NRL News

New study, “Men’s Experience of Elective Abortion,” an important contribution

by | Oct 27, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

An important study that investigates the meaning of abortion for men —an under-researched subject, if ever there was one—has been published in The Journal of Pastoral Counseling. The authors of “Men’s Experience of Elective Abortion: A Mixed Methods Study of Loss” are Catherine Coyle and Vincent Rue.

“Doctors Coyle and Rue have done a great service to our understanding of the far-reaching effects of abortion in the lives of all those connect to abortion death,” Olivia Gans, founder of American Victims of Abortion, told National Right to Life News Today. “The terrible truth of every abortion is that it is a death in the family and, of course, fathers will be affected.”


Gans pointed out that the latest study demonstrates that “However they are involved, the fathers know, just as the mothers do, that the decision made is a life and death one for their own child.”


Let me first off provide a quick overview of “Men’s Experience of Elective Abortion: A Mixed Methods Study of Loss.”


  • In-depth interviews were utilized to explore the men’s experience. In addition, clinical assessments of anger, anxiety, and grief were administered. The men’s ages were 21 to 43 years. The time lapse between the abortion and the first interview ranged from six  months to 22 years. Half of the men were opposed to their partner’s abortion. One man was supportive of the abortion initially and one was not told of the abortion until after it occurred. The rest of the men deferred the decision to their partners.


  • The predominant theme identified in the interviews was that of profound loss and this was further evident in several subthemes including relationship problems, helplessness, grief, and guilt. Each of the men’s relationships with their partners ended and the men unanimously identified the abortion experience as the cause of relationship failure. All of the men reported feelings of helplessness and grief and a majority of men experienced guilt as well. Clinical assessments revealed clinically significant levels of anxiety and intense grief.

One of the many strengths of the study is that it combines qualitative and quantitative data, hence the “Mixed Methods Study” in the title. Most important, perhaps, is that most previous research occurred either the day of the abortion (and in the abortion clinic) or shortly thereafter. Being able to explore the effects of abortion on men over time is critically important.

The study, according to the authors, was to “add to the small existing body of literature and to fill some of the gaps of prior research.” Specifically

“To date, research has not given much attention to men’s desire concerning pregnancy outcome and how those desires may influence their post-abortion interpretations of the experience. Neither has previous research explored whether the degree of commitment between men and their partners or men’s family history may affect post-abortion adjustment. Finally, no research has investigated the spiritual or existential challenges that abortion may pose for the men involved in spite of the fact that elective abortion involves a deliberate decision to end life.”

In the “discussion sessions,” Coyle and Rue write

“…[T]his study adds new depth to our understanding of this neglected population. The recurring meaning of abortion for the men in this study was that of profound loss and a common reaction to that loss was anger. The men experienced significant, multiple losses related to relationships with their partners, their masculine identify, their self of self-esteem or self-worth,  and fatherhood. For some men, the abortion raised issues related to disappointment in their own fathers as well as to perceptions of themselves as fathers. For all of the men, abortion entailed a much more complex loss than has generally been recognized.”

The authors freely admit the limitations—the number is small and is comprised of men “who self-identify as having been harmed by the experience.” They call for more investigation. But they also make a very important statement:

This may or may not represent a minority of men, since the prevalence of men who experience significant psychological sequelae after abortion is not known at this time.”

As Gans reminds us, “We have barely begun to see the long-term effects of those live-changing decisions throughout our society.”

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