The Potential Effect of an Abortion on a Relationship
As we have seen, a very striking feature of the course is the anger that can surface on the first evening from women, mainly directed at the men by whom they became pregnant. To help understand the cause of this anger, it can be helpful to think of our expectations of the opposite sex: how we expect them to behave towards us. A useful question to ask in this instance is: what is the difference between men and women?
We have had fascinating and robust discussions around this subject on our course over the years. Interestingly in relation to abortion there is only one statement that I have been able to produce on this subject with which nearly everyone, both men and women, would agree:
Men have a deep instinct to protect women and children. Women have a deep instinct to be protected by men.
The men and women tell us that in a crisis, a woman will look to a man for protection, and a man will instinctively want to protect her. He has an innate instinct to take responsibility for her, although a desire by men to take responsibility for a crisis pregnancy will be lacking in many relationships. (That is not to say that a woman cannot make a decision or defend herself, but at some level women generally want men to show leadership, decisiveness and courage when confronted by an external threat or a crisis.)
Perhaps men also have an instinct to protect themselves from accountability or sacrificial responsibility. So, although initially a woman can think a man’s response of “whatever you want” is supportive, subsequently she may come to see this answer as a conscious withdrawing of the man’s natural protection from her, and as a betrayal. She may also feel that he is not protecting the child, as she instinctively wants to, even if she eventually chooses an abortion. This sense of betrayal is the powerful source of the anger that a woman can feel after an abortion.
Women also sometimes describe being distraught after the abortion, and that the father of the child was not supportive or understanding. A woman can also be angry towards the man involved for seemingly being able to move on without showing any doubt or regret about the decision afterwards.
All this can have a powerful effect on a relationship. The overwhelming experience of those on our course was that the relationship they were in at the time of the abortion broke up soon afterwards. This can be especially heart breaking if the intention behind the abortion was to save it. Even within a marriage or long-term partnership where there are other children, the abortion can introduce an unexpected level of stress, especially if one partner wanted the abortion more than the other. The sense of betrayal felt by women and the guilt and grief at the loss can become highly corrosive. In some ways the abortion can show up fault lines, it can certainly illustrate the lack of commitment in some relationships – the question “should we continue this pregnancy?” rapidly becomes “should we continue this relationship?”.