In this section guided by the texts consulted we identify two thematic analytical axes under which empirical study on male participation in abortion has been approached in a prioritized manner. The first of these concerns links to the type of emotional relationship (affective and sentimental) of the couple, and in close association their living arrangements. These analytical dimensions have proved to be very relevant in investigating the forms of responsibility males assume related to abortion, since it is within these relational confines that the decision-making process around ending a pregnancy takes place. The second analytical axis relates to the role and responsibility males recognize and/or assume regarding their own or their partners’ contraception practice. The latter theme has frequently been dealt in the fertility and reproductive health surveys.
Information on the empirical analysis of this theme comes mainly from two sources: on the one hand are various quantitative approaches, such as sexuality and reproductive-health surveys carried out in certain social and geographic contexts in which a specific module is included for males, or ad hoc surveys designed exclusively for this population but, in both cases few aspects directly related to the abortion issue are included. In this type of approach, males have nearly always been studied from similar perspectives to that used with woman. On the other hand, and in the majority, are qualitative studies, conducted by means of in-depth interviews and/or focus groups that seek to delve into the aforementioned themes from a broader perspective. This focus allows one to inquire into the experience of male interviewees, their attitudes, perceptions, the way they internalize social and cultural constructed norms, and the different ways males participate in abortion. These studies’ contribution and richness lie in the fact that they suggest questions and reflections and offer an important orientation on how to investigate the theme.
Additionally, in the literature and in both types of methodological approach, numerous references are found to the presence of the male, principally surrounding the woman’s decision-making process, yet these are obtained through the women’s voices. However, documenting the experience of men as expressed by women has its limitations. As Figueroa and Sánchez correctly point out (2004): “What women express as male forms of influence in the abortion decision […] are their interpretations and representations, constructed from the couple’s bond and from their respective gender position, and for this reason the experience of men cannot be documented exhaustively from these references” (p .262). AsGarcía and Seuc (undated) observe in their study of social opinions on abortion and contraception among men residing in Havana, such situation is shaped by the fact that for males, abortion is always a referential event; that is to say, it is constructed from the discourse and perception of women, in particular by their female partners, because is not experienced personally by the male.
The great majority of research related to female reproductive behavior has been characterized by the inclusion of a mass of questions querying women about male participation. In these studies, attention is paid to the ideals of the number of offspring desired by males and the influence that they wield in the practice of contraception. . A smaller number of studies on this issue explore the type of bond between the couple; in these studies, it has been stated that such bond determines the male’s level of involvement in preventing the pregnancy as well as in assuming paternity, and his accompaniment or lack of support if the woman opts to have an abortion. Although some of these studies have been documented in Chapter 4 as part of exploring why women resort to an abortion, it is important to mention some of them again this section, in order to have a more comprehensive overview of the issue dealt with in this chapter.
Bankole et al. (1998) carried out a study, in which they analyzed women’s reasons for choosing abortion, which included a review of 32 research projects conducted from 1988 to 1993 in 27 countries. It was found that in some Latin American countries, one of the main reasons was the partner’s objection to or the lack of support in the face of the pregnancy, which involved relational problems and conflicts within the couple. Other motives included the woman’s precarious financial situation, lack of parental support, or the couple being too young. The proportion of women citing the above main reason was 25 to 42% in some countries in the region (Chile 25%, Mexico 33%, and Honduras 42%). In Colombia, this was the second most important reason for women over 25 years of age, accounting for 16% of them, and it was the fourth most important reason for women under 25. 16% of married and unmarried women cited this reason, as did one fourth of those who had failed to complete secondary school and 15% of women with a higher level of education.
Similarly, as has been pointed out in Chapter 4, the study carried out in urban areas of Colombia by Zamudio et al. (1999) corroborates the importance of the type of relationship a woman has with her partner in the decision to end a pregnancy. Their results demonstrate that women whose relationships are less stable end the pregnancy more frequently than those with stable relationships. Fear of losing their employment or experiencing financial difficulties are other important reasons. These latter factors are closely linked not only to the couple’s living conditions, but also to the relationships and exchanges that occur within the couple’s life together.
