The abortion debate is rarely straightforward. Oftentimes the discussion is colored with irreconcilable differences between the pro-choice and the pro-life.
Morals, ethics, religious beliefs, rights and a whole list of other variables are used to justify one or another position.
The debate often branches off into another intractable controversy on the ‘right’ of the male partner to have a say in the decision whether or not to abort an unwanted pregnancy.
Dr Orapeleng Phuswane-Katse, physician with the Ministry of Health says “the decision-making process that precedes an abortion, complicates how the abortion ultimately effects a man. He may not know about the pregnancy, and so the abortion may happen without his knowledge or input. He may oppose the abortion, and state that clearly and emphatically. He may know about the pregnancy, but in trying to be loving, supportive and affirming of the woman’s rights, he may withhold his feelings or beliefs about abortion. He may have not formed an opinion, and may simply go along with whatever the woman chooses. He may support and even encourage her choice to terminate. He may pressure her, using coercion and threats to leave her if she doesn’t agree to abort. Or, he may completely abandon her, walking away from the relationship and the responsibility for the pregnancy, leaving her to cope and decide on her own.”
As Dr Phuswane-Katse points out, some men feel that they are acting responsibly by opting not to take part in the decision making regarding an unwanted pregnancy and deferring it to the woman. Some feel they are responsible for the decision to end the pregnancy even actively persuade the woman to have an abortion. For the most part, they have no voice in the decision.
In Botswana, the standard view is that he ought not. The consensus is that the decision should be exclusively the pregnant woman’s. To a great extent, the pro-choice and pro-life sides are united in this view even though they are divided about the morality of abortion. After all, the developing fetus is in the woman’s body; she bears the physical and lifestyle changes involved in being pregnant and the health risks associated with the pregnancy and with either childbirth or abortion. Consequently, so the consensus goes, the decision about having an abortion is her decision, and it is a private decision. Preservation of her privacy can be used to prevent her partner from knowing about the pregnancy or the decisions being made about it.
Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “the loss of an unborn child through abortion leaves most men at some point trudging through grief, confusion, guilt, and trauma. His choices are to forge on, trying to deny the undeniable impact of his loss, or to accept his responsibility, grieve the loss and work through his feelings. If you are such a man, or you are in relationship with one, reach out to someone who can walk with you through the process. Sometimes when a couple faces an abortion decision, a genuinely caring man feels he is trying to be supportive of the woman he loves, stay silent for the express purpose of making her feel empowered, of not pressuring her, and making sure she knows she can make the best decision for her own life. Yet often the end result is what she most needs, his stabilizing presence and his opinion, his silence causes her to feel alone and abandoned. The instability of the relationship often begins in the silence and the distance that results.”
Pregnancy whether inconvenient, uncomfortable, stigmatizing, and even slightly dangerous is a very small part of what is involved in having a child. The idea that abortion decisions are simply about whether to have a baby must be done away with, If the burden of an unplanned pregnancy or even of an unavoidable childbirth is only a small part of the burden of being a parent, then it is no longer clear why the decision about having the child should be hers alone.
Society has given women a choice in what they do with their bodies, and every year many women fight in order to maintain the right to make that decision. But in giving women this right, men are totally excluded from the choice about whether or not to have a child. A relationship is a process of sharing: thoughts, laughs, memories. But when two partners decide that they are mature enough to pursue a sexual relationship, they ought to be prepared to share all the outcomes that can result from it. If they are not comfortable discussing what they would do if they got pregnant, how they feel about abortion and whether or not they agree about what they would do, they should not be having sex.