Our inaugural Men’s Healing Matters webinar on February 14 focused on our National Men’s Study and white paper on the Long-Term Negative Effect of Abortion on Men. Host Greg Mayo led the presentation and discussion.
WHY DOES MEN’S HEALING MATTER?
Greg discussed questions that pregnancy center staff, volunteers, and others often ask including Are men really impacted by abortion? Where are they? Why don’t they come forward?
To provide context and insight into men’s experiences, Greg shared a music video by the artist Dax featuring Darius Rucker called To Be a Man. The first time he watched the video “It immediately resonated,” Greg said. He has since shared it with guys in general, as well as with some therapists who shared it with their male clients. The feedback was consistently “finally someone sees me,” he said.
“As we explore how men heal differently,” Greg said, “I thought this song would be a great place to start with sharing where many men are today.”
The lyrics include these words:
I know this life can really beat you down
You wanna scream but you won’t make a sound
Got so much weight that you’ve been holdin’
But won’t show any emotion, as a man, that goes unspoken
That we can’t cry when life gets hard… we just have to play our parts
And don’t nobody give a damn about our broken hearts
It’s a lonely road, and they don’t care…
Participants shared that the song helped them to “look through the eyes of a man – what he’s feeling but can’t verbalize” and to “grow an appreciation of how hard it may be for men – how they perceive whether or not people are interested in them.”
“This is what we deal with in reaching men for healing,” Greg said. He shared that at every event he speaks, men will approach him and say I’ve never told anyone, but my girlfriend or wife or significant other had an abortion. The conditioning that what they feel doesn’t matter is an obstacle to their even seeking healing.”
Participants and Greg discussed how the video can lead men into conversation because of its transparency. “If one man sees another man share openly and honestly,” Greg said, “that gives him permission to do the same.”
WHITE PAPER ON MEN’S RESEARCH – 15 KEY HIGHLIGHTS
Greg then dove into a presentation on our Men’s Research and White Paper and offered 15 key highlights:
20 million men and women have experienced abortion in 2001-2021. Our research shows that 82% of both men and women don’t know where to go for after-abortion support. That amounts to 16 million people who don’t know where to find care.
The National Survey of Family Growth estimates that by age 45, 1 in 5 men experience abortion through a partner’s pregnancy termination. That study’s authors note that figure may be low because men don’t always know about their partners’ pregnancies or abortions.
There are a lot of comments in society about the role men play in abortion. Our study found that 45% of men said they had no voice or choice in the abortion decision. And 57% did not make the decision (their partner or someone else did). This mirrors a Guttmacher Institute study in which 57% of men said they would not have chosen to terminate the pregnancy if the decision had been up to them.
Men often struggle emotionally after abortion experiences regardless of their personal views on abortion itself. “Since the white paper came out,” Greg said, “I often hear people saying we must have just interviewed a bunch of pro-life evangelicals.” He explained that our study participants were split the same as the general population of men with 51% of men in our study self-identifying as pro-choice. So, the 71% who reported adverse changes and the 83% who wanted help – that includes both pro-choice and pro-life men.
Although 83% want help and 71% experience adverse change, only 7% said they would go to a clergy member for help, only 40% prefer a religious approach to healing, and over half (53%) seldom/never attend church. In contrast, an estimated 95% of abortion healing programs are religious. “It’s about context,” Greg said. “If you’re only offering religious programming, you’re not reaching the majority of men who want help.”
“Men have been minimized, if not completely overlooked in the [abortion] conversation,” according to Dr. Brian Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Southern California and a reproductive health researcher. Greg pointed out that this ties into the idea in the song To Be a Man that what you’re feeling doesn’t matter. “I would argue it’s worse in the context of abortion,” he said.
71% of men report adverse changes after abortion. These include depression, guilt, regret, anxiety, anger, substance abuse.
Men often experience disenfranchised grief and emotional invalidation. The Cleveland Clinic cautions that “Grief can affect every aspect of your being – mind, body, and spirit.”
Greg shared a quote from a past workshop attendee: “Just talking about men’s abortions and knowing I’m not the only one and that there is hope for healing is priceless.” Greg pointed out that this man wasn’t looking for a magic pill – he just wants to be able to talk about it and find healing.