According to the authors, the closest and most violent affective pressure on women comes from their partners; this varies according to the number of pregnancies, social level, and marital status. The greatest pressure is found among single women. The authors found that situations in which the pressure to abort was exercised most explicitly were sporadic or casual relationships, ones in which the partner or the woman was very young; when an extramarital relationship was involve; when the male was the sole breadwinner, there were numerous offspring or the number of desired children had already reached, and the financial situation was precarious; and when extreme conditions of female submission and lack of female autonomy prevailed. They also stress that pressure from the partner to end the pregnancy is not always openly or explicitly manifested, but that it may also be observed in certain attitudes and behaviors regarding the woman, such as hesitation or refusal to acknowledge paternity if the woman had engaged in other sexual relationships. Other forms of pressure include distancing and silence on the male’s part, suggesting or culminating in abandonment by the male, and the threat of not accepting shared responsibility and adjudging it exclusively .to woman’s. Analysis of in-depth interviews with 80 women revealed that among these, a low proportion opted to end their pregnancy as part of a shared decision with their partners. Nevertheless, a sizeable proportion of women stated that their partners pressured them to abort. According to these testimonies, the authors identified diverse situations related to reactions that women reported men displayed reference to their experience with abortion: a) situations in which pressure was exerted by the partner; b) situations entailing a shared decision; c) situations involving a hidden decision, in that the male was not directly informed by the woman; d) situations in which the decision was shared by the couple but the male’s position/decision prevailed, and e) situations in which the woman used the news of the pregnancy to obtain benefits from the male.
Other studies conducted in Colombia also mention male participation in the decision to end the pregnancy through women’s voices. Based on a survey administered from 1990 to 1992 to 602 women who sought the services of the Oriéntame Foundation for treatment of incomplete abortions, Villarreal and Mora (1992) examine how women described the participation of their partners in this event. Just over half the males (52%) expressly told the woman to abort, a minority (9%) made it clearly known to the woman that they were not interested in the pregnancy, and only one quarter of the male-partners expressed their mutual agreement for the woman to continue with her pregnancy. The authors indicate that the partner’s opinion was not considered the most important element in the women’s decision, but rather the economic problems (26%) and the partner’s negative attitude toward the pregnancy (19%) comprised the principal reason for two fifths of women to abort. Similarly, the authors also found that problems in the couple’s relationship were most decisive in older women (aged 25 to 39 years), in those with lower educational attainment, and for women in less stable and casual relationships. Although the authors hold that these results show that the male’s attitude is not a key factor, they underscore the fact that among the barriers, obstacles, or complications mentioned by women as reasons for ending the pregnancy, there are situations related directly or indirectly to their male partners: financial problems; coping with the responsibility, and loss of familial support, among others.
In another study, the same authors (Mora and Villarreal, 1995) interviewed 60 women at the Oriéntame program’s main headquarters in 1993 who turned up for outpatient treatment for incomplete abortions. The authors found that that 83% of women communicated news of the pregnancy to their partners. The majority of these women felt supported or understood by the male, because the males themselves considered it inappropriate to continue the gestation. In one fifth of women between the ages of 20 and 29 years, the partner rejected the pregnancy, and even when the women initially thought of continuing with their pregnancy they felt unprotected and unsupported as a result of their partners’ reaction. Thus, the authors found that responsibility for the decision and final action taken to end the pregnancy is assumed solely and mainly by the woman: half the women declared that they had made the decision by themselves, one third made the decision after talking it over and analyzing the situation with their partners, and less than 10% said that the decision was shared with their partner. These results again suggest the importance of the perception of the conditions of the moment, which are not unrelated to the male’s presence.
Various qualitative-type studies carried out in Bogotá also demonstrate how women’s decisions concerning a pregnancy are mediated by the partner’s reaction and the type of bond or degree of stability in the relationship, in addition to whether or not the women have a life project (Martignon, 1992; Mora, 2004; Browner, undated). For the latter author, the initial reaction of the male to the pregnancy is an indicator of the financial and/or affective support the woman will receive from her partner and is therefore a decisive factor in the resolution of an unexpected pregnancy.
