This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Do you know a guy who's always angry, drinks way too much, or randomly went out and bought an expensive sports car? How about a guy who's just really immature or bad in bed? Or even a gay guy?
Turns out he might be acting up because the woman he got pregnant had an abortion, according to the speakers last weekend at Canada's first conference on men and abortion hosted by the Alliance for Life Ontario.
I came across the event's poster and was intrigued by the photo of a forlorn-looking man clutching his forehead framed by the title: "Men & Abortion: Reclaiming Fatherhood & Finding Peace."
Even as a staunch advocate for a woman's right to choose, I found myself feeling sorry for the dude and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. So I made my way to Niagara Falls last Friday and nestled in with hundreds of pro-lifers, made up of mostly white middle-aged folks, evenly split between men and women, all packed into a conference room at the Crowne Plaza. Jakki Jeffs, the Alliance for Life Ontario's executive director, kicked the morning off by saying the event was non-denominational, but went right into a prayer in the name of Jesus.
"Help us to be patient as we learn to go forth after this conference with the absolute courage and integrity of being able to share the truth of this other piece of the abortion story," she pleaded.
After the "Amen," the woman next to me squirmed in her seat waiting for the first session, "Men Hurt Too—The Reasons May Surprise You," to start.
"I can't wait to soak it all up and hear about these poor, poor men. I've been waiting all week," she said to no one in particular.
Brad Mattes, president of the International Right to Life Federation in Ohio and a "post-abortion" peer-counsellor for men, took the mic and rattled off all the other symptoms men can experience when their partner gets an abortion.
These include sleeplessness, panic attacks, becoming addicted to porn and masturbation, impotence, and even misogynistic tendencies, he said.
Because a man might feel so frustrated at his lost opportunity of being a father, he might develop a destructive attitude and "a general hatred" toward other women.
And he might pursue "homosexuality" because it provides "sexual gratification with no fear of pregnancy" and therefore no fear of abortion, he said.
"Just imagine the human carnage only from the man's point of view that many of us have not even stopped to think about," Mattes declared. "When abortion takes place, it can damage or totally obliterate aspects of men's development."
He put up a slide with a quote from a former vice-president of medical affairs at Planned Parenthood: "It doesn't matter how much men scream and holler that they are left out. There are some things they are never going to be able to experience fully. I say tough luck," her quote read.
"See, Planned Parenthood doesn't even care about the guys," Mattes said.
He really knew how to rile up this crowd.
"WHAT A BITCH!" blurted out another woman at my table, who later told me she was from a church group for women. Others across the room mumbled worse obscenities.
But Mattes quickly reassured everyone that all was not lost.
There are ways we can all help these men through the trauma of abortion. "What they need is a peer-counsellor environment," he said, before listing the ways the counseling ought to be done. This could include helping the man name the unborn child and creating a certificate of life to hang on the wall.
Everyone rapidly took notes.
"He also needs a gender-neutral environment in which to share his story," said Mattes. This apparently means no frilly curtains, flowered upholstery, or art on the walls depicting anything feminine; things typically found in pregnancy resource centers, which might scare him away from getting help.
"A man goes in there and he runs because he thinks if he goes into that room, his penis will fall off!" he cried.
"The answer is really easy to resolve: put a big screen TV and a remote…if you want to throw in a black leather couch, that's icing on the cake."
The woman next to me agreed wholeheartedly. "That's absolutely right, that'll get him talking."
Mattes signaled that his presentation was nearly over, and clicked to a slide with a stock photo of a man smiling ear-to-ear.
"Abortion is a cancer," Mattes continued to a sea of nodding heads. "It maims and kills everything and anyone in its way. It doesn't pick out the poor, or it doesn't exclusively target the rich. It doesn't care if you're white, black, brown, or in between."
In the afternoon, Linda and Chuck, a married couple—high school sweethearts from from St. Louis, Missouri—took the stage to speak about the abortion they had back in 1976 when they were 17, and echoed many of the symptoms Mattes discussed earlier in the day.
After their abortion, they said they became depressed and angry. Linda said she ended up in the psych ward because she couldn't cope. Chuck said he felt emasculated and eventually became a workaholic. Linda described how she overcompensated when raising their two children, and, as a result of the abortion, became a "helicopter mom."
But after many years of counseling, they eventually overcame the experience and have made it their life's mission to tell others how much it hurt them and almost destroyed their marriage.
After the conference, I wondered if all this was just another iteration of the men's rights movement—which insists that men hurt too and are often silenced by feminists.
Can feminists who advocate a woman's right to choose also accept that men can be traumatized by abortion?
I talked to Kelly Gordon, a professor at the University of Ottawa who researches anti-abortion movements in Canada and the US, who said conferences like this represent a trend in the anti-abortion movement, which is slowly trying to change its identity and move away from shaming women who choose abortions as a way to stop them.
"It's rebranding itself as a sympathetic movement that doesn't necessarily vilify people, but is there to help them heal," she said.
But, she added, it's a trend that's unlikely to make a real splash in the anti-abortion, or pro-life, movement in Canada and that we should be critical of studies linking behavioral problems among men with abortion.
"What my research has found, is that the anti-abortion is moving away from using religious arguments against abortion," she said. "They are trying to use this scientific research that's often not that scientific, and can reaffirm harmful gender stereotypes."
"Whether there can be a therapeutic space for men and women to talk about these issues, I'm sure there is. I don't know if conferences like this are it. These discussions need to be centered around women's experiences."
But for Jeffs, that is precisely the problem.
I caught up with her after the conference to discuss what she hopes it will accomplish. "We are sowing the seeds to get counsellors and therapists and Canada to look at the other part of the abortion drama," she told me.
"Being involved in pro-life for 30 years, I would say we didn't think men were affected by it. All we were looking at was the woman, and how she was feeling. It was a complete oversight on my part, but this is how that changes."
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