Last May, when the Alabama state senate voted to effectively outlaw all abortions, every one of the 25 lawmakers who voted for the bill was a man. Similarly, in Georgia, male legislators who voted for the fetal heartbeat bill, which banned abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy, far outnumbered the female yea votes. And in Louisiana, a man wrote the state’s version of a heartbeat bill while the governor, another man, signed it into law.
In these debates, men talk about abortion as an abstraction, as something that happens to women out there somewhere, but not to anyone they know personally. State senator Clyde Chambliss, the sponsor of the Alabama bill, said in his opening statement in May that “from what I’ve read, what I’ve been told, there’s some period of time before you can know a woman is pregnant.” During the debates over Missouri’s restrictive abortion bill, state representative Barry Hovis said rape can be “consensual.” (He later claimed he misspoke.)
Rarely, though, do men talk about their own abortion stories. There is a line of thinking that suggests that since it isn't their body on the line, men should remain quiet—a sentiment crisply summarized in the T-shirt slogan “No uterus, no opinion.” Men are an active presence in the anti-abortion-rights camp, leading some major pro-life organizations and marching proudly in demonstrations, and in that movement, firsthand experiences are even more stigmatized. (For the record, 57% of men in the U.S. support abortion rights, according to a Pew survey from last year.)
One in four U.S. women will get an abortion by the time they’re 45. Most, we can reasonably assume, were impregnated by a man. In a year when men have dominated the debate around women’s reproductive health at the highest levels—and passed a spate of restrictive abortion bans across the country—it’s vital for us to hear about the very real experiences they have every day.
In a special joint project with GQ and Glamour, I set out to find those stories. I found men through local abortion-rights chapters, online message boards, and organizations like We Testify and Shout Your Abortion, which collect and publish abortion stories. The men varied widely in age, location, socioeconomic class, race, and ethnicity, and included everyone from paramedics to barbacks to professors. Some knew immediately that abortion was the right decision. Others weren’t so sure. After the abortion some moved on quickly, eager to get back to life as usual. Others were haunted by the thought of the fathers they could have been. More than a few told me that they wouldn’t have been able to have the lives they have today—opportunities, careers, wealth—if their partner had not chosen termination. To protect the privacy of the women at the heart of these stories, we have changed the names of many of the men included.
Some of their stories are hard to read. Two men told me they desperately wanted their baby, but their wives were forced, out of medical necessity, to have third-trimester abortions. One man, who’s trans, details his harrowing gang rape.
Men, it's clear, are a part of the abortion experience in America. These are 12 of their stories.
Siggy, 25, New York City
I was a senior in college in Texas. I had no money. And she couldn’t afford to be pregnant for nine months. I know a lot of people say, “Oh, we'll just have the baby and give it up.” But that’s still a long commitment. And…she just didn’t want to. She just didn’t want to have a baby and give it away. So we agreed that she should have an abortion.
I could’ve stopped going to school and gotten a job, because there was no way that I could try and work 40 hours and do school. I could’ve dropped out, but then that would be limiting whatever I could do afterward.
“If I had to just drop out of school, put life on pause, it all would’ve been infinitely harder—and I might not have even gotten to this point.”
My dad got my mom pregnant soon after high school, and they had literally zero way of making it. They decided to keep it and get married. They had a really, really hard first 10 years afterward, raising the kid, my older brother, at such a young age. Because of that, my brother and I, we grew up really poor. We grew up in not great neighborhoods. And my biggest thing was, I’m going to make sure that my kids have a drastically different life.
I ended up going to grad school. I got my master’s. I’m making a healthy six-figure salary. If I had to just drop out of school, put life on pause, it all would’ve been infinitely harder—and I might not have even gotten to this point.
Nathan, 40, Seattle
In my early 20s I got my girlfriend pregnant. We quickly made the decision to terminate. Made jokes about the invader. We went to the clinic, and everyone was surprised I was there. Abortion done, no problems. I held her hand.
There were other women there, girls. They had no one. No one to hold their hands. There was one girl who was shaking while waiting. The receptionist told me that less than 10% have men to hold their hands.
Carlos, 35, Atlanta
We went to a Planned Parenthood clinic. There were a lot of protesters outside. They looked at me and her, and they knew what was going on. They started talking to me and saying all this crazy stuff, showing me all these gross pictures. I didn’t say anything back.
