Men’s ‘Abortion Regret’ Stories Are More About Controlling Women

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Commentary Abortion

Men’s ‘Abortion Regret’ Stories Are More About Controlling Women

Amanda Marcotte

Anti-choice websites now promote male "abortion regret" stories—which are mostly an exercise in encouraging men to try to control women's bodies, even with bullying.

“Abortion regret” propaganda, which involves a handful of women declaring that their supposed remorse about their reproductive choices should mean fewer basic rights for the rest of us, was already nauseating enough. But if you’re really interested in vomiting in your mouth, I urge you to check out the growing tendency in anti-choice circles to bring men’s “abortion regret” to the forefront. Because the men were not actually in charge of the decision, these cases have even ickier connotations: that it’s somehow OK, and even desirable, for men to try to control women’s options.

The most recent example of such stomach-churning rhetoric is titled “The Apology,” produced by Heroic Media and discovered by Anna Merlan at Jezebel:

Freud famously posited that women suffer from penis envy, but this video demonstrates, conclusively, that the opposite is true: These cis men’s uterus envy has reached the level where they’re saying, “I had an abortion,” which is physically impossible for biological reasons. The whole video is underpinned with the belief that men should own women’s bodies so completely that even a woman’s experiences are assumed to belong to them—while the men themselves benefit from avoiding unwanted parenthood. It’s a win-win situation for these men, and the only thing they have to do is shed a few crocodile tears over their supposed “mistake” in not bullying the women they were dating into choosing to have a child.

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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Sadly, this video is not an anomaly. Websites like Reclaiming Fatherhood and Men Regret Lost Fatherhood cover the same basic territory: Men, who have the luxury of being able to live the lives they wanted because of abortion, claiming “regret” in order to steal that choice away from everyone else.

The irony here is that this focus on men appears to be motivated, in part, by the desire of the Christian right to shut down accusations of misogyny by instead framing abortion as something society, feminism, and careless men inflict on women. Those behind the narratives evidently want to dodge accusations of picking on women by placing the responsibility on men. They invoke images of chivalrous men dutifully marrying women they knock up, or, if not that, at least trying somehow to save the fetus with promises of help. The word “rescue”—both of the fetus and of the woman—is all over “The Apology.” Other sites focus on the idea that men can somehow stop abortion by being more invested in and more supportive of women they impregnate.

When you look more closely at the details, it becomes clear that what is being promoted here isn’t the gallant saving of grateful pregnant maidens, but rather a call for men to be domineering. “I should have manned up and I should have fought for you,” one man in the video says. “I was neither here nor there, so I never even fought for the opportunity to save the child,” says another. But we’re never given any indication of what this “fighting” might look like. We aren’t told much about how the women felt at all. That omission suggests the details are unsavory—that “fighting” looks less like the conservative ideal of heroically offering support, and more like haranguing and shaming women into having children for you.

When we dig into stories of male abortion regret at another site, Silent No More Awareness, the implications of emotional manipulation become even more obvious. One man whose girlfriend aborted and appears to have dumped him is angry that she hid the abortion, knowing that he’d try to stop her. Then he calls her a “dismal, heartless Cosmo girl” after she wises up and leaves him.

Another man, whose wife aborted because their marriage is on the rocks, uses the abortion as a pretense for relentlessly badgering and bullying her. “The estrangement is hard to fix and my wife can’t seem to share with me the horror and grief I still feel,” he writes. “She thinks I’m trying to instill guilt in her (but I wonder what she had done with her guilt feelings as a mother.)” For the record, I’m guessing she feels that way because that is exactly what he’s doing.

A third writes, about going to the abortion clinic, “We were there almost six hours waiting. I had a lot of ‘second’ thoughts during that wait. I knew deep down inside that what we were going to do was wrong, but at the time wasn’t strong enough to get up and walk out.” I doubt he is really confused about whose body needed to be there to get the abortion; after all, his girlfriend could have still gotten the procedure without him there. This suggests, then, that what he really regrets is not stomping out in a rage in an attempt to change his partner’s mind.

For a movement apparently trying to avoid charges of misogyny, it’s odd to see anti-choicers highlighting stories of men who wish they’d been bigger assholes to women.

But even if they really were just encouraging men to try to “rescue” pregnant women with offers of marriage, there’s a real flaw in many of these abortion regret stories. If getting married to the woman and having children with her was, in fact, the right choice, it’s hard not to ask why they didn’t go on to do just that. Deciding not to get married and have a child is one of those regrets that is easy to remedy! All you need to do is get married and have a child.

The fact that these men have almost never done that with the women they felt destined to breed with suggests that it was not, in fact, meant to be—either because they didn’t want it, the woman didn’t want it, or both. But they’re still so committed to the general idea that other men should force this on women that these kinds of obvious objections get ignored.

Because of all this, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this “men regret abortion” thing is less about “life” and more about reinforcing the idea that men should control women. Sometimes it’s through feints of chivalry, and sometimes through outright emotional manipulation, but it always comes back to the same idea: that women are not to be trusted to make their own decisions, so men should do it for them.