Emotional invalidation is dismissing or rejecting someone’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. After the men’s research and white paper were released, articles about the study were published in national-level publications. Greg shared some of the comments that readers posted attacking men – even though the articles were not about politics. They just offered information that some men hurt after abortion and that healing is possible. Comments included: Men need to stay out of it. Quit whining and man up. Men can shut their mouths. Their hurt feelings aren’t a consideration here. Greg shared one comment directed to him that has stuck with him: I hope you have a daughter, and I hope she’s raped, then we’ll see what you think about abortion. Greg suggested the webinar participants consider the effect of reading such comments on men who may be unsure if they’re even able to speak about their pain. “I’d say it would encourage them to be silent,” he said.
Our research identified three challenges to men’s healing after abortion:
Lack of awareness
Lack of abortion healing resources for men
Lack of options for the type of healing that men prefer
What is Abortion Healing?
Similar to other losses or traumas, healing from abortion is the process of sharing stories, working through emotions, grieving losses, and finding freedom from making decisions out of fear and trauma.
Healing isn’t one-and-done. There are layers of healing. Greg discussed Support After Abortion’s six-week introductory abortion healing resource Keys to Hope and Healing. He described our Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behaviors book and study that are a helpful next step that looks at the impact of childhood issues and traumas. He noted that the men’s version of Unraveled Roots will be published in a few months.
Greg spoke about the importance of approaching and communicating with people in a way they can receive. “The key is to meet people where they are,” he said, “and not forcing a religious message or acceptance of a religious position in order to receive help.” He quoted Support After Abortion board member, Fr. Shawn Monahan, OMV, who said, “We can’t always lead with Jesus or prayer. We need to lead with love. Our role today is to help them find hope, healing, and peace at this stage in their journey.” Greg cautioned, “If your approach is that they must enter healing only the way you think they should, you’ll lose them.”
The idea of meeting people where they are leads into Support After Abortion’s focus on offering healing options – programs for different levels of healing (e.g. introductory, intermediate, deep dive), different modalities (such as books, audio, video), and different types of healing (such as in-person, virtual, or self-guided; secular or religious; clinical, lay-led, or self-guided; weekend, weekly, or self-paced; group, one-on-one, or independent.)
“I was against virtual at first,” Greg shared. “My whole life in recovery was in-person, and I thought it was the way to go. But I’ve found men in virtual groups have been more open. Perhaps it’s because when I’m virtual, this is my space, I feel comfortable and safe.”
MY STORY OF LOST FATHERHOOD
Greg shared his personal story of experiencing abortion twice, losing his path in life as a result, and finding healing decades later.
When I was 18 years old, my girlfriend and I got pregnant. Her mom decided she would have an abortion. I protested, but was told this is what’s going to happen. So I did what I thought I should and went with them. I was inside for about eight seconds then was asked to go outside. I sat on the steps. When she came out, something was different.
That was the end of my senior year. My intent had been to go to college, try out as a soccer walk-on, and study journalism. But the experience sent me down a different road. I didn’t go to college. I couldn’t hold a job or even a thought. I became an angry person. I started engaging in adrenaline junkie behaviors and I moved around the country a lot. I was a swirling vat of confusion, anxiety, and depression, although I had no words for it at the time.
Then when I was 22 years old, a girl I had dated briefly called to tell me “I’m pregnant, but I’m going to take care of it.” I already knew how I felt after the first time, so I begged her not to. I offered to take the kid myself or get married. I wasn’t a stable guy then, so I understand her not wanting to. I said I would get in the car and be there in the morning, and we can talk. But she told me. “Don’t bother, by the time you get here it’ll be over. It’s not a baby and it’s not your decision,” and she hung up.
So by the time an average person would have graduated college, completed an apprenticeship, or served in the military, I had lived in four states, seven cities, flunked out of college, and experienced two abortions. I didn’t know anywhere to go to or people to talk to. What I had heard about Christians was a lot of judgment. I had seen the baby killer and burn in hell signs in the parking lot of the first abortion facility. It drove me further and further away.
