner in it has a totally different experience. I see now that it’s okay for Chris and me to have different feelings about it.
When I was 20, I was sure I didn’t want kids. The funny thing is that my abortion made me realize that I do want to be a mother. And I’m happy I discovered that at a young age.
Chris: I grew up in an Irish Catholic family. My grandfather was an obstetrician who was deeply against abortion. So from a very young age, I was told that abortion is wrong, wrong, wrong. I never really bought it. I became a vegan and decided I didn’t want to have children because there were too many people on this planet. When I think rationally, that’s the place I come to. Emotionally is a different story.
The night Kristina found out she was pregnant, I was passed out on a friend’s couch after drinking too much sangria. When I woke up, it was midnight, and I called Kristina back immediately. She was so heartbroken, sad, scared, and upset. I felt terrible.
I assumed she wanted an abortion — we had already discussed that. But I didn’t know the mechanics. I thought, Well, maybe she can take a pill and it will just go away. That’s what I wanted. But she said, “I don’t want to know what’s happening—lights out, wake up, done.”
My whole concern was to do what was right for her. When we arrived at Planned Parenthood that Saturday, it was a gray, rainy day. Kristina was super nervous, and I was really worried about her. And then there was a guy standing outside the clinic. He waited until we got really close and then shoved a picture of dead babies in Kristina’s face. She burst into tears. I wanted to punch the guy in the face. It felt like an act of terrorism. I still hate that guy.
Inside, they took Kristina in right away. I asked to be with her and they said, “We’ll get you in as soon as we can.” I paid the bill and then waited to meet with the doctor. They had to do a sonogram to determine how far along Kristina was and asked if we wanted to see the image. Kristina said no, and I did too. That’s something I regret. I feel like it would have made the experience more real for me.
I wasn’t allowed in the room, so I went to get her pads—the nurse said there would be bleeding—and then took her to her apartment. We watched Felicity.
The abortion really changed our relationship. Kristina went through a deep depression afterward. I think the experience was a lot more emotionally conflicting for her than it was for me. It wasn’t something I wanted to have happen — it felt awful — but I remained clear that it was the right decision.
We went to New Orleans not too long afterward to visit friends and recover. We’d have a good time, and then it would come up. Kristina felt like a bad person, like she was better than this. It made her feel out of control. I definitely felt like it wasn’t fair. There’s nothing fun about that feeling. It sucks.
My attitude about sex has also changed. I’ve dated only one other person since then, and I told her about Kristina’s abortion. It’s a part of my life now.
Brittany, 23, and Brandon, 23, from Virginia: “We decided to get serious after the abortion.”
Brittany: Brandon and I met our first year at college and became friends with benefits. Our agreement was “We can kiss other people, but we’re sleeping only with each other.” It was outrageously complicated.
In late spring, I started feeling nauseous. I was on birth control, so I thought I had eaten something bad. Then I missed my period, but I blamed the stress of finals. When my second period didn’t come, I knew something was very wrong.
By then, I was home on Long Island, New York, for summer break. Brandon was at his parents’ house in upstate New York when I called him to say I was pregnant. We both cried, but then I said, “This is too emotional. I have to be logical.” We agreed an abortion was the best plan. I chose surgery — I wanted to keep it from my family and get it over with quickly.
Brandon wanted to come, but I told him not to. Instead, he sent a check for $500. The day before the procedure, I asked, “Are you going to wake up and call me?” He said, “I can’t. I don’t want to be sitting awake in my bed, powerless.” I was so pissed. I thought, I have to get this thing done, and he gets to sleep in?.
At the clinic, they did an ultrasound, and I was happy that I didn’t have to see it. The counseling session was very businesslike, which surprised me. I expected someone to try to talk me out of it, but that didn’t happen.
In the room, the doctor asked, “How many weeks along is she?” A nurse replied, “Diez,” just as the anesthesia needle was stuck into my arm. Later, when I told Brandon I had been 10 weeks along, he Googled what that looked like and the image shocked him. I did not want to see it.
I got mad at him a lot that summer. He was going out while I was in bed, watching movies, healing — not physically but emotionally. A few days after the abortion, he asked me to be his girlfriend. I was furious and said, “You’re asking only because you feel guilty!” Now I know it was heartfelt. As much as I picked fights with him, he never took them to heart. He let me be angry.
