Recently National Review Online convened a group to opine what would happen in a post-Roe v. Wade world to women who might obtain an illegal abortion. The panelists reveal that before 1973, women who sought an abortion were not subject to criminal prosecution. So overturning Roe v. Wade would not fill our jails with post-abortive women.
One theme surfaces repeatedly in the commentaries: feckless boyfriends who abandon their partners in their hour of greatest need.
Hadley Arkes of Amherst College describes women having an abortion as routinely "Abandoned by the man." And Dorinda Bordlee from the Bioethics Defense Fund obliquely refers to fathers as "those who should be caring for [the mothers] and their unborn children."
So does research back up these broad pronouncements of male abandonment?
In their book Men and Abortion: Lessons, Losses, and Love, Shostak and McLouth report that 44% of single men offered to marry the woman, 18% of the couples had discussed adoption, and half the men accompanied the woman to the abortion clinic - hardly the image of wholesale male abandonment.
When these men show up at the clinic, they are met with a chilly reception. Two-thirds of the fathers want to accompany their partner throughout the experience, and nine out of 10 hope to hold the hand of their partner in the recovery room. But in most cases abortion clinics prohibit men from such expressions of support.
But the NRO panel reserves it harshest criticism for men who force their girlfriends to abort.
Walter Weber at the American Center for Law and Justice claims that "many" women (we aren't told the number) obtain abortions because "they are coerced by boyfriends, bosses, parents, etc."
Joseph Dellapenna of Villanova University states, "Significant evidence led one sociologist to conclude that 'the attitude of the man is the most important variable in a woman's decision to have an abortion." Dellapenna does not cite, however, the name of the sociologist or explain what constitutes "significant evidence."
And Frederica Mathewes-Green recounts the tales of two women who were undergoing an abortion. As they lay on the clinic table, both of them were praying that the boyfriend would burst through the doors and say, "Stop, I changed my mind." Mathewes-Green's imagery of the angelic woman succumbing to the spell of the conniving male is unmistakable.
But research paints a very different picture.
Several years ago Carol Gilligan's acclaimed study, In a Different Voice, examined the dynamics of the abortion decision. She found in only one-third of cases did the father have any influence on the woman's decision to abort.
Likewise, professors Arthur Shostak, Ross Koppel, and Jennifer Perkins recently summarized several large-scale surveys of men in abortion clinic waiting rooms. They reported that only 19% of men in waiting rooms affirmed the idea of abortion in general, and fewer than 5% of men "may have cajoled their partner into having the abortion."
The conclusion is clear: men are not dragging their pregnant girlfriends willy-nilly into abortion clinics against their will.
Abortion is one of those moral and social tragedies that seems to invite simplistic explanations. But the reality is far more complex.
For example, none of the NRO participants mentioned the fact that thanks to the 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision Casey v. Planned Parenthood, women are not required to inform the father of the impending abortion. That's an important omission -- according to clinic workers, in 15% of abortions the man never finds out, or learns of the deed until it's too late.
I once met such a man - years later he was still grieving the silent loss of his precious innocent.
A growing body of research reveals that fathers suffer a variety of ill-consequences following the abortion. Dr. Catherine Coyle recently reviewed 28 studies that reveal men often suffer regret, sadness, and depression. One-third admit to a longing to see the fetus.
Coyle sums up the research with this observation: "Several authors have noted a tendency among men to defer the abortion decision to their female partners as well as a tendency to repress their own emotions in an attempt to support their partners."
Many argue that women are the second victim of the grisly abortion industry. Clearly men can be victims, as well. So when will we stop treating fathers as social pariahs?
Carey Roberts probes and lampoons political correctness. His work has been published frequently in the Washington Times, Townhall.com, LewRockwell.com, ifeminists.net, Intellectual Conservative, and elsewhere. He is a staff reporter for the New Media Network.