Men and abortion: Three couples share their stories

Michael A. McCoy/Reuters
Women's March activists attend a protest in front of the White House in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision, Washington, July 9, 2022.
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In Alabama, Jessey Stahl has traveled across the state for abortion-rights rallies in the weeks since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had provided women a national right to abortion. Her husband, Davante Stahl, joins her every opportunity he can. On the Fourth of July, they were two of only six in attendance at a rally in support of reproductive rights. Ms. Stahl says it’s just one example of her husband’s unwavering support.

Another couple, Brittney and Bobby Welinski, were living in North Dakota with their four children when they learned the daughter they were expecting had “a condition incompatible with life,” as Ms. Welinski puts it. The couple had to cross state lines to get access to a medically induced abortion.

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Although abortion is commonly framed as a women’s issue, the impact on men is significant, as these three couples’ shared perspectives and unified decision-making demonstrate.

Afterward, Mr. Welinski changed his voting affiliation from Republican to Democrat and became politically engaged, wanting families to have the same options they did – without having to cross state lines – when navigating similar situations.

It’s not black or white, Mr. Welinski says. “There’s more color to these decisions.”

Though the burdens of reproductive health care are heaviest on women’s shoulders, some men are attempting to help carry the strain through empathy and the unity of understanding – through the art of listening and speaking up in public at their partner’s side.

This is the first time Brittney and Bobby Welinski have told their story to anyone other than close friends and family. In 2019, the parents of four were at their doctor’s office for a fetal anatomy scan. At that point in their lives, they were preparing for their fifth child – and fourth daughter.  

Ms. Welinski was 20 weeks along in her pregnancy. But during their checkup, the physician had heartbreaking news: Their daughter had a severe cleft affecting her brain and, very probably, her heart.

“They told us it was a condition incompatible with life,” Ms. Welinski remembers. 

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

Although abortion is commonly framed as a women’s issue, the impact on men is significant, as these three couples’ shared perspectives and unified decision-making demonstrate.

The family was living in North Dakota at the time. They traveled to another physician in South Dakota for a second opinion, where the diagnosis was confirmed. Their options were limited to terminating the pregnancy or carrying it to full term and arranging palliative care, which would optimize the child’s quality of life before passing.  

“If we made it that far along,” Ms. Welinski adds. 

A 2013 North Dakota law banned abortions at her stage in pregnancy. The couple were then forced to travel, again, to South Dakota, where Ms. Welinski was induced into labor. Their health insurance didn’t cover the procedure. They were prepared to go into medical debt to do it.

The procedure – a medically induced abortion – meant that the premature child would survive only briefly, if at all, once born. They said goodbye on the day of the procedure.

Courtesy of Brittney Welinski
Brittney and Bobby Welinski say goodbye to their fifth child the day she was born.


Mr. Welinski’s conservative Catholic background hadn’t prepared him for their family’s loss. Growing up in small-town Minnesota, he hadn’t heard about the kind of tragedy that befell their family. The experience changed him: ideologically – he changed his voting affiliation from Republican to Democrat – and emotionally. Now politically engaged, he wants families to have the same options they did – without having to cross state lines – when navigating similar situations. 

The Welinskis’ story reveals not just the difficult decisions that many American households face over abortion. It also shows how these matters aren’t simply a “women’s issue,” but engage men as well – working in unity with their partners and thinking through their own questions on reproduction and birth control. And while women deal with both the mental and physical toll of abortion care, such family decisions weigh on men, too, says Bethany Everett, a professor of sociology at the University of Utah.

A national overview on a deeply personal issue

“The repeal of Roe is a big deal,” Dr. Everett adds. “It’s going to take years for us to really have a full understanding of the ways that this has potentially damaged people’s lives.” 

About 1 in 5 men have been involved in an abortion, according to research recently published in the medical journal Contraception. 

The stakes for them (as for women) are partly economic. Dr. Everett says that includes the decision’s impact on long-term earning and the pursuit of educational opportunities.

Many men support an abortion in the interest of better providing for their existing family – or better launching their careers before taking on the responsibilities of parenting.

To the many Americans who oppose abortion in most or all circumstances, the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade, holds the promise of allowing state legislators and other elected officials to pass more laws aimed at preventing abortion. Thirteen states had “trigger laws” in place prior to the Dobbs ruling, to ban or sharply restrict abortion when Roe was overturned, and more are expected to follow. 

Yet even in the states with some form of trigger law, spanning swatches of the West and South, 54% of adults said abortion should be entirely legal or legal with a few restrictions, according to an Economist/YouGov poll conducted in May. That view, emphasizing women’s bodily autonomy, is shared by an even larger majority (62%) in states that are not imposing bans. 

