OPINION: The end of Roe impacts men too

A small group of people alongside abortion rights activists rallied at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on June 26, 2022 to protest the U. S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v Wade. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

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A small group of people alongside abortion rights activists rallied at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on June 26, 2022 to protest the U. S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v Wade. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

After the U.S. Supreme Court ended constitutional protections for abortion last week, women across the country shared their own abortion stories to both protest and support the decision. Women have been sharing their stories about reproductive health for a half-century now, so that’s nothing new, but the narrative surrounding abortion has changed in 50 years.

The most well-known abortion stories are those of Jane Roe aka Norma McCorvey of Texas and Mary Doe aka Sandra Bensing Cano of Georgia. These are the women whose stories were told on a national stage resulting in the 1973 decisions that protected a woman’s constitutional right to privacy (Roe v. Wade) and limited states’ power to restrict abortion access (Doe v. Bolton). Ironically, neither McCorvey nor Cano had abortions.

McCorvey, then 21 years old and pregnant for the third time, struggled with financial issues and substance abuse. She wanted an abortion, but that wasn’t possible in Texas unless the mother’s life was threatened. So McCorvey gave birth, placed the child for adoption and allowed this significant moment in her life to wind its way through the court system.

During a period of stability, McCorvey formed a long-term partnership with a lesbian woman and became an advocate for the pro-choice movement. When she was baptized by an evangelical minister that helmed an anti-abortion group, she became a supporter of the anti-abortion movement. Then, a 2020 documentary revealed McCorvey’s 2017 deathbed confession that her support of the anti-abortion movement had been fake.

Cano, then a 22-year-old in Georgia, had been institutionalized at a mental hospital, was pregnant with her fourth child and seeking a divorce. She would also give birth and place the child for adoption. In a 2003 court affidavit, Cano said she had been mislead into participating in the landmark case and she became a pro-life advocate until her death in 2014.

The stories of these two young women, beset by poverty and other social problems, would drive the movement for reproductive rights. But years of legal challenges to Roe v. Wade would compel a larger, and more diverse, group of women to share their abortion stories — from a 22-year-old college student in Georgia who traveled to Maryland for a late-term abortion because it would have violated Georgia’s 20-week post-fertilization cutoff to a 22-year-old from Marietta who had two abortions and later regretted it.

The stories of so many women illustrate the complexities of reproductive justice. What is missing from most stories about abortion are the voices of men.

We should always center stories about abortion on the experiences of pregnant people who bear the physical burden of pregnancy but men who are involved in these pregnancies need to examine their experiences, positive or negative, and reflect on the ways in which their lives might be different if women did not have access to safe abortions.

One in four women will have an abortion before the age of 45, according to 2017 research from the Guttmacher Institute. That year, 36,330 abortions were provided in Georgia.

Despite the dearth of research on men and their experiences with abortion, sociologists and medical experts have anecdotally noted that men often benefit from the procedure even when they are unaware of their involvement in a pregnancy that may have ended with an abortion.

Days after the Supreme Court ruling, Brian T. Nguyen, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California tweeted a story from The New York Times featuring a group of men sharing their stories.

“Abortion is not just a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue,” Nguyen wrote. “Abortion bans will affect male partners as well, so it’s time to hear mean speak up about this necessary procedure.”

Nguyen is the founder of EMERGE Lab, whose mission is to expand the engagement of men in reproductive and gender equity. Those efforts reach well beyond abortion into the disparities that exist in family planning and contraception.

Sterilization, for example, is the nation’s most popular method of birth control, but each year, 700,000 women undergo sterilization procedures compared to 500,000 men, even though a vasectomy is easier and less expensive than tubal ligation.

Women have and will continue to lead the fight for reproductive freedom but it is time for men to acknowledge their stake in it as well. Sharing their stories is just the start.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.