In her qualitative study on the psychosocial impact of abortion, Cardichi (1993) arrived at similar conclusions. She found that in 50 female interviewees who had aborted in Lima, the partner’s presence or absence, in addition to the quality and the future of the relationship, played an important role in deciding to resort to abortion. One third aborted, according to their statements, due to problems with their partner. The same tendency is observed in the study conducted by Lafaurie et al. (2005) on the experiences of drug induced abortion in women from Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. According to this research, one element that plays a vital role in decision-making on abortion is the woman’s emotional state, which largely depends on the partner’s reaction and attitude.
Similar results were yielded by a study conducted in Panama. Its objective was to explore the different psychosocial characteristics of 100 young women who had abortions. Study participants had a mean age of 19 years, they had not completed secondary school, they began their sexual lives early (before the age of 15), and in the majority of cases they lived in common-law relationships with their partners. Of these women, 25% had had one diagnosis of induced abortion and 75% had had a diagnosis of spontaneous abortion, in addition to limited contraceptive practice (36% in the first case and 68% in the second). It was found that the main reason why women resorted to an abortion was because their partners did not want the pregnancy (78% of cases) (Mendoza et al., 2003). Another study carried out in Panama gathered the opinions of activist and intellectual women with respect to the promotion of their right to abortion. Their conclusions were less emphatic concerning women’s perception of male participation: 27% indicated that males played a decisive role in abortion-linked decision-making, 19% reported that the involvement of males did not constitute any type of support and 31% suggested that male participation was necessary (Miller and Bermúdez, 1995; and 1996).
In this respect, research carried out at an clandestine abortion clinic in the Southern Cone of the Americas during 1995 also revealed that although just over half the women interviewed had support from their partners, more than one third of women had hidden the pregnancy from their partners (Strickler et al., 2001).
As part of a qualitative study with in-depth interviews of 12 Mexican women, Amuchástegui and Rivas (1993) observed that the desire to end a pregnancy is a result of various inter-related reasons, including the following: conflicts with the partner that produce an unsuitable environment for raising a child; instability, abuse, separation, or a divorce in process; adverse financial conditions; high parity or satisfied desires for fertility; personal projects, and rape. Of these reasons, conflict within the couple is as the most frequently cited motive for resorting to abortion. The authors affirm that the male’s attitude toward the decision ―whether or not he supports an abortion, manifests his disagreement, or even obliges his partner to abort― clearly illustrates the imposition of the male’s definition of the relationship, with which the woman complies, as well as the woman’s dependence, which largely limits her decision-making capacity. The authors also show that women supported by their partners in abortion are those who receive better care. The authors conclude that socially constructed gender identities and roles produce hierarchies and differences within the power relationship of the sexes; thus, as long as women leave control over their bodies to others (such as doctors, companions, fathers, brothers, etc.), it is impossible to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Likewise, the authors point out that preventive campaigns directed mainly toward women fail to take into account the relevance of the couple’s sexual negotiation and of the impossibility for women to autonomously elect not to become pregnant, without the partner’s support or interference (quoted in Tolbert et al., 1994).
In a study conducted on the partners of teenagers who gave birth or had been hospitalized for an abortion in Mexico City, Romero (1993) found that the partner’s influence in the decision to end or continue the gestation was associated with the partnership’s level of instability. This, together with the presence/absence of the mother in the life of the young girl, was closely linked to an outcome of abortion or a term pregnancy (quoted by Tolbert et al., 1994).
Pick de Weiss and David (1990) conducted a qualitative study of 156 women who aborted in Mexico City. One finding was that the main reason women cited for deciding to have an abortion was the pressure exerted by their partners (33%). Similarly, the authors found that this result was related to the type of services that the women chose for their abortions: the highest percentage of women who experienced partner pressure to end a pregnancy opted for a physician (quoted in Tolbert et al., 1994).
One can infer from the research findings above that the following elements are present in the process of deciding to interrupt a pregnancy: the type of bond established within the couple; the degree of consensus or conflict in the relationship, and the attitude and behavior that the male assumes, as well as perceptions of the conditions of the moment at which women process such a decision. These elements also influence the type of services women use to abort. This situation is being frequently confirmed by the analysis of the results of research centered on male experiences and perceptions.
