NEW YORK (AP) — If Donovan Atterberry thought of abortion as a young man, it may have been with a vague discomfort, or a memory of the anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic he would pass on his way to the park as a child.
Things got real for him in 2013, when his girlfriend, now his wife, became pregnant with their first child together. She had previously had a healthy pregnancy, his stepdaughter, but this time genetic testing found a deadly chromosomal disorder in the developing fetus, one that would likely result in a stillbirth and also potentially endanger her life during delivery.
“As a man, I didn’t know how to comfort her, how to advise her,” recalls Atterberry, now 32. “I said, ‘If I had to choose, I’d choose you.’ … It wasn’t about whether I believe in abortion or not. At that moment I thought about her life.”
She chose to terminate the pregnancy and “it changed my whole perspective … on physical autonomy and things like that,” Atterberry said.
So much so that he now works as a voice engagement organizer for New Voices for Reproductive Justice, which focuses on the health of black women and girls, with access to abortion being one of its focuses.
“What I’m trying to convey is that it’s a human right that someone has a choice,” he said.
That Atterberry is a man for abortion rights is not unusual; according to polls, a majority of American men say they support some degree of access to abortion. And history is full of men who have played an active role in supporting abortion, through organizations, as lawmakers and in the case of Dr. George Tiller, as an abortion provider. Tiller was murdered in church in 2009 by an anti-abortion extremist in Kansas.
Still, there is room for many more people who want to speak out and be active in the political struggle over the availability of abortion, Atterberry says.
Where men have always played an outrageous role is pushing for and enacting abortion restrictions — as advocates, state-elected officials, and most recently as a judge on the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Samuel Alito was the author of a draft Supreme Court ruling that would overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision establishing a nationwide right to abortion. The draft, which was leaked to a news outlet last month, appears to have the support of the majority of the six men serving on nine courts.
Women have always been at the forefront of the fight to preserve abortion rights, for obvious reasons: they are the ones who give birth and who, in so many cases, have the job of looking after children as soon as they are born.
No one is calling for that leadership to change, said David Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University who specializes in law and gender.
“Men shouldn’t be there to lead the movement or take away leadership positions,” he said. “But being a part of it, supporting it, listening and being active are all things men can and should do.”
That’s what Oren Jacobson is trying to do at Men4Choice, the organization he co-founded in 2015, where the goal is to get men who say they support abortion rights to speak up and do more, like protest, making it a voting priority. and especially talking to other men.
“Everything we do is aimed at gaining what truly millions of men are – who are pro-choice in theory but who are completely passive when it comes to their voices and their energies and their time in the fight for abortion rights and access to abortion – to come off the sidelines and go into battle as allies,” he said.
They weren’t the easiest of tasks.
Abortion “is almost never a conversation in male circles unless it is introduced by someone who is most affected by the problem,” he said. “Not only that, but… you’re talking about a heavily stigmatized issue in society. You’re talking about sex and sexuality, you’re talking about anatomy, and none of those things are things guys are particularly comfortable talking about.”
But it’s something that affects them and the culture they live in, notes Barbara Risman, a sociology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“Sexuality is so integrated into our lives whether we have a partner or not,” she said. “That is directly related to women’s control over fertility – and women have no control over fertility in a world where abortion is not legal. …Certainly, heterosexual sexual freedom relies on the ability to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.”
Also, a society in which the state has a say in reproductive decisions could lead to a society in which the state has control over other decisions that can affect men more directly, Cohen said.
“Abortion law, the precedent of abortion is not just about abortion, it is also about controlling intimate details in your life,” he said. “So whether it’s your sex life, your family life, other areas of your private life, medical care, decision-making, they’re all wrapped up in abortion law and abortion case law and abortion policy,” he said.
Since the Supreme Court draft leaked, Jacobson said he has seen more men speak out about access to abortion and show more interest in his group’s work than in years past.
What remains to be seen, he said, “is whether it will catalyze the kind of alliance that is needed now and, frankly, has been needed for a long time.”