Talking about Abortion: Answering Difficult Questions
By Ruthie Kolb, Training Manager
January 12, 2017
In last month's TRUST blog, I discussed how to talk to young people about reproductive rights in the age of Trump.
In the month since that blog, the political climate has been further revealed to us, including a bill in the House that promises to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood. This is a strong statement about the intent of the incoming administration to make rapid changes to Americans’ access to reproductive health services.
And yet we need to continue to be a buffer and support to the young people we serve as they search to make informed decisions for their own sexual health. In heated discussions surrounding Planned Parenthood and reproductive health access, we need to be especially conscientious of how we discuss abortion.
And why exactly is it important to talk with young people about abortion?
Abortion is a topic that shouldn't be avoided, despite how many people feel about it. For one thing, many young people are or will be affected by it. 42% of unintended teen pregnancies end in abortion, and 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime.
Every pregnancy involves a decision. In some instances, the decision is obvious, easy and swift. But the decision is not always obvious. If we don’t talk about the nuances of pregnancy experiences, we are making a strong statement of whose experiences we value and whose experiences we wish to erase.
Furthermore, we must talk about abortion because we don’t want to be hiding information from our youth. When young people are making decisions regarding their reproduction, abortion is an option that is available to them, and leaving out options is dishonest and incomplete education. Young people know about abortion whether or not you talk about it. Abortion isn’t “news” to them. However, they may not have all of the information and resources to make informed decisions for themselves if you are not addressing it.
But most importantly, we must talk about abortion because making it off-limits or shame-worthy creates cracks in our trusted relationship with young people. Trust is a two-way street that requires honesty and respect; hiding information from youth sends them a loud and clear message that while we expect them to trust us, we don't trust them.
So how can we talk with young people about abortion?
The bottom line is that we want to talk about abortion as openly as possible. Let’s take a moment to break down what this means:
Practice neutrality! If you're a youth-serving professional, it's important not to impose your values onto youth. Parents, guardians, and other Trusted Adults are there to help youth navigate values. But being values-neutral is easier said than done. Abortion is one of the topics that people have the most knee-jerk reactions to – either for or against. I suggest practicing talking about abortion before you’re in front of a class and notice if there are ways that your voice, face, cadence, or vocabulary change. If there are, try modulating these reactions and practice talking about abortion naturally and neutrally.
Be open about controversy. Teens know that abortion is a politically and emotionally charged topic. You can facilitate conversations in which teens can empathize with other people with different opinions and experiences.
Avoid politically charged phrases. Don’t say “killing babies” or “right to choose” or other campaign phrases that can hurt people, escalate arguments, or, if you're a youth-serving professional, give away your values.
What does this look like in practice?
In last month's blog, I asked you to send in your thoughts on how you would respond to a young person who asked "Would you ever get an abortion? Where can I go for one?" I received an awesome response from Zoa Schescke, the PREP Manager at the Colorado Department of Human Services. Let’s take a look at how she would answer these questions:
Would you ever get an abortion? Where can I go for an abortion?
I am really honored that you trust me enough to ask these questions. This topic is a controversial one and many people have really strong opinions and/or beliefs around this and that can make it hard to ask questions. What each person believes has a lot to do with how people are raised, their cultural beliefs and religious beliefs. The topic of abortion is a personal one and it can make some people uncomfortable to talk about, but it is important to ask questions.
An abortion is a legal and safe procedure that should only be handled by a medical professional. It is important to know that there are places like Planned Parenthood and other clinics that will help a person decide what the right options are for them and help them through the process. It can be really scary to make these kind of big decisions alone, so having a trusted adult or a supportive family member can be really helpful.
Abortion may not be the right answer for everyone, but the decision should only be made after getting all the facts and really thinking about all the available options. I am glad you felt safe enough to ask me though, and if you need me to help talk to your trusted adult, or give you some resources or additional information, I am here for you.