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But if men are potentially being used as political pawns by pro-lifers, even pro-choice researchers believe that men's needs in abortion are left behind — just another problem swept aside by the whirlwind of a crisis pregnancy. And it's quite a large population that's being passed over when counseling and research are focused exclusively on women.
Arthur Shostak, a sociologist and professor emeritus at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, has studied men affected by abortion — whom he refers to as "waiting-room males" — for decades. His research shows that approximately half of the women who show up for appointments at abortion clinics are accompanied by a man, be it father, friend or sexual partner.
Shostak began studying males after supporting an ex-girlfriend through her abortion in the '70s. In essence, he is studying his peers: men like him who were left tensed in a cold waiting room for hours during the procedure.
Of his early research in the 1980s, he says, "It was clear that males were the equivalent of Ralph Ellison's 'Invisible Man,' that is, were not seen by power-holders."
In an essay, Shostak describes finding an empty stand in a clinic waiting room where brochures geared toward men should be. Instead, it was stuffed with cigarette butts. The staffer responsible for stocking the literature, he was told, was simply too busy to distribute the pamphlets.
At another clinic, he found that when men asked to use the bathroom, they were directed across the street to a pizza parlor. Men weren't just being neglected in the counseling and care process at abortion clinics; they were being treated with hostility.
Clinic workers like Keyes attribute the sometimes fiercely female-oriented clinic environments to lingering resentment over the fact that, historically, men made all the big decisions for women.
"If you go all the way back to, say, the first wave [of feminism], I think there were really strong feelings against letting men in the picture at all," Keyes says. "Women wanted it to be a women's issue."
Some men, however, are still intent on having their say in the matter. In 2002, a Pennsylvania man named John Stachokus successfully delayed his ex-girlfriend's abortion for a week while a judge considered whether Stachokus had legal grounds to stop her. Stachokus pleaded with Tanya Meyers, nine weeks pregnant with a child he had conceived with her, to carry her pregnancy to term and then transfer full legal responsibility of the child to him.
Meyers was allowed to have an abortion.
"Neither an ex-boyfriend nor a fetus has the standing to interfere with a woman's choice to terminate her pregnancy," the court decreed.
"One of the paradoxes that we have is that a woman can make a decision to terminate a pregnancy, and the father of that particular child has no say with respect to whether or not that takes place," he says. "On the other hand, a woman can decide to have a child, and if the father does not want to be a father, he has obviously no say in whether that child is terminated. But beyond that he can be unilaterally obligated to eighteen years of child support for that child."
He says there are "some real question marks" in a woman's total control over the decision-making process, though his organization has no official stance on the question.
Turner of Faith Aloud says she knows how difficult a disagreement between partners — one is in favor of abortion, the other is not — can be.
"The real problem happens when we hear those that are opposed to abortion say that the men should have equal say, as if there's two votes that count," she says. "The problem is, if it's a tie vote, then what do you do? If one of them says yes to abortion, and the other one says yes to a baby, then somebody has to have the final say, and we cannot give men veto power over what a woman does with her own body."
Beyond men's legal frustrations, Shostak found that waiting-room males would welcome more counseling and educational services in clinics.
In 1999, Shostak called 127 clinics across the country to find out what kind of services they offered for men. Only 22 percent allowed men to be in the procedure room with their partners, and though 94 percent of men surveyed said that they wanted to hold their partner's hand in the recovery room, just 24 percent of the clinics allowed this. A mere 40 percent offered counseling to men along with their partners, though a majority of men wanted this option.
But abortion providers say that's impossible in some cases. Limitations both on funds and physical space prevent most clinics from fully serving men.
"There's never enough money to offer all the things that we would like to for both women and men," says Keyes.
Plus, providers say, women still don't get all the attention they need.
"The patient is the woman. Adult or teen, the patient is the woman," says Paula Gianino, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. All confidentiality issues, medical decisions and even who is allowed past the metal detectors guarding Planned Parenthood's main building on Forest Park Avenue fall to the woman. "Because she is our patient, we will do everything we can to support her, protect her confidentiality and privacy."
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