They ended up sending her home with the abortion pill. By the next day the pregnancy was aborted. If the new heartbeat bill had been law at the time, we wouldn’t have been able to do that.
Garin Marschall, 41, Brooklyn
Erika didn’t have a lot of trouble getting pregnant, which a lot of our friends struggled with. Things sort of seemed to be going fine.
Then things started to happen. We got these results from this fetal protein test, and usually that’s sort of unremarkable, but we had a very elevated level that often is associated with really bad outcomes. Erika’s ob-gyn was very concerned and sent us to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist. They did some anatomical scans and stuff like that, and nothing seemed to be wrong.
More bad things started to pop up. There were bilateral clubbed feet. That’s correctable after birth, but it was just something a little more complicated. Eventually, they started seeing that the hands were clenched, and again, these things are...they’re indications that something might be going on, but there was nothing specific that they could point to, and no tests had revealed anything in particular.
We sort of had a sense that something bad was going on, but then growth continued, so I think we were just like, Oh, maybe it’s actually going to be okay. Maybe we’ll have a complicated health situation that we have to manage. We were certainly hopeful.
Then we went in at 30 weeks, and Erika had a really elevated amniotic fluid level. That, combined with the other indications, told the doctors that the baby couldn’t swallow. That’s how they practice breathing, and so that told them that this pregnancy was effectively incompatible with life. If we continued the pregnancy and made it through birth, the baby would not be able to breathe.
We were devastated. In that moment as a partner, my concern very much shifted from what was going on inside the womb to Erika’s health. She had had brain surgery a year before, and her brain surgeon was concerned about her pushing during a delivery, because it could potentially lead to a bleed in her brain and kill her.
At the time, the law in New York only allowed an abortion to be performed in the state after 24 weeks if there was an immediate threat to the life of the mother. In our case, immediate threat to the life means, like, literally dying on the table. A threat to the health of the patient or an indication of fetal nonviability—there were no exceptions in the New York law for that.
“I felt like we were going through one of the hardest emotional things I’ve ever experienced, and in that moment the medical system was not really able to help.”
Our options were to carry the pregnancy knowing it was doomed and then give birth to a child who chokes for air and dies, or we could try to get ourselves to a provider who would give us an abortion this late in pregnancy. Because of the state law, our doctor was like, “In situations like this, we have sent people to Colorado, and they’ve had good outcomes.”
I was kind of just baffled that this is what you do. I felt like we were going through one of the hardest emotional things I’ve ever experienced, and in that moment the medical system was not really able to help.
We never doubted that we wanted to get an abortion once we found out the news. To us, it seemed like the sort of compassionate, humane thing to do, both for us and for this potential life.
We had to go through logistical shit. We had to organize an appointment in Colorado. We had to get flights. Get hotel rooms. Get a rental car. We had to come up with $10,000 cash in two weeks. We were pissed off. We were pissed off that we had to go to Colorado when we have some of the best hospitals in the country a mile away.
We flew very close to Mother’s Day, and people were asking us lots of questions about our baby. Is it our first one? Do we have a name yet? Is it a boy or a girl? Pregnancy is such a public thing, and people feel very comfortable invading your privacy to ask about it. The reality is sometimes someone is in a very shitty situation with their pregnancy. That was very difficult to navigate.
We had to get the abortion provider in Colorado, Erika’s maternal-fetal medicine specialist, and her brain surgeon all to figure out a plan of care because they were worried about her brain. What they decided we should do is fly to Colorado, get an injection to induce fetal demise from the abortion provider there, and then fly back to New York that night. She went into Sinai and was induced and effectively had a stillbirth.
Like most people who get an abortion, we didn’t think about the political nature of it. We weren’t really thinking about, well, why is that the law? It was just something in our way and something that really complicated the experience for us. It wasn’t until sometime after that we started sort of unpacking what had happened and how complicated it was and why, and deciding that we wanted to be involved in doing something about it.
Eventually we decided it made sense for us to share our story. We spoke at a rally in Albany and started to share our story directly with the legislators, just to try to get some context as to why the current law was problematic. We started working as sort of people with a sad story. Then we realized that there was an opportunity for patients to actually step in as partners and become actual independent advocates.