Eventually I did have a conversion. But it was still many years later during a men’s study that I felt compelled to share my story. I was so nervous. But after I spoke that night, three other guys out of 14 men said they had the same story. That was the moment I got into recovery. I started meeting weekly with my pastor and also with a therapist. Later I became a Celebrate Recovery leader, which led me to write the novel Almost Daddy and its 12-step recovery guide.
And that’s why I’m here doing what I do – to help other men find a path to healing.
WHAT DO MEN WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED ABORTION WANT AMERICA TO KNOW?
Greg shared three final ideas related to men who have experienced abortion:
Men need to know that grief is a natural response to loss and that it’s okay to feel pain, sadness, grief, and loss after abortion.
There is an immediate need for greater awareness of the impact of abortion and healing options including secular and other resources for men and by men.
Licensed therapists and counselors need to be trained in abortion healing to meet the demand for clinical care.
Click here to watch the video of this webinar.
Click here to register for the next Men’s Healing Matters webinar. The topic will be Changing the Way we Talk about Abortion.
Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Men’s research and white paper on the impact of abortion on men.
Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Women’s research and white paper on the impact of medication abortion on women.
Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.
Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.
Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.
Our inaugural Quarterly Facilitator Meeting on January 24 focused on Group Guidelines. Co-Hosts Greg Mayo, Men’s Healing Strategist, and Heidi Inlow, Case Manager, lead a discussion and offered practical tips and strategies for implementing guidelines within healing support groups.
WHY HAVE GUIDELINES
Greg shared the importance of guidelines for a group. “They let each member know what’s expected of them,” Greg said, “and what they can expect from the facilitator and other participants. Without that they don’t know the rails and boundaries.”
“I’ve learned that guidelines provide me boundaries as a facilitator,” Heidi said. She described choosing not to set boundaries once when she thought the group was small enough it was unnecessary. “Those were the most discombobulated, chaotic discussions of any group I’ve led,” she said. She explained that she has found guidelines provide safety and ownership for both participants and facilitators.
Heidi also pointed out that many participants in abortion healing and Unraveled Roots support groups “…have not experienced healthy boundaries, so we get to show a different way of walking through difficult stuff.”
One participant in the training shared that her organization “just tweaked our guidelines and incorporated suggestions from Support After Abortion.” She said that they explain to participants that guidelines “create a safe space for you and enable each person to feel heard.”
START YOUR FIRST SESSION WITH GUIDELINES
Greg and Heidi kicked off the training with a video role play where Greg acted as a facilitator and Heidi and Karin Barbito, Special Projects Manager, played participants. The video illustrated right and wrong ways for a facilitator to present group guidelines to a small group.
As the facilitator in the role play, Greg started the simulated group’s first session by going over the guidelines. He did this by reading and discussing the first guideline, then inviting each participant to read a guideline, and continued that pattern until they finished the list.
One of the facilitators in the training said, “I loved how you had everyone speak.” She described how participants are often nervous to speak up in groups, and including them in voicing the guidelines can help with this. “Hearing their own voice speaking safe words – not their own words,” she said, “starts the interaction and creates the environment.”
Karin showed how discussing guidelines up front gives participants the opportunity to ask questions about how the group will operate.
Greg then advised facilitators to mention that first week that they will touch on the guidelines every week.
HANDLING COARSE LANGUAGE
One topic that came up in the training is how to handle situations when participants use swear words or language that may be offensive to others. The participants discussed situations where they had faced this issue and that having guidelines would have helped.
In suggesting compassion and caution in handling language, Greg gave an example of a poorly-handled language situation in a group he participated in years ago. Halfway into the group session, a newcomer started sharing his story and used some cuss words. He caught himself, apologized and went to keep talking. However, the group leader interrupted with a scathing attack about how wrong and sinful swearing was. The guy who needed healing never returned. “When you take someone who is broken and wounded, and they finally open up,” Greg said, “and then you shame and humiliate him in front of others, you’ve not only not helped him heal, you’ve wounded him and made it worse.”
Greg offered a suggestion for a healthy way to address language issues. He shared that in his last group, one of the guys used a few choice words. Greg sent him a private chat, “Hey, let’s watch the language, cool?” And it never happened again.
Greg and Heidi both advised facilitators to be conscious of where people are coming from and to make allowances. This involves more than customs, race, ethnicity, or religion. The key is to remain curious and not shut down people or conversations.
