Men who accompany women to abortion clinics are often starved for information ... so much so that a local clinic director has co-authored a new Web site just for them: www.menandabortion.com.
Claire Keyes, director of East Liberty's Allegheny Reproductive Health Center, and Arthur Shostak, sociology professor emeritus at Drexel University in Philadelphia, launched the site a month ago to address the concerns of men, who are often neglected by clinics despite playing a key part in a pregnancy.
"Historically," says Keyes, "men were overlooked because, initially, when abortion first became legal, there was an attempt to make this simply the woman's choice, and in some cases to push anyone else out of the picture." She and Shostak "had a huge desire to educate men more."
"Frequently Asked Questions" answered on the Web site include "Will she be in a lot of pain during the abortion itself?" and "How can I be of most help afterwards?" The "Just for Men" section reminds men to consider their own feelings of guilt or sadness, while offering tips on being supportive. "Tell Your Story" asks men to write about their experiences of abortion; it includes excerpts from the men's journal that sits in the waiting room at Allegheny Reproductive.
"The very first message [the Web site received] was 'Thank you, thank you, thank you, there isn't anything like this and I'm glad you did it,'" Keyes says.
Locally, both Keyes' clinic and Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania allow support people ... often, but not always, the male half of the pregnancy ... into the procedure room and recovery room. That's unusual: A 2000 national study by Shostak found that, while about three-quarters of men who accompany women to an abortion would like to be with them during the procedure, less than a quarter of clinics allowed them to do so. Similarly, 90 percent of support people said they'd like to be in the recovery room with the woman, and only a quarter of the clinics allowed it.
Shostak's surveys also found that about half of men want a chance to talk with a clinic counselor, but only 40 percent of clinics (including Allegheny Reproductive and the local Planned Parenthood) offered it.
"You have 500,000 to 600,000 men cooling their heels in abortion clinics each year and they resemble Ralph Ellison's invisible man," Shostak says. "But they don't just sit there; they are like a jack-in-the-box. When a staff person comes into the room, they are all over that person: 'Is Janet OK? Can I see Maryanne soon?'"
Men should all have the opportunity to accompany the woman into the procedure room and the recovery room, he says, and have the same access to counseling that women do.
"Abortion is a couples' challenge," he says. "Women shouldn't have to shoulder the whole weight of abortion. It's not fair, and it infantilizes men."
The reasons clinics give for excluding men are sexist and archaic, he adds. In the procedure room, clinics object because "if the women moan and groan, there are some people who say the guys will faint, fall off the stool, hit their head and sue the clinic," he says. "It's a lot of crap. Guys don't expect someone who's being worked on to sing 'Over the Rainbow.'"
Most clinics that keep men out cite the woman's privacy as a reason.
"The women can see each other," Shostak counters.
If a clinic won't allow men to accompany women, posters or CDs can at least explain contraceptive methods and describe exactly what the woman is going through down the hall, Keyes and Shostak suggest. That information could be the difference between a couple coming out of the experience wiser and more mature ... or returning to the clinic again some day.
"Clinics are becoming a little more cognizant of men and their needs," says Keyes. "We have everything to gain by involving them in the process."