NEW YORK (AP) — If Donovan Atterberry thought about abortion at all as a young man, it might have been with a vague uneasiness or a memory of the anti-abortion protesters outside the clinic as he passed on his way to the park as a child.
It became 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 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 would choose you.’ … It wasn’t about whether I believe in abortion or whether I don’t believe in abortion. At that point, I thought about her life.”
She chose to have an abortion, and “that changed my whole perspective … on physical autonomy and things like that,” Atterberry said.
So much so that he now works as a poll 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 the areas of concern.
“What I’m trying to get across is that having a choice is a human right,” he said.
It is not uncommon for Atterberry to be a pro-choice man; According to polls, a majority of American men say they support some level of access to abortion. And history is full of men who have played an active role in supporting abortion, through organizations, as legislators, and in the case of Dr. George Tiller as an abortion provider. Tiller was murdered at church in 2009 by an anti-abortion activist in Kansas.
Still, there’s room for many more who are willing to speak out and be active in the political struggles over the availability of abortion, Atterberry says.
Where men have always played an outsized role is in pushing and enacting abortion restrictions — as attorneys, elected state officials, and most recently as US Supreme Court justices. Judge Samuel Alito wrote a draft Supreme Court ruling overturning the Roe v. Wade’s 1973 law that introduced national abortion rights. The draft, leaked to a news outlet last month, appears to have the support of a majority of the six men sitting in the nine-judge court.
Women have always taken the lead in the fight to uphold abortion rights, for obvious reasons: they are the ones who give birth and, in so many cases, have the task of caring for children once 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 out there trying to lead the movement or take away leadership positions,” he said. “But being a part of it, being supportive, listening and being active are all things that 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 how like protesting, making it a priority in voting, and most importantly talking to other men.
“Everything we do is focused on, really, millions of men — who are theoretically pro-choice but are completely passive when it comes to their voice and their energy and their time in fighting for abortion rights and access to abortion Abortion goes – to get. to come off the sidelines and enter the fight as allies,” he said.
It wasn’t the easiest task.
Abortion “is almost never a conversation in male circles unless it is introduced by someone who is affected by the issue in most cases,” he said. “Not only that, but… you’re talking about a highly stigmatized issue in society. You talk about sex and sexuality, you talk about anatomy, and none of those things are things men like to talk 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 has become so integrated into our lives, whether we’re partners or not,” she said. “This ties directly to women’s control of fertility — and women do not control fertility in a world where abortion is not legal. … Certainly the sexual freedom of heterosexuals depends 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 could affect men more directly, Cohen said.
“Abortion law, abortion precedent, isn’t just about abortion, it’s about controlling intimate details of your life,” he said. “So whether it’s your sex life, your family life, other parts of your personal life, medical care, decision making, all of that is wrapped up in abortion law and abortion jurisprudence and abortion policy,” he said.
Since the Supreme Court draft was leaked, Jacobson said he’s seen more men speaking out about access to abortion and showing more interest in his group’s work than in recent years.
What remains to be seen, he said, “is whether it will catalyze the kind of ally that is needed now and frankly has been needed for a long time.”