For a long time, abortion in general has been siloed as a women’s issue. It’s been fought for by women. I think it’s time for men to get off the bench, because we are certainly beneficiaries and often stakeholders in people in our lives having access to abortions. Right now men are overrepresented on the anti-choice side of this conversation. We really need people to step up and say, “Hey, my mother, my partner, my daughter, my wife was able to get an abortion, and it’s important that I fight for that too.”
So we created a campaign, for lack of a better word, in New York to focus on the bill that would fix the law, and used our story to help push that. We went to Albany probably a dozen times or so and spoke with legislators. We worked with activists across the state. We started organizing people who don’t normally talk about abortion, really trying to make it an issue in the 2018 midterm elections—just made sure that people running for state office were talking about the issue and understood it.
The elections happened in 2018. Some people who were better on this issue got elected, and the bill that we had been supporting got signed into law in January.
Richard, 81, Massachusetts
We had three kids in 22 months. After the twins were born, my wife went and had an IUD placed. That failed, and she got pregnant. It wasn’t that we weren’t trying to be reasonable and protective. With an IUD in place, she got pregnant.
This is three years before Roe v. Wade, February of 1970. My wife was pregnant and had three children under three. Three in diapers at the time. We could not have a fourth child. It just was absolutely impossible. And my wife, who was then just going back to work, was saying, “I can’t go through this.” The long and short of it is it would have been a damn near physical and psychological impossibility to have a fourth child.
In those days you had to have a psychiatric clearance to get a legal abortion. And so my wife had to go through the charade and degradation of going to a psychiatrist for clearance for a therapeutic abortion. That was approved, and she had her abortion.
It was a positive decision. It was a thoughtful decision. It was carefully thought out. This is what's best for our family decision. And that was our decision. Not society’s decision. Our decision.
Travis, 33, North Carolina
She met me after I got off work at the bar we normally hang out at. This was a few days before Father’s Day this year. She reached in her pocketbook, and she handed me a positive [pregnancy] test, which I didn’t realize was a positive test. I didn’t know what one even looked like, honestly. So we started talking. I was like, "What do you want to do?" Ever since I was young enough to consider the fact that I might get somebody pregnant, my thought was always that it’s their choice, and I’ll support them either way. I would never be the kind of person to not be a dad if I have a child, but I’m not going to pressure somebody into having a child.
She was definitely leaning toward having the procedure done. We talked about it kind of on and off for about a week, but more or less what happened was we both agreed that it was probably not the right time to do this. Even though emotionally I’ve always wanted a kid, and I’m pushing into my mid-30s and I’m very much about having a family. But intellectually it’s just—it wasn't the right time.
“In your brain, you know this isn’t the right time. In your heart, you start imagining and dreaming about what could have been.”
In the back of a guy’s mind, or at least in mine, there was some thought of You don’t want the baby—does that mean you don’t want me? Am I not good enough to be the father of your baby? I am willing to recognize that a lot of those are possibly silly thoughts. But they exist.
I ended up not going to the procedure with her. As much as I didn’t like that, it was her choice. It was up to her. Her mom went with her. I have a lot of guilt associated with that, just given that it’s also my responsibility. I wasn’t there to share some of the impact of the actual trauma, I guess, that goes along with all of it.
One of the little things that starts to get to you is all the thoughts of what could have been with the baby. In your brain, you know this isn’t the right time. In your heart, you start imagining and dreaming about what could have been.
Cazembe Jackson, 39, Atlanta
I was a junior in college. It was the week before finals, and I was walking home from the library, at probably, like, one o’clock in the morning. These guys were riding by in a truck and saying that one of their friends had just gotten out of jail and was looking for a good time. I always have been a trans-masculine person, so I was dressed in “boy” clothes. The conversation ended up being like, “We need to show you how to be a real woman.” I got raped by four men and kind of left there, outside. They call it corrective rape, when they’re raping you to make you straight.
I found out I was pregnant. I was on financial aid and basically already hustling trying to graduate, and did not want to be pregnant, did not want to have a kid. I was very suicidal and depressed. I stopped school for a little bit and went home. There was a Planned Parenthood around the corner from where I grew up, and I just went there. When I told them the story of what had happened, they set me up with a rape crisis center. That was my first time ever going to therapy. I don’t know what I would do had I not started therapy.