Heidi shared that the first time she told someone her story, “she didn’t shut down my language” and that was important to enabling her to speak her truth. She explained that at some point people need to stop stuffing their pain and deal with it. “We may be the first place someone shares their story. We need patience.”
She addressed the importance of keeping balance pointing out that unlike working one-on-one with someone, they’re not the only person in the group. Dovetailing with that point, a facilitator noted that coarse language can be a reminder of a painful past and a trigger for other group participants.
“If someone is showing repeat patterns,” Heidi said, “learn more about what they’re going through. That may be a phone call after the group session. That will make them feel seen and heard.”
NOT RESCUING PARTICIPANTS
“In my first group, I really struggled with not rescuing people,” one facilitator shared. She talked about the value in that guideline and said she tells participants, “getting comfortable with our own emotions is important” to helping them heal.
Heidi agreed, “It can be really uncomfortable to have thirty seconds of silence. But, what comes from that is really neat.”
Greg added that common recovery phrases include “work your own program” or “don’t work my program.” The idea being that each person has their own junk to work on. “If I’m focused on comforting you trying to make you feel better,” Greg said, “I’m not working on my own stuff.”
He gave a specific example of someone who struggles with codependency: “It’s natural to focus on others, and they need to focus on themselves.”
HOW TO ADDRESS A MISSED GUIDELINE
The next video role play showed Heidi as a participant stepping outside the boundary of confidentiality and Greg as facilitator gently but firmly and unemotionally enforcing the boundary.
“As facilitators, I don’t want to call out something,” Heidi said, “but a misstep can knock you down.” She gave an example of a long-ago Reproductive Loss group in which a participant showed up on camera with a baby, which was very difficult for the other participants grieving the losses of their babies. Heidi shared that she didn’t know how to handle it on the spot, so she ignored it. The result has that one participant was very upset and never returned. And the one with the baby felt horrible. Heidi said if there had been a group guideline about not having children on camera, that situation would likely never have happened. And if it did, she would have had a clear course of action. She could make a gentle reminder of the guideline and say, “If this doesn’t work with you today, we can meet privately.”
WEEKLY GUIDELINE UPDATES
The third video role play showed a wrong way and a right way to start of the following sessions with guidelines. In the wrong way role play Greg the facilitator just jumped into the meeting without any mention of guidelines). In the right way role play, he gave a short reminder of guidelines – top level without details.
If you realize you forgot to start the meeting that way – as Heidi said she has done – pause when you remember and say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t start with our guidelines, let’s review that really fast…”
Greg encouraged facilitators to do this, even if they receive some pushback. He shared that a guy in one of his groups siad, “Why do we have to do this every week.” Greg’s response was, “We don’t have to, but we’re going to because…” and briefly reiterated the importance of guidelines.
Click here to watch the video of this training.
Click here to download Support After Abortion’s recommended Group Guidelines.
Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.
Click here to register for the next Men’s Healing Matters webinar.
Click here to register for the next Quarterly Facilitator Training.
Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.
Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.
The two GOP presidential debates continued to put abortion center-stage for candidates and voters. It’s clear that, just as in the last two presidential elections and last year’s midterms, it will be a top issue during the primary and general elections.
The divisive nature of abortion makes coverage challenging because it’s a journalist’s job to give voters the information they need without the spin seen on opinion shows and Twitter. Even harder is covering such a sensitive issue in a compassionate way toward the one in four women — and their partners — who have experienced abortion.
Our political discourse often hides the reality that abortion is a human issue. Candidates and activists frequently seek to horrify and shock instead of educate and persuade, treating abortion as another political issue. But the effects on those who have experienced abortion are real, including the one-third of women who told Support After Abortion they suffered loneliness, grief and other adverse effects from abortion — sometimes for years.
Journalists have the unique privilege and responsibility to rehumanize this part of our national political and cultural conversation. Here are four ways to provide the most impactful, high-quality coverage while leading with empathy, recognizing the human elements in articles, and shielding vulnerable individuals from experiencing further trauma and harm.
First, treat abortion like sensitive issues that deserve trigger and content warnings. Journalists and others have long shown respect for domestic abuse survivors, children and other vulnerable populations when covering sensitive topics. They also prioritize protecting audiences from reading or watching unwanted graphic or traumatizing material.