That’s the national background for people like Mr. Welinski on a difficult and deeply personal issue.

It’s not black or white, Mr. Welinski says. “There’s more color to these decisions.”

Among those colors are the somber shades of difficult health decisions for families. Their nuance and weight have moved to the forefront of public thought since the nation’s highest court struck down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling last month. Though the burdens are heaviest on women’s shoulders, some men are attempting to help carry the strain through empathy and the unity that comes from listening and sometimes speaking up in public at their partner’s side.

It’s about “being there to listen and understand the frustrations, the sadness,” Mr. Welinski says.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
A man casts an early morning shadow while holding a sign saying "Keep Roe" as he protests in front of the U.S. Supreme Court a few days after the court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision with its ruling in the Dobbs case, in Washington, June 28, 2022.

Partnering: a matter of listening and acting

Ask most individuals in a long-term romantic relationship, and they’ll admit listening is sometimes easier said than done. To hear well requires a commitment to each other. Years will pass, as the springtime of a couple’s love churns its calendar into summer, and listening becomes a practice of hearing not just what’s said, but also what’s not yet said. 

For Ryan, who asked that his last name be omitted out of concern for professional security, he could hear the ticking anxieties of his wife’s heart before she’d even stepped out of bed on the morning the Supreme Court released the Dobbs decision.

Ryan was up first that morning in the couple’s New Orleans home when he heard the news. His mind immediately went to his wife – a sexual trauma survivor. He turned the TV off and waited. 

“When I heard her getting up, I told her, ‘You should probably stay in bed today,’” he says. 

The Dobbs decision was announced on a Friday. By the following Monday, Ryan’s wife had scheduled a hysterectomy. (Ryan already has a vasectomy, but they’re taking extra precautions.)

Ryan, who owns a software company, also announced to his employees that the small company would switch to full-time remote work. The New Orleans office would close. The decision was geared toward male and female employees alike.

“I can’t do anything in good conscience that makes an employee feel they need to stay in Louisiana,” Ryan says of his home state, where a trigger law, if it passes court review, will make abortion illegal. “I want to stay in Louisiana. But my role is to support my wife. If she’s not comfortable, we’re not going to be here. If we have to, we’ll move.”

Two states away, in Alabama, Jessey Stahl and her husband, Davante, find themselves grappling with the impact of similar decisions after their state enacted a near ban on abortion procedures.

Ms. Stahl has traveled across the state for abortion-rights rallies in the weeks since the Dobbs decision. Mr. Stahl joins her every opportunity he can. During the Fourth of July parade in their rural part of Alabama, they were two of only six in attendance at a rally in support of reproductive rights. Ms. Stahl says it’s just one example of her husband’s unwavering support.

In Mr. Stahl’s mind, there is no other choice – partly because of the danger to women’s health if their reproductive care doesn’t include access to abortion in a nation with a far higher maternal mortality rate than any other industrialized nation.

“I support anything she believes in,” Mr. Stahl says of their relationship. “Say, she gets pregnant. I could lose her and my child at the same time because she can’t get an abortion” in Alabama.

Even so, it’s difficult to speak out on reproductive rights issues in their conservative hometown, “especially as an interracial couple. They already look at us a certain type of way,” Mr. Stahl says. But it’s more difficult to not speak out, he says, especially when he thinks of the future for Ms. Stahl’s teenage daughter. 

A lot of folks are “too scared of what people might think to go out there and speak up,” he says. “For her to do that, she’s an extremely, extremely strong woman. It makes me proud to be hers.”

“I want people to see the other side”

After the Dobbs decision, the Welinski family continued to keep the story of their premature daughter’s passing mostly to themselves and their innermost social circle.

That didn’t mean it stung less emotionally when distant friends and family posted online in support of the Dobbs ruling. They’d never wish such a tragedy on another family, but still, they wished others could better understand the weight that came with their family’s decision.  

“I want people to see the other side of what they think is a simple decision,” Ms. Welinski says. 

Their family moved to Minnesota last year to be closer to Mr. Welinski’s family. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has so far voiced his support for abortion rights. 

They consider themselves fortunate they had the opportunity to leave North Dakota. Even if their decision to relocate wasn’t guided by future indications of access to reproductive health care, to them it’s important that their three daughters grow up in a state that allows women a right to choose. 

Mr. Welinski understands that the recent weeks of debate over abortion access have weighed on his wife. 

“Going through life with her, you see things from a different angle,” Mr. Welinski says.

Ms. Welinski cuts in, lovingly.

“Then this happened,” she says, referring to the loss of their premature daughter in 2019.  

“I think it just kind of affirmed that,” Ms. Welinski adds. 

It’s all about listening, Mr. Welinski says again. 

“From listening to her, I’m educated through her.”

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