“Women are not the only people who get abortions and who need them. There are also trans men, there are also other nonbinary or gender-nonconforming folk who don’t identify as women who also need access.”
My abortion cost $300. I was a struggling college student. I ended up having to take out a payday loan, which cost way more than $300 and took way longer to pay back.
Women are not the only people who get abortions and who need them. There are also trans men, there are also other nonbinary or gender-nonconforming folk who don’t identify as women who also need access. It’s important that our voices are heard around abortion access.
Michael, 23, Colorado
I was on team abortion pretty much the whole time, and she was trying to think it out. I just made my case. Like, “Hey, we both really can’t afford to have this kid at all.” She was 19. I was 22 at the time.
It was so scary through the whole process. Getting the sonogram and seeing that she was actually pregnant, [I was] more sentimental than I thought I would get about it. Seeing that life that’s there, it doesn’t make it any easier than we thought it was going to be. A lot of old-school tropes really came into play, like, Are we killing this kid?
Diego, 27, Rockland County, New York
I had a serious girlfriend for a time. [Then at one point] she started acting kind of weird, distant. And looking back, I was kind of oblivious to the signs. You know, her breasts were getting bigger and she was getting nauseous and stuff like that. And then one night she just came out and said, “Hey, I had an abortion this week.” And I’m like, “Wait, what?” She thought that I just wouldn’t want to deal with it, which was not the case at all. I was pretty devastated. And I was just thinking, like, Oh my God. I lost my child.
Before that moment, as a Christian, I had always had the standpoint of, like, “Yeah, abortion is wrong.” But it’s not really an issue that I was, like, clamoring for or hard-core on either way. Since then, I’ve become more knowledgeable and active in why I believe abortion is wrong, as far as what the Bible says, the arguments for pro-life and for pro-choice, and how we talk about the issue.
I’m hurt that that baby never had a chance. I’m hurt that my girlfriend thought that was the right decision to make, especially without consulting with me. Because even though America says this is a women’s issue, it’s as much a man’s issue because it takes a man and a woman to make a baby. And that’s something that we’re both going to carry the rest of our lives, the memory of what could have happened. I think about that baby—not, like, every day or every week—but I think about that baby a lot.
Dashiel Hitzfelder, 38, Durham, North Carolina
I felt really stupid. We know how the birds and the bees work, right? You have unprotected sex, there are consequences, and this is what happened. You put a seat belt on when you get in a car, and if you don’t and you get in a car wreck and you get your face smashed in, those are the consequences that you live with when something really simple could have prevented it. I was just furious at myself.
Once it was over and done with, I felt relieved and really didn’t think too much beyond that. Not to sound uncaring, but that was kind of it. I’m like, “Okay, sweat off the brow. What’s the next problem, next course of action? Where does our relationship go from here?”
Dave, 24, Seattle
I was 17 and my girlfriend was 19. She was my first girlfriend, and actually it was my first time ever having sex. I was pretty new to everything. Previously we would hook up and stuff, but we never really had sex.
One day we were hanging out, hooking up, doing whatever. And I wasn’t exactly ready, but she talked me into it, or convinced me that maybe it was a good idea.
We didn’t have a condom, but she assured me that it was fine, that I’d be able to pull out or something. I wasn’t able to, because I was a virgin and I didn’t know what the hell was going on. And pretty much immediately it was like, Oops, there goes that. We decided that she should take Plan B. I had to pay for half of it or whatever. And we relaxed for a minute.
About three weeks later, four weeks later, I’m waking up for school. I get a call and it’s her, and she tells me that she’s pregnant. It was the craziest thing I have ever experienced. It was the scariest thing. Yeah, I was pretty much paralyzed in bed. I didn’t know what the fuck to do. There’s just no way you can plan for that or even know what to do, as a 17-year-old still in high school. I didn’t have any money. I didn’t have a job. I couldn’t imagine telling my parents.
She was like, “Yeah, I have to get an abortion, obviously.” There’s just no way that we could have done anything. We were both still kids, and why would you carry through with that when neither of you are even close to ready? So she ended up going to Planned Parenthood. It ended up costing her, like, $800, and that was all the money that she had.