Second, use language that is sensitive to consumers. When 63 percent of women and 83 percent of men say they want some therapy or counseling following abortion experiences, we know this topic is fraught with grief and pain. Journalists responsibly avoid graphic details in a story about murder or assault unless those details are absolutely essential.
Third, take the same compassionate approach to interviewing those who have experienced abortion as you would to drowning victims’ families. No journalist would treat a grieving parent, spouse or sibling like a fact-delivering vending machine: “So, Joe drowned. Tell me about that.” No, on a professional and a basic human level, journalists do their jobs properly by leaving the victim’s space empty then allowing the victim the opportunity to fill it with what she’s ready to reveal.
Fourth, remember the universality of after-abortion suffering. Just like covering a mass shooting or an assault story, there’s a much larger circle of suffering to keep in mind. Support After Abortion’s groundbreaking research shows that nearly 75 percent of men suffer adverse effects from a partner’s abortion, and we regularly receive calls from the parents and siblings of those who experience abortions. They struggle with the harmful effects of abortion and how to help the person directly involved.
These considerations add human compassion to the article while delivering compelling information and the most relevant facts. And for those struggling after abortion, it will show them that you believe in journalism that puts human beings first. Perhaps best of all, framing abortion-related stories with empathy will reduce the temperature on our national conversation.
Abortion politics has always been impassioned, but post-Dobbs, it has become even angrier and louder. The coming presidential election will fuel this unfortunate trend. Leading with empathy when covering abortion is a huge step toward elevating the human side of an issue that has too often dehumanized everyone involved.
Support After Abortion announces new virtual men’s healing initiative
NORTH PORT, FL—Technology meets mental health in a new online program designed to help men who struggle emotionally after a partner’s abortion.
Support After Abortion, a non-profit which is building a national network of virtual healing options, launched a weekly Zoom meeting that merges anonymous group therapy practices with modern networking technology for men who feel hidden by the politics and cultural perceptions of abortion.
“We developed Base Camp to address the realities of men’s experience and capture the success model of recovery groups,” said Greg Mayo, who lost two children to abortion and leads the weekly calls. “The Zoom medium gives us the ability to welcome these men where they are, which is important because they often feel like they are alone in their struggles. Worse, many have been told their opinion doesn’t matter, so they wonder if they are allowed to feel the isolation, depression, and shame that often come from after-abortion challenges.”
Base Camp was developed in light of Support After Abortion’s nationally representative men’s survey data and supported by thousands of calls to the group’s After Abortion Help Line. More than seven in 10 men whose partner had an abortion reported adverse personal changes; and 78% of pro-choice men said they sought someone to talk to or could have used help after a partner’s abortion. But just 18% of men knew where to find after-abortion healing support.
Men may participate in Base Camp at any stage of their healing journey, and everyone is anonymous, said Mayo. “Participants frequently keep their cameras off and identities secret. The option to be anonymous is critical to creating opportunities for vulnerability, which creates a better healing experience for everyone because healing isn’t a one-and-done proposition.”
Base Camp is already impacting men. Anecdotes shared anonymously and with permission include the following:
- “I’ve been to therapy and different types of meetings but never really talked about the abortion.”
- It’s about healing ourselves. There’s pain that is felt and it’s real and it needs to be dealt with.
- I shouldn’t have to fight to prove my own feelings of pain. And I won’t do it anymore.
- I know I have to find healing and stop trying to medicate the pain and run from it.
- “It was a relief to be told and, more importantly, to accept that I had been forgiven. What was challenging was talking about the taking of another life…my unborn child. So I stuffed it and that was a huge mistake. It just festered and got infected until I got it out.
- “I want to share my story but I have to be able to protect my anonymity.” – participant with camera off
- “She wanted the baby. I didn’t want to get married. But after I went into a deep suicidal depression. No one told me the abortion would affect me like that. It was supposed to solve the problem.”
Men struggling after abortion may participate in Base Camp on Tuesdays at 12 p.m. Eastern. Men who cannot participate in Base Camp may anonymously contact Support After Abortion for 1-on-1 counseling and care here.