One in four women will have an abortion by age 45. At first, this fact seems surprisingly high, but realistically, we should not be shocked by this number. About half of all pregnancies are unintended, so it makes sense that a quarter of all women will have terminated an unwanted pregnancy. The reason we are initially surprised at this is because very few women are open about their abortion care. Just because our female friends aren’t telling us about their experiences, does not mean it’s not happening. However, thanks to women’s rights activists and a growing support system, women are beginning to feel less ashamed of their reproductive choices, and as a result, these brave women are coming forward and sharing their stories. You will likely notice that the women in your life will be more open about this topic because more and more people are validating their decisions. This is a good thing! We do not want women to feel ashamed and alone in their decision to do what is best for themselves. But it might be a little scary if you have no experience with abortion. What do I say if my sister tells me about her abortion? How do I treat my best friend after she tells me? What if she is sad or upset; how do I console her?
We know you have plenty of questions because this is something many people have never dealt with before. I am going to explain exactly how to “be there” for someone who trusts you enough to share their experience with you and answer the big questions you may have.
It was a big decision for her to share this with you, don’t treat it lightly.
While the stigma surrounding abortion is lessening, it still exists. Women who have had abortions are still very cautious and nervous about who they tell. If there is a woman in your life who felt comfortable enough to tell you about her experience, that is a big deal and you should treat it as such. It is a big indication of how she views her relationship with you. This is why it’s so important to handle this situation appropriately.
Don’t start treating this person any differently.
She shared this information with you because she respects you and trusts you. Don’t make her regret telling you by treating her differently or changing the dynamic of your relationship with her. The most common mistake people make is that the woman is distraught and torn up over the decision to terminate her pregnancy. That she must now be treated like a delicate flower. WRONG! Some women will be upset or emotional afterwards but don’t make this assumption. If you begin to tread carefully around her or obviously act different, she will wish she never told you.
Be careful how you refer to her pregnancy.
Whether this was an easy and straightforward decision or a difficult and emotional one, most women who have had an abortion do not like to think of that pregnancy as a baby. Most women who have abortions, do so in their first trimester (up to 14 weeks). At this point in the pregnancy, the fetus is still extremely small and undeveloped. Often, women find it helpful to think of their pregnancy in these terms because many want to be mothers some day or already are. If at all possible, you should avoid using certain terms that may be upsetting such as ‘fetus’ or ‘baby’. Avoid using a particular term until she has used it so you know what terminology she is comfortable with. Only if she mentions this aspect should you discuss it. The most important conversation topic is the woman herself and how she is feeling.
It’s okay to ask questions, but it’s important you’re asking the right ones.
There are good questions to ask and bad questions to ask. Obviously, you should avoid asking the bad ones. Questions that fall under the “bad” category are invasive, too personal, presumptuous, and/or irrelevant. Here are some examples of these types of questions.
- “Did it hurt?” This is too invasive! Unless she wants to share the details of her actual procedure, don’t ask. That is likely an experience she does not want to relive.
- “Do you regret it?” This is presumptuous AND too personal. Again, she may offer this information during your conversation, but to directly ask may offend her and make her feel like she should regret her decision. *If she tells you she is feeling regretful, be supportive and reassuring to her.
- “Why didn’t you tell me sooner/ Why didn’t you tell me before you did it?” This is an irrelevant question. She was probably experiencing a lot of different emotions and stress was likely a huge factor. Don’t make her feel bad for waiting to tell you, instead, be glad that she trusts you enough to tell you at all.
- “How far along were you?” NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!!!!!!
Here are some examples of “good” questions.
- “How are you feeling?” This is a great way to let her know you care how she is doing and that you are happy to talk to her about it. It also allows you to figure out the best direction to take the conversation based on her answer.
- “Is there anything you need?” This shows her that she made a good choice when she decided to share her experience with you. Offering practical help is always a good move.
- “Do you have any support?” This is an important question. You should make it obvious that you will support her, but asking this question lets you know who else she has in her life. This may be extremely helpful to her because she can discuss her concerns about sharing this information with other important people in her life if she has not already done so.
Don’t tell anyone else.
This is pretty straightforward. She trusted you enough to tell you about her abortion. Do not betray this trust by telling anyone else without her permission.
Don’t tell her she made the wrong decision.
What’s done is done. If you do not agree with her choice, keep that to yourself. Telling her you don’t agree with a major life decision she made will be very upsetting. It’s not your place to make her feel bad about something she can’t undo. She confided in you because she expects you to be there for her, so be there in the most supportive and non-judgmental way you can.