For years I had so much trauma with sex. It would take so much for me to enjoy having sex with a new person, or just to feel comfortable having sex, having that looming fear. I still have anxiety, and I still have trouble, and I still have things that I think are directly related to that experience.
John Mayer, 38, Portland, Oregon
In 2016 we found out that Hanna was pregnant with our second child. We were very, very excited to welcome that kid into the world. We already had a name picked out: River.
All of the checkups with doctors were healthy and well. We had our 20-week ultrasound in early September. Then Hanna received a phone call from somebody telling us that there were abnormalities on the ultrasound. They wanted to see us as soon as possible, and somebody would call us soon. So we were left with that bombshell.
When the scheduling person called, we made an appointment for two weeks away. At that point we were just told that they had noticed some cysts on the brain. My wife and I both like to learn things, like to do research, so we went and did as much research as we could. We found out that cysts on a baby’s brain are very normal, oftentimes not even noticed, can have no impact, but also can have significant impact. So we lived through these two weeks just fairly optimistic but knowing that there was something that we needed to pay attention to.
“We were allowed to make the best worst decision that we could have and feel very, very thankful that we were surrounded by love to make the decision, and not by anything else.”
We had a few appointments in quick succession with a perinatologist [an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies], and then we were also told we needed to meet with a genetic counselor. Coming back from the fetal MRI, the perinatologist walked into the room and just uttered the words “It’s worse than I thought.” I can remember my stomach disappearing like it was just falling off a building. I wasn’t in a father mode to this baby yet, hearing those words. I only was thinking about, as a partner and a husband, what this is going to do to Hanna.
We learned that the baby lacked a corpus callosum, which is the architecture in your brain that connects the hemispheres. People can live without their corpus callosum, but it’s very difficult. It’s a very difficult life. And alongside that there were a number of other abnormalities on her brain that we learned about that, to us, added up to a life of suffering if she could live in this world.
Hanna and I don’t come from a faith tradition. We talked to as many people as we possibly could. And then we made the decision to terminate the pregnancy, largely out of the logic of: If the job of being a parent is to minimize the suffering of your child and help them to thrive in this world, the best way we could parent River was by allowing her to have a compassionate death.
That was a very hard thing to sit with. We knew that it would be best for us to be able to have some control over how she came into the world and how she left the world, because she wasn't going to be long in this world.
Hanna was very clear that she wanted to deliver if possible. Delivery is an option when you’re that late in the pregnancy, and it put us in the category of what is commonly called a late-term abortion. It’s inducing labor in order for a baby to die. It was known that there would be no lifesaving procedures if River was born alive.
River was born on September 27. She was born alive. River was born breathing and lived for about 90 minutes. And then we got to be with her for about three or four hours in the hospital room. We loved her in that moment, just like you would love any baby that had just been born. And we still love her like a third daughter now. We have a second living child now, but we think of ourselves as a family of five.
[After River died,] it was the hardest time to keep moving through. I was completely shattered. We just tried to put one foot in front of the other. Hanna and I both needed to be by ourselves to cry a lot, to be angry.
We held a memorial service for River in our garden and invited everybody. We had this beautiful ceremony. Fifty people were here in the backyard. Terms of murder and violence are what’s used—by people who I believe have never been a part of this experience—to explain to the general public what happened. But what’s true is that we experienced the most profoundly compassionate set of circumstances. That there was not a moment of violence, there was not a moment of suffering, other than the suffering of any parent who has to say goodbye to a child. Our child was not ripped from the womb. She was welcomed into the world. We told her stories about her family. We sang her songs. We read her poems that we wrote for her while we were waiting to meet her. We remember her birthday every year. She’s a part of our family. She’s not an abstract thing. Nobody did this to us. We were allowed to make the best worst decision that we could have and feel very, very thankful that we were surrounded by love to make the decision, and not by anything else.
I don’t think it’s common to talk about abortion as an act of love, and that’s what this was. It was a loving act to be able to say, “We will welcome you into this world and into our arms without suffering. You are a part of our family now and forever. And we’re so sad that we can’t bring you home.”
Rebecca Nelson is a magazine writer based in Brooklyn. Her work appears in the Washington Post, Elle, GQ and other publications.
Originally Appeared on Glamour