Young Men Exposed to the Abortion Experience…

Halldén, B., & Christensson, K. (2010). Swedish Young Men’s Lived Experiences of a Girlfriend’s Early Induced Abortion International Journal of Men’s Health, 9 (2), 126-143 DOI: 10.3149/jmh.0902.126

When Hallden and Christensson (2010, p.126) refer to the fact that many young men in Sweden are ‘exposed to an experience of abortion’, my instant response was to think of those fundamentalist Christians who promulgate the fiction that abortion is a ‘triple tragedy’, that is, for sperm provider, foetus carrier and foetus. That young men might feel anxious, guilty, grief-stricken or whatever (2010, p.127) because they have been marginalised from their partners’ reproductive choices, should never serve as impetus to give such men any substantive role in that decision-making process. Abortion is a deeply personal matter, to which all rights should rest with the woman herself. I have experienced first-hand the devastation caused when meddling others trample all over those rights, and I baulk when I read such scary shite as that put out by French and Kayess (2008), in which they argue that the State should afford the foetus personhood and thence, should forcibly prevent any woman from procuring an abortion…

Whether a life lived in perpetual hell is preferable to having not ever lived at all is an irrelevant line of reasoning, since abortion is and will always be a right intrinsic to individual autonomy and bodily integrity

Still, it is insightful to read what 10 young men, who as teenagers had all ‘experienced a girlfriend’s abortion’ (2010, p.128), actually thought about that experience, including their initial reactions and their lingering concerns (p.129). The open-ended, narrative interview approach garnered some extraordinarily frank, personal reflections and resulted in what was, for me, a surprising diversity of viewpoints (2010, p.129). Noting the small sample size, four main themes emerged…

1. That the abortion had interrupted ‘a life-giving process’ (2010, p.131), whereby the young men conceived of the foetus as a reality and therefore, to destroy said foetus was possibly akin to ‘denying a life’ (p.132). That perspective reflected the reality, if not also the residue of their religious, moral, and cultural values (2010, pp.131-132)…

It had been easy if the pregnancy had been a week old. I have read about it, how big the child is in relation to how long you have it in your stomach [the abortion was carried out in the ninth week of pregnancy]. It’s like becoming a man. It’s not a child. But is it when it is nine months old? Where to draw the line?‘ (Toni) (2010, p.132)

2. That it was critical for the young men to have their girlfriends acknowledge the support that they had provided for them before, during and after the abortion (2010, pp.132-133). Indeed, when such acknowledgement was present, it resulted in positive outcomes…

She felt good about the fact that I was there [during the medical abortion] for her. Because every time she smiled at me, I felt good’ (Felipe) (2010, p.133)

When it was not, it resulted in negative outcomes…

The worst thing about it all was that I wasn’t allowed to be there for her and perhaps hold her hand and show to her that I, as her boyfriend, cared. That split us apart and we separated’ (Peter) (2010, p.133)

3. That the young men had struggled with ‘feelings of helplessness’ (2010, p.134), not knowing ‘what to do for the[ir] girlfriends during the abortion process’ (p.134). Moreover, some had felt excluded from that process by the medical professionals involved and some had felt anxious about how they might react to the actual procedure…

They were only checking up on how she felt. They asked me how she felt, as if she was the only one who felt anything. They told us that they would come and see us every ten minutes, but sometimes it took an hour, sometimes half an hour before they came. They should’ve checked up on us more frequently. I was afraid of fainting. What if I had hit my head or something, or seen her blood?’ (Tobias) (2010, pp.134-135)

4. That for several reasons, the young men supported the right of women to accessible, lawful abortion services, among those reasons being that such services afforded careless sexual partners the capacity to ‘correct’ (2010, p.135) their mistakes. Further, the free availability of these services in Sweden forestalled men being forced to take on the considerable responsibility of fatherhood at a relatively young age…

I decided myself from the beginning. I told my girlfriend, ‘I’m not ready to have children, not yet anyway’. […] I should have gotten a job, my own apartment, and we should have been together a little longer, before we feel ready to have children. I really think I’m too young for that. I need to mature a bit as well. I’m still a kid too, even if you sometimes think that you’re grown up. It’s too big for me. I think’ (Jezon) (2010, p.136)

In discussion, Hallden and Christensson (2010, p.138) emphasise the supportive nature of the 10 young men whom they had interviewed, men who stressed how much they had cared for and been concerned about their girlfriends, and their heartfelt desire to be of whatever assistance they could to the women they loved throughout the entire abortion process (p.133). The authors (2010, p.138) conjecture that this support might have been motivated by a genuine sense of responsibility by these men for having so pro-actively contributed to the problem for which abortion became a necessary choice. Alternatively, and somewhat cynically I might suggest, the authors (2010, p.138) ponder if the men had been agitated to act out of crude self-interest. Ergo, I got you pregnant, you decide to have an abortion, you get upset, I feel guilty, so better to soothe you out of your despair so I no longer feel guilty (or bad)…


It would seem that teenagers in the US are getting the important public health message that condoms prevent both STIs and unplanned pregnancies…

  1. Wazza
    October 4, 2010 at 3:02 am | #1

    This reminds me of the song Brick, by Ben Folds, about a teenage experience of having to take his girlfriend to have an abortion. The negative aspect of theme 2 and theme 3 in particular are quite strongly expressed:

    • October 4, 2010 at 12:10 pm | #2

      Yes, thanks. The authors use the term ‘young men’ but they are in fact referring to males who were, at the time of their girlfriends’ abortions, just teenage boys.

  2. October 4, 2010 at 3:33 am | #3

    Great post – the young men in these situations are seldom considered – and they need support and understanding as well.


    • October 4, 2010 at 12:15 pm | #4

      The emotional support needs of these young men, of any man in this situation, are often overlooked. A more inclusive approach by, for example, involved health professionals, would doubtless assist both the women concerned and their partners.

  3. October 4, 2010 at 4:07 am | #5

    Its hard for both partners to undergo abortion. But it should be a decision of both parties and must support each other.

    • October 4, 2010 at 12:21 pm | #6

      While the actual decision is for the woman herself to make, ideally, in the context of a loving relationship, both partners would respectfully discuss what that proposed course of action means for them individually, and as a couple together.

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