In a review of articles published in the journal Studies in Family Planning from 1979 to 1994, Tolbert et al. (1994) concluded that few studies on abortion-related decision-making have included the opinion of males and moreover, that only half of such studies explicitly mention the partner’s role in this process. In more than half of those studies, although they utilize terms such as “problems with the partner” or “financial hardship” to refer to masculine participation they do not specifically address the role of males in the abortion decision. Likewise, in their study on the state of knowledge on abortion in Latin America, Llovet and Ramos (2001) state the insufficiency of research on the relationship between different male responses and the abortion decision; underlying that this is a relational dimension that has only recently begun to be studied.
In the works consulted in this compilation, there are very interesting results regarding the important role males play in ending a pregnancy, from their own point of view. The male influence exerts itself in the couple’s feelings, the diverse forms of responsibility that males assume in less stable or formal relationships, and the type of support males provide. Since the great majority of these studies were carried out by means of qualitative methodologies, their findings offer a better understanding of the significance that this problematic situation acquires.
Guevara Ruiseñor (1998 and 2000) explored males Among the findings of in-depth interviews of 52 male Mexico-City residents from 20 to 46 years of age who had experienced at least one abortion situation and who had completed high school, the author found that “...the type of responsibility that males assume in abortion depends on the emotional bond and the relationship type they maintain with their partner. Men assume greater responsibility in the face of abortion when the unwanted pregnancy occurs in formal relationships (wife or girlfriend) and when males are deeply in love with their partners. In other cases (when there is an informal relationship, when the partners are lovers, or when the male did not love the woman), males afforded nearly null support that consisted, in the majority of cases, of an economic contribution”. Additionally, the author states that “...in casual relationships there is a lesser margin of negotiation present and a greater obstacle to women’s choices and rights. In these situations, the non-explicit codes are perfectly clear that no other option may enter into the negotiation; interruption of the pregnancy is part of the implicit rules of the game. It is assumed that from the moment a lover-type relationship or coital contact is accepted with a girlfriend, the women, implicitly, accept the rules of non-commitment and no responsibility on the part of the male” (p.173)(Guevara Ruiseñor 1998).
Aliaga Bruch and Machicao Barbery (1995) carried out a study in Bolivia in which they conducted in-depth interviews with 10 males who had who had very close experience with their partner’s abortion. The researchers investigated the attitudes assumed by males in the decision-making process, attitudes which depended on the nature of the couple’s relationship, stage of life, financial situation, and the predisposition of them towards assuming the role of father. Their feelings and reactions ranged from fear, pain, guilt, rejection, and insensitivity to responsibility and solidarity. Similarly, the authors identified the various ways such attitudes can be manifested: a) some males who do not associate sex with love, but who are affected by a pregnancy and its termination because they fell emotionally involved with their partner. These males may express feeling of worry for their partner in affective or psychological terms, and if they only feel a certain degree of responsibility they defray the medical costs, but distance themselves from the situation; b) some males support the decision of their partner but do not assume responsibility for this decision; c) other males react aggressively, expressing doubt concerning who may have impregnated their partner; d) there are males who manifest the desire to assume paternity of the child and who resent their partner’s decision to abort, a situation in which they feel frustrated, disillusioned, and distanced from a decision that they perceive they should be involved in; and finally e) some males assume an attitude of solidarity with their partner concerning physical as well as emotional health.
Mora and Villarreal (2000) carried out research in Colombia on the process of negotiation that takes place within a couple concerning the interruption of pregnancy. They gave particular attention to understanding the involvement of males in decisions to terminate pregnancies that had ended in incomplete abortions, prompting visits to seek the services of Oriéntame in 1998. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, they collected survey information on 390 males, the majority of whom were of the urban middle class, averaging 28 years of age and 13 years of education. Of these, 200 accompanied their partners for treatment at the program. Information on those men who did not accompany their partners was obtained from the women. Later, in 1999, the authors carried out 20 in-depth interviews with men of very similar characteristics. The majority of the men surveyed and interviewed had a non living arrangement (consensual, parallel or courtship relationship in which men did not live with the women being attended at the services), being the courtship relation the most frequent one.
