An estimated 30% of women in the United States will have undergone an abortion by the age of 45. Given more than 80% of women report informing their male partner or report knowing that he was aware of the abortion, a substantial number of men have experienced abortion as well. Yet, we know very little about men and their involvement in abortion. Given the lack of research on the experiences and involvement of male partners in abortion, men are sometimes depicted as absent from, apathetic towards, or antagonistic of their partner’s abortions. However, these depictions may not accurately reflect the involvement of male partners in abortion. Men may also be invested in the process and have reasons to be involved independent of impacting his partner’s decision. They may want education about the procedure, to share responsibility for the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy, or to better understand their own experiences. Their reasons for involvement have not been well-characterized.
We completed a mixed-methods study to better understand variations in the involvement of male partners in abortion. In cases where the abortion was desired due to a fetal anomaly, medical condition, or intimate partner violence/sexual abuse, male partners were excluded. Using in-depth interviews, we characterized the ways in which 29 male partners were involved in the abortion process and considered whether attitudes towards his partner’s decision to proceed with abortion influenced the types of support he provided to her. Findings from these interviews informed the development of an 85-item quantitative survey. Survey domains included: (1) reproductive history/abortion experience and future pregnancy intentions, (2) characteristics of the current pregnancy, (3) abortion-related knowledge and attitudes, (4) desire for involvement and reasons for accompanying the patient to her abortion, (5) needs and expectations for male-specific services at the abortion clinic, (6) perceived impact of accompaniment, (7) satisfaction with the current abortion experience, (8) attitudes towards contraception and reproductive responsibility following the abortion, and (9) demographic and social characteristics. The survey was distributed to 210 male partners at the time of abortion to identify the most common types of male partner involvement and further explore their associations with abortion attitudes.
The majority of our sample population was comprised of non-Hispanic black men, who were at least 25 years old, had not completed college, had previously been involved in an abortion, and were in long-term relationships. Male partners desired involvement in numerous aspects of the abortion, ranging from payment for the procedure and seeing the ultrasound to accompaniment during the actual surgical procedure. Of note, some interviewed men expressed a desire to support their partner even in cases where they did not agree with the abortion decision. This finding was verified in the survey where over half (57%) of survey respondents preferred not to proceed with the abortion; however, all (100%) accompanying male partners reported a desire to provide social support. Male partners desired to be present for their female partner’s recovery most frequently (99%). Of note, male partners who expressed not desiring the abortion were more likely to report wanting to be present for the dating ultrasound compared to those who desired the abortion (53.9% vs 34.2%). These male partners were also more likely to endorse wanting to change their female partner’s mind about her abortion decision (25.6% vs. 5.3%) and to get help from the abortion clinic (31.2% vs. 18.4%). Though approximately 1 in 8 men desired to change their female partner’s, all women received their procedures.
Overall, male partners expressed great investment in their partner’s abortion experience, desiring to provide support regardless of their actual opinions about the abortion itself. The proportion of respondents desiring help or wanting to affect the abortion decision may warrant further investigation into options for counseling/education for male partners