The aftermath of abortion is as at least as devastating for men as for women, say clinicians and researchers advocating for healing.

Men who have experienced a wife or girlfriend’s abortion commonly feel rage, anxiety, grief and depression, shame, guilt and a sense of helplessness and impotence. While much more research on men’s aftermath is needed, post-abortive men clearly suffer in multiple ways. According to U.S. Physicians for Life: “Of 1,050 men interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, two-thirds of those who acknowledged having fathered an aborted child said they felt guilty about it and one-third acknowledged feelings of regret. These rates surpassed those which the Times found among post-abortive women.”

It is known that participating in abortion harms the character and identity of a man. Psychologist Dr. Vincent Rue claims: “Abortion rewrites the rules of masculinity. While a male is expected to be strong, abortion makes him feel weak. A male is expected to be responsible, yet abortion encourages him to act without concern for the innocent and to destroy any identifiable and undesirable outcomes of his sexual decision-making and/or attachments.”

Kevin Burke, associate director of the Rachel’s Vineyard ministry, explains that legally available abortion “tempts the natural father to kill off his instinct to protect and provide for his children” and instead see them as disposable. But in our society, men have no say in the abortion decision. Many abortions proceed despite the father’s objections or without his knowledge.

A man may encourage or coerce the abortion decision and feel relief immediately after it is committed. The symptoms of abortion aftermath may then emerge in either the short or long term and will increase over time if left untreated.

Whether or not he participated in the abortion decision, a man will often feel anger toward himself, toward the baby’s mother and about the medical and legal context. He may be angry at the circumstances of the crisis pregnancy or at God for allowing the situation. Domestic violence and social aggression are common manifestations of this reaction. A man is more likely to abuse a female partner after an abortion, whether or not he is the child’s father.

Anxiety about the unborn child can be expressed in nightmares by the aborted father. He may feel confused by his inability to protect his child or by the apparent disconnect, if he seems to regret the abortion more than the mother.

A man’s sadness and grief over lost fatherhood is exacerbated by his sense of powerlessness in the process. Since most unmarried couples who abort break up soon after the abortion, he will often mourn the child as well as the relationship. Numbness, despair and suicidality can result.

A man can feel ashamed that he did not or was not able to act as a father to his unborn child. He can feel guilt about the couple’s irresponsible behaviour  and fear about being found out. Men who pressure women to abort often report later remorse over having caused pain to the mother and death to the child.

A man who was unable to stop an abortion despite honourable behaviour may feel impotent and may have sexual dysfunction. He may not function well in other areas of his life, because he does not feel effective as a provider. He has a sense of lost manhood.

A man experiencing these emotional reactions may behave in self-destructive ways, by abusing alcohol and other drugs; becoming sexually promiscuous; or seeking thrills and taking risks. Feeling the need to stay silent about the abortion, he may escape in leisure or throw himself into workaholism. He may try to father a “replacement child” or he may become hypervigilant towards other children already born.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the incidence of men who are negligent because they are unable to bond with subsequent children. Psychiatrist and psychologist Dr. Philip Ney has documented the reciprocal relationship between abortion and child maltreatment. He finds that men who were neglected as children are more likely to choose abortion, leading to a damaging family cycle.

Bradley Mattes, executive director of the Life Issues Institute, observes that men have a much harder time coming forward with their grief. Society barely offers sympathy to the post-abortive mother, let alone the father, and we typically make it difficult for men to cry or show emotion. We lack sufficient outreach for men needing to heal from abortion, he says.

Still, Burke finds that when offered the opportunity, post-abortive “men (who have) entered deeply into the healing process, grieved as intensely for their children as the women in the group and received similar benefits from the experience.” Many men who have healed from abortion show a deep commitment to pro-life work, including ministry to other men.