The Heartbreak of Abortion for Expectant Fathers

“My girlfriend wants an abortion. I am devastated. I want to be a father and I was so excited about our baby. Can you help me?”

LLDF receives heartbreaking requests like the above on a semi-regular basis. Over the past few months, we have received more than usual. Sometimes the request comes through e-mail, sometimes the conversation happens on the phone, sometimes via text message. These fathers of children yet to be born are desperately looking to do something—anything—to save their child from abortion. Sometimes the pregnancy was unplanned but the father is excited about it. Sometimes the pregnancy was planned and the mother simply had a change of heart or the mother’s family decided that she was too young, too insecure, or too inexperienced to have a baby. These fathers come in all ages with all levels of life experience, but their common theme is that they want their child to live and they are ready to care for and provide for that child. What can these fathers do?

Time and again, the answer is “nothing.”

The truth is, Roe v. Wade and its progeny leave no room to consider the wishes of the husband, boyfriend—the father—involved in the decision of whether a child lives. While there have been some amazing success stories in using legal means to restrain forced abortions, these outcomes rest solely on the mother’s decision. When the mother is the one driving the decision to abort, there is almost never a legal avenue open to these fathers to stop or even to delay that decision. They can offer alternatives, support, help, but while they fathered this unborn child, they are powerless to protect or defend him or her under the law.

In very limited circumstances there may be grounds to argue that a mother’s sudden change of heart regarding her pregnancy is reason to question her mental capacity. For example, a mother might discontinue certain medications during pregnancy—resultant mood swings and mental aberrations might be considered temporary loss of capacity meaning that she cannot give informed consent to the abortion procedure. While pursing every possible avenue to protect the life of the unborn child and to protect the mother from making a decision she will afterwards regret, such a scenario is extremely fact-specific and too often fathers wait to seek legal help until it is too late to even attempt to establish the facts necessary to make such a case. One father sought help while in the abortion doctor’s office. Afraid to talk to an attorney by phone lest his girlfriend overhear, he used text messages to beg for help—something—anything—he could do.

“Tragedy” and “heartbreak” are not sufficient words to convey the overwhelming sadness and helplessness of these fathers. In addition to their sorrow, most of them are surprised to learn that neither they nor their unborn child have legally cognizable rights in the matter. Until the rights of the unborn are protected, this tragedy will continue.