Conceiving Risk and Responsibility: A Qualitative Examination of Men's Experiences of Unintended Pregnancy and Abortion

Article excerpt

Using in-depth interviews with 20 men involved in 30 abortions, this paper examines how men assign responsibility for the occurrence of unintended pregnancy and describe the decision-making process that led to the termination of a pregnancy they co-conceived. Results indicate that a spectrum exists in how men perceive responsibility for pregnancy prevention, ranging from responsibility resting solely with the female to the concept of shared responsibility. A similar continuum exists for how men account for their role in determining pregnancy outcome, ranging from men being excluded from the process, to feeling it was a mutually reached decision, to claiming responsibility for deciding, even when it required persuading women to terminate the pregnancy. In conclusion, the authors suggest that the abortion experience is highly individual and reflective of men's varying attitudes about sex, parenthood, and relationships. As a result, singular messages about responsibility--although internalized by men--are not yielding the results imagined.

Keywords: men, abortion, pregnancy outcome, contraceptive responsibility, cross-gender interviews

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There are approximately 62 million women of reproductive age living in the United States. While approximately 6 million become pregnant each year, about half are unintended pregnancies (Alan Guttmacher Institute [AGI], 2004). In turn, half of these unintended pregnancies are terminated by abortion (AGI, 1999). Although women from a wide range of socioeconomic, racial, religious, marital, and childbearing backgrounds seek abortions, abortion remains controversial. A portion of this controversy swirls around questions of what the appropriate role for men who co-conceive should be.

Beginning in the 1990s, the call for men to exercise greater responsibility around fatherhood (including child support) received increased attention from policy makers, grassroots campaigns, and researchers (AGI, 1999; Brindis, Barenbaum, Sanchez-Flores, McCarter, & Chand, 2005; Gohel, Diamond, & Chambers, 1997; Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb, 2000; Marsiglio, Hutchinson, & Cohan, 2001; Ringheim, 1999). From the desire to see men behave responsibly has grown an increasing focus on men as "partners in reproduction" (Dudgeon & Inhorn, 2004). For example, the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 identified ways that men should "understand their joint responsibilities, so that men and women are equal partners in public and private life" (ICPD, 1994). Research suggests that involving men in post-abortion or post-partum counseling may prevent future unintended pregnancies and that men would benefit from having their own targeted contraceptive services (Beenhakker et al., 2004; Blaney, 1997). This approach has prioritized a client-based framework that aims to provide high-quality reproductive health services to men, "without compromising (and hopefully improving) services for women" (Dudgeon & Inhorn, 2004, p. 1382).

Although this approach attempts to balance women's autonomy with efforts to create greater equality between partners, a dearth of research on men's experiences with unintended pregnancy and abortion may hinder the development and implementation of such an approach. In many cases, the generic advocacy for such inclusion suggests a "one size fits all" approach, without exploration of the diversity of experiences among men and how such efforts at inclusion might need to be tailored.

Some research has been conducted regarding the perceptions of men's roles in contraception, reproduction, or pregnancy in general (Brindis et al., 1998; Edwards, 1994; Grady, Tanfer, Billy, & Lincoln-Hanson, 1996; Marcell, Raine, & Eyre, 2003; Marsiglio et al., 2001; Wegner, Landry, Wilkinson, & Tzanis, 1998), but far less research has been conducted in the area of men's experiences with abortion. …