The holiday season is a time for festive traditions, elaborate meals, and gathering with the people you love the most. But sometimes in the midst of holiday gatherings, tough topics can come up – especially in light of the recent Supreme Court decision which overturned Roe v Wade. If you’re heading to holiday gatherings where you plan to talk about abortion with those who may not support it, there are a few steps you can take to foster a productive discussion.
Teen Vogue talked to Andrea Schmidt, Public Affairs Project Manager at Planned Parenthood of Orange & San Bernardino Counties, and Hannah Matthews, an abortion doula and author of the upcoming You Or Someone You Love, about how to talk about abortion over the holidays. Their tips can help you broach what can be a tough topic for some, and communicate openly with your friends and relatives in a calm and fruitful way.
Before you go into the conversation, remind yourself that you don't necessarily need to change people's minds, just give them something to think about. Entering the conversation with compassion can help that along.
“Not going into it with hostility, being open-minded, and asking open-ended questions might lead to common ground and open and honest conversation,” Schmidt says. “Being able to say: I can understand why you're concerned about that, that would be really scary, but what's actually happening is this [can help]. One conversation might not change their mind, but that small, incremental change might give them more compassion that will lead to the longterm culture change that we need to restore our rights."
Here are some tips on how to talk about abortion with your family:
Keep yourself safe and decide whether it’s worth the conversation.
Both Schmidt and Matthews stress that young people need to take stock of the situations they’re in and assess whether it’s safe to discuss abortion. This can be particularly fraught for young people who may rely on their families for housing, financial assistance, or other resources. “Always assess your own wellbeing,” Schmidt says. “Make sure you’re first and foremost taking care of your health and safety.”
Matthews encourages young people to give themselves grace while considering whether or not it’s safe to have these conversations. “You have to think to yourself, has this person been safe in the past when we’re talking about things like my right to exist and my right to make choices about my body?” Matthews says. “I do think there’s a lot of pressure to have these conversations but you don’t owe anyone a debate over your own body and your own humanity.”
Arm yourself with the facts.
Schmidt says the best thing a pro-choice young person can do to prepare for holiday conversations surrounding abortion is to be sure they know the latest information. “The more information you have, the more confident you will feel talking about abortion,” Schmidt explains. She recommends looking at this fact sheet from Planned Parenthood that addresses myths and misconceptions about abortion, among other reproductive healthcare information.
But even if you’re prepared, it’s normal to feel nervous, Schmidt says. Practice conversations with supportive friends or family members can help you feel more comfortable. “Have those practice conversations with your roommates or friends… so when you’re having that awkward conversation with a relative you might not have seen since you went to college, it’s not your first time saying it all out loud,” Schmidt says.
Matthews recommends preparing with information tailored to the people you may be speaking to. “If you know someone is coming from a spiritual or religious place in their argument against the right to abortion, there are resources you could share with them that are faith-centered,” Matthews says. Resources include website like Faith Aloud, which features a clergy counseling line to discuss spiritual concerns around abortion.
Remind your relatives that abortion is personal.
About 1 in 4 women in America will have an abortion by age 45.
“Unplanned pregnancy touches everyone, regardless of political party,” Schmidt says. Sharing an actual story of abortion – whether it’s your own abortion story or one of the infamous stories that has captured the nation’s attention like the 10-year-old abuse victim who had to travel across state lines to access abortion – can help humanize the issue and help people understand the real-life effects of abortion bans. “Hearing from someone they love, in-person, can have a powerful effect,” Schmidt says.
And Matthews says this can be a constructive starting point to a conversation: If an anti-choice family member agrees that a specific abortion is permissible, that’s a productive place to start. “Let’s talk about why this abortion is not your place to comment on but you feel like this other abortion is your place to judge and police,” Matthews says. “Let’s connect some of those dots.”
Don’t assume people’s views.
Schmidt says it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt, as 61% of American adults say abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Even if your family member is conservative-leaning, that doesn’t automatically mean they’re anti-choice. Entering a conversation with an open mind is critical, Schmidt says. “If you’re starting from a place of compassion and not going into it with hostility, that might lead to common ground and open and honest conversations.”