In the end, our abortion just cemented the fact that Brandon loved me and I loved him. We’ve been together for six years—he’s an engineer; I’m an interpreter. And now we’re ready to start a family.
Brandon: When Brittany told me she was pregnant, I got scared. It was just pure panic. We’d talked about abortion only as a political topic. It’s one thing to believe in the right to abortion and another for it to be part of your life.
The hardest thing for me was being so far away from her. I’m not an open-communication guy. I’d rather throw my arm around you. Still, we had a lot of talks before and after about our decision — I grew up real quick that summer.
Before then, I had college problems, like, Who am I hooking up with? When I got back that fall, I put those problems in air quotes. They didn’t compare to what we’d gone through.
I told one of my close friends about the abortion. He didn’t have too much light to shed on it, but it felt good to talk to someone. I didn’t want to talk to anyone else. I felt like it was a negative mark on me. I was a good kid. I got straight A’s and got into the college I wanted. And then this happened.
I wasn’t ready to be a father. I knew that. But I knew I wanted to spend my life with Brittany. After the abortion, I knew I couldn’t keep acting the way I had before. That’s why I asked her to be serious with me. She got upset, which really hurt me. I had to stick it out and prove to her that I loved her.
My stance on abortion didn’t change. What did change was my compassion for people who go through it. It killed me to see how painful and emotional it was for Brittany. And I was the only one she could talk to. It was this big secret.
Emily, 32, and Dave, 34, from Maryland: “It was the humane thing…and it devastated us.”
Emily: I met my husband during my first week of college. We got married in June 2008. I was starting my final year of med school when I went off birth control and got pregnant, but I did not want to tell anyone at first. I didn’t want to get attached. Being an ob-gyn, I see bad things happen on a regular basis.
Dave: Emily wanted to wait, but I wanted to tell everyone! By week 13, we thought we were in the clear. We had the ultrasound and knew it was a boy. I called my parents, and I could hear them whooping and hollering.
Emily: At the first trimester screening, we saw a mass on the baby’s neck. My doctor thought it was benign and nothing to worry about. But when I returned three weeks later, the mass had grown exponentially.
Dave: I am a professor and was teaching when Emily called to say she had difficult news.I rushed home, and she showed me the ultrasound. I could see the growth was large, but I was sure there must be corrective surgery. I was worried but hopeful.
Emily: My doctor sent us to one of the best neonatal hospitals in the country. They wanted the baby to be 18 weeks old in order to get the best ultrasound picture, so we had to wait two weeks. That was really hard — we wanted answers. I tried to talk about scenarios, but Dave didn’t want to even think about it until we knew more.
At the hospital, we had a full day’s worth of appointments. Everyone sat around this big table with five doctors to look at 3-D MRI images.
Dave: The growth on my son’s neck was larger than his head. My first thought was How will he be able to breathe? We discussed options. If the baby survived, he would need a tracheotomy, a vent, and 24-hour nursing care. That’s if he made it, which was unlikely.
We got into the car and didn’t talk for 20 minutes. I knew we had to consider termination, but I didn’t want to bring it up. I thought she’d think less of me. But I finally said, “We have to talk.” Emily burst into tears and said, “I don’t want him to suffer.”
Emily: I knew that an abortion was the most humane thing for baby Aaron Jack. We were living in Virginia then, which bans later abortions. Time mattered. I was put on the schedule the next day. I decided to do a normal delivery, so I had an epidural and pushed. The doctor cut the cord, and I held AJ. He is always going to be one of our children.
Dave: The hospital took handprints and pictures. They hid the mass with a little blanket. And then we buried him in the Jewish cemetery in Roanoke.
Emily: I thought since I do this for a living that I was going to be fine. But then two days later my milk came in and I completely lost it. I tried an antidepressant, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel. Luckily, I had my work to focus on.
Dave: We waited a couple of months and then got pregnant again. Hannah was born October 24, 2011. She would not be here if we hadn’t lost AJ.
Emily: Everything going on politically right now is heartbreaking. It shows a misunderstanding of why people choose abortions…and a lack of respect for women.
Dave: And frankly, for men too. This was a decision Emily and I made together.
Let’s Talk About It: There’s no right or wrong way to feel after an abortion. If you or your partner need to talk, call the Exhale After-Abortion Talk Line for agenda-free counseling (866-4-EXHALE).