The authors present new and very thought-provoking results, among which is included the initial reaction of the male partner to the pregnancy, according to the type of relationship the couple has. The data are drawn from the responses of the men who were surveyed – that is, those who accompanied the women to treatment and therefore offered economic and/or emotional support. The authors find that a third of the time both members of the couple wished to terminate the pregnancy. This was most frequently if the couple was married legally or had a consensual union (38% of these couples), and less frequently if the relationship was occasional or parallel or had a courtship relation (33% and 32%, respectively). Of the total number of partners whose initial reaction to the pregnancy was ambivalence or a wish to continue it (24%), the smallest proportion was among those who had occasional or parallel relationships (10%) and the greatest among those who had a courtship relationship (31%).
The male impact on the decision to abort was most apparent in those couples in which there was the most divergence in their initial reactions to the pregnancy, with there once again being important differences according to the type of relationship. The greatest disagreement was present among pairs with occasional or parallel relationships (50%), and the desire to continue the pregnancy was somewhat greater among the women in these relationships (27%) than the men (23%). In cohabitational relationships (either legal or common-law marriage), disagreement was less frequent (34%), with far fewer women (8%) than men (26%) wishing to continue the pregnancy. Among courtship relationships (31% disagreement), the desire to continue the pregnancy was also much less common among women than among men (11% and 20%, respectively). These results, say the authors, suggest that within the cohabitational relationships males have less possibility to influence women’s decision, and that similar results hold true when couples had a courtship relationship.
According to the authors, having an occasional or parallel relationship was a factor that explained the absence of many of the men who did not accompany their partners to Oriéntame. It was likewise a factor that led to these women being the sole ones to assume responsibility for the abortion and the problems derived from it, without support from the males. This circumstance is due to instability and uncertainly about the future of this kind of relationship, or to the male’s indifference to or lack of interest in the pregnancy. Many women in these situations do not share with their partner their decision to abort, and some do not even inform their partners of the pregnancy.
The information obtained through the in-depth interviews in 1999 turns out to reveal a great deal about the complexity of the negotiation that must take place within the couple and a greater influence of males on the final decision to interrupt the pregnancy. The authors observed from these interviews that when the woman proposed the termination of the pregnancy, the male welcomed the decision. In cases where the couple disagreed, when the woman expressed a desire to continue the pregnancy, the male invoked all the inconveniences this would involve, making the woman see that the best option was termination. That is, the males sought to orient the decision to their own desires. Nevertheless, the authors add, the dialogues that take place around this process make it clear that for the males, the final decision belongs to the woman. It is she who ultimately assumes responsibility for the consequences of the couple’s sexual behavior.
This study also shows that those factors that play a role in the couple’s dialogue about the decision to abort vary as much as a function of the state of the couple’s relationship as they do as a function of the gender of each partner. Economic conditions turned out to be the most important factor for those males who lived with their partners (53%). For those males whit courtship relationships, although economic factors like lack of economic independence carried the greatest weight (33% cited it as most important), these were followed closely by what they considered to be “the woman’s circumstances” – that is, the adverse social implications for her of having a child within a non-formalized relationship, like losing family support or having to interrupt academic studies (30%). Likewise, individual future plans were a relevant factor (24%). By contrast, in less stable relationships (occasional or parallel ones), the factor that carried the most weight was the type of relationship itself: the social and family consequences for the woman of this type of non-formalized relationship (37%), and the instability of the relationship (33%). In these latter relationships, economic factors and future plans were cited less often (13% and 10%, respectively).
As to the opinion and valuation of the males of the practice of abortion, the authors find that this is very similar among those who see it as negative but justified by personal circumstances and those who see it as a personal decision and therefore a person’s right. The authors conclude that their study’s findings show the predominance of a cultural perception of abortion, in agreement with that of most males, that places responsibility for pregnancy prevention and for the consequences of sexual activity in the hands of women.
Álvarez Duarte et al. (2002) highlight the findings of other studies conducted in Brazil (Smigay, 1993 Ramírez Gálvez, 1999) which show that, insofar as males are involved in the reproductive process in general and specifically in paternity, they demonstrate greater openness and sensitivity to the feelings of women. Also these studies evidence that increased masculine participation in abortion depends on the type and quality of the relationship that exists between the couple: if the pregnancy occurs in a casual and very recent relationship, the man does not participate in the discussion and decision over a possible abortion and its performance.
Fachel Leal and Fachel (1998) obtained interesting results in their study of individuals belonging to poor urban sectors in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. By means of an analysis combining an ethnographic with a statistical focus, the authors demonstrated the importance of familial organization, networks of kinship, and established alliances in understanding the transaction that occurs between men and women in pregnancy and abortion. The authors’ conclusions reveal a less conservative discursive position on the part of the male when he reflects on the decision to abort as part of a woman’s self-determination and argues that abortion is justified in the face of certain circumstances, such as lack of conditions for maintaining and raising a child. But this position becomes relative in the case of young men. Some males who oppose abortion prefer, as an alternative, to consider the possibility that some family member will take over the child’s upbringing, reflecting the importance of extended-family organization among lower-class urban groups as well as in rural contexts where the circulation of children is recurrent and not frowned upon. On the other hand, for women the situation seems more ambiguous and complex due to the particular importance of legitimacy and social recognition that surround pregnancy. In the face of the rejection a woman may experience socially, the interruption of a pregnancy is not longer conceived (social and personally) of as an abortion ―with all the emotional burden that this term generally implies― and acquires a biological connotation consisting of the reestablishment of a menstrual disorder.
In 1997, in the Brazilian city of São Paolo, by means of in-depth interviews, Oliviera et al. (1999) analyzed the interaction between social processes (background social-cultural matrix in which males have lived)) and the subjective dimension (the logic of men’s interpretation to their own reproductive life) with respect to contraception in two generations of middle-class males, with university studies, living in the city of Sao Paulo. Regarding males’ experience of abortion, the authors’ state, as in previously cited studies, that the couple’s type of relationship marks the differences in such experience: again, abortion is the preferred solution for an unwanted pregnancy within the context of a casual relationship or when there are no future plans for the relationship. Nevertheless, males sometimes become fathers under these circumstances, as a result of the desires or imposition of their partners, sometimes against their own wishes. Male ambivalence concerning the abortion act is expressed in terms of negative, painful, and traumatic experiences, which on occasion lead to the end of the relationship. In the case of recently initiated or extramarital relationship, their ambivalence is manifested in feelings of guilt, remorse, or relief. Among the males interviewed, some stated, for example, that they had felt very uncomfortable participating in the decision and accompanying their partner to have the abortion. This discomfort can be combined with a feeling of relief that arises not only on considering abortion as a violent act against the woman’s body, but also on recognizing women legitimacy of the desire to experience or not maternity. This situation is also influenced by the measures taken to gain access to abortion, which are largely determined by the fact that, except for certain legal exceptions, abortion is an illegal act in Brazil and therefore it is performed under clandestine conditions About the role of religion, the authors, argue that catholic morals do no have a significant effect on males’ position regarding abortion, as the main reasons for the practice of abortion result from their perception of this practice as a violence to a women’s body; in which interrupting a pregnancy must be basically a matter of choice.
Among the results of the qualitative study conducted by Cáceres (1998) on adolescent and young men in Lima, it was found that unwanted pregnancy represents an obstacle in young men’s lives. In their imaginations, there is a risk of being deceived by a woman seeking to force a union by means of pregnancy, whereas for women a pregnancy means dishonor. The authors also underscore the unfavorable effects on the unwanted child. As far as acceptance of the practice of abortion, opinions are divided; the most acceptable reasons cited being the health problems of the mother and the child, followed by rape, and the least acceptable being that the woman wants an abortion due to the couple’s financial problems or conflicts regarding her short-term goals. However, some young men recognize that women have the authority to decide on the pregnancy, considering that it is women who experience most of the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy.
As in other studies, in the qualitative research on the male role in unwanted pregnancy, conducted in a neighbourhood in the province of Buenos Aires, Zamberlin (2000) found that the male response to an unexpected pregnancy depended on the type of bond he maintained with his partner. When the pregnancy was the product of a non-formal relationship, males doubted that the paternity attributed to them was actually theirs; thus, they suggested that the woman have an abortion or left the decision in the woman’s hands, thinking: “...if she wants a baby, let her take responsibility for it”. In the case of stable couples, the male reaction implied resorting to abortion. In terms of the frequency of unwanted pregnancies, regarding recently formed relationships and those in which an affective feeling was prevalent, the stronger the bond, the greater the likelihood of an unwanted pregnancy. In the absence of preventive practices, such a situation led to stable couples being more prone to having unwanted pregnancies.