How to Talk to Your Family About Abortion During the Holidays

To help crack through the misinformation and disagreements, abortion rights supporters can engage in hard talks with loved ones.

[Photo: Two women of color stand in a grassy field smiling]
Often, one of the biggest ways abortion rights supporters can help move the cause forward is by voicing your support, often and without judgment; the people in your life who have questions will find you. We Testify, a Program of the National Network of Abortion Funds, 2016

In this post-election landscape, the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) has been asked many times how people can help our mission and support our work. One of the best ways is to have discussions about your support for abortion access. With many people spending time with family during the holidays this time of year, abortion rights supporters are craving deep conversations with people they love, and they have committed to engaging in what can be hard talks to help crack through the misinformation and disagreements about abortion. Here are a few starting points from some of our member funds.

One-on-one conversations

“One-on-one is key—I’ve made the mistake of jumping into it at Thanksgiving on a topic where I was the only one in the family who felt the way I did, and it did not go well. Yes, we have a duty to speak up, but we have to be strategic in how we do that,” says Nan Kirkpatrick of the Texas Equal Access Fund. Have these conversations with your loved ones in smaller, less charged groups. It reduces the chance for angry conversations and allows people to ask you questions or frame their ideas with less defensiveness. It also gives you the space to converse beyond talking points and rhetoric, and share what your full vision for the future and full reproductive justice for everyone would look like.

Find common ground

Many people share common values, and the information we’ve been given about these topics often automatically divides us more than encourages us to find the issues we do agree on. Rather than assuming the person can’t or won’t share your core values, recognize the building moments that can happen. Prosper Hedges of the Magnolia Fund says, “I take a quick mental survey of our shared values and emphasize those first. My grandparents are vehemently anti-choice Catholics and cornered me earlier this year about the work I do. They said such inflammatory things (like ‘heart rate begins an hour after conception’), but from their teary eyes and clasped hands I could tell that a quick, scientific takedown would only ostracize them further. However, I know that part of their faith is a firm default to the judgment of a higher power, and a refusal to cast the first stone. I told them that my faith is similar—I always have faith in the ability of the person I’m speaking with to assess their own needs, and I don’t need to understand more than that. This opened up a conversation about birth control and sex education that I never would have thought possible prior.”

Maia Elkana of the Gateway Women’s Access Fund says “my family is ‘pro-choice’ so I’m lucky in this regard, but abortion funding was new to them, as is a reproductive justice framework. My dad watches a lot of Fox News and has come to believe some of the more offensive things he hears on TV, but he’s a father who raised two girls mostly on his own and he’s naturally a caring and empathetic person. Talking about access to care and the economic impact on women and families, and widening it out to violence prevention and school readiness, to make the connection to my day job work as a social worker, has really helped me in my conversations with him.”

Almost always, these will be years of continuing conversations rather than one persuasive argument you can make that will hit them like lightning and change their mind. You have to be invested enough in change to meet people where they are and keep pushing.

Oriaku Njoku of Access Reproductive Care – Southeast says, “Having family who is religious and from Nigeria, talking about my work was a bit frightening at first. But the thing that made it easier was being grounded in the reproductive justice framework. Being able to use intersectionality to make connections between abortion access and race, gender, poverty, and other issues impacting folks in our community makes this conversation easier. It’s more than choice. It’s more than abortion. In fact, my mom went from being someone who was damn near pro-life to wanting to open a pregnancy resource vector like All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center in Bloomington because she sees how it’s all connected. Pretty cool …”

Be a resource for information when people have questions

When you come across a great article or book, bookmark it and save a list for the moments when people ask you for resources.  Refinery29 recently hosted a Tumblr Q & A session with reproductive rights leaders—including NNAF Executive Director Yamani Hernandez and We Testify abortion storyteller Jack Qu’emi Gutierrez—and the resulting answers are a really incredible conversation about the logistics, laws, barriers, and feelings around abortion, from people with real questions. They are worth keeping and sharing with people who need answers. Angie Hayes of Clinic Access Support Network says, “I also like to make ‘trades’ with my family to get them to read things. I say, ‘I’ll read something you give me (on a topic they are trying to change my mind on); if you read this, then we can discuss,'” and she shares this piece with people who might be questioning anti-abortion faith movements. Trina Stout of The CAIR Project says, “With racism a barrier to access, and not a lot of white people connecting those dots, white people have a lot of work to do talking to other white people. Here’s a resource.

Remember people are listening 

Even if a conversation isn’t going well , often there are others around you who are silently gathering strength from you. Statistics tell us that everyone loves someone who’s had an abortion. When someone else is vocally anti-abortion, what they’re telling those around them is that they’re not safe spaces to share abortion experiences or feelings. That’s heartbreaking. The good thing is you can be the opposite. When you affirm that you trust people in their reasons for having abortions, that you know there are barriers to access that can make the experience difficult, and that you are a safe space for conversations, questions, and crisis, you’ve just comforted someone around you, maybe without even knowing.

“I remember one Christmas when my family was having a heated discussion about the women who accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault. Some of my family members said they were only sharing their stories for greed, and I became upset,” explains Renee Bracey Sherman, senior public affairs manager at NNAF. “I told my family, “There are people in our family who have experienced sexual assault and when they hear you talk like this, it makes them not want to come forward. It’s why I didn’t come forward about a toxic relationship I was in. It’s why I kept my abortion a secret for so long.’ After I said that, the conversation calmed down, and a few people started realizing how their words might be impacting others around them.”

“Even when I’m being disrespected or disagreed with, I think about the younger people in my life. I think about my cousins that are listening, teens that might hear or read what I’m saying, family members who may not feel comfortable sharing their experiences,” says Lindsay Rodriguez of NNAF. “I never want them to think the people who are judging them for decisions or questions are the only voices out there. Even if they never need me, I want them to know I’m here if they do. I want other people around me to know I trust them, and I’ll fight for and with them every day. The worst thing we can do to people seeking abortions is make them feel alone.”

NNAF members are often well-versed in these conversations; we have family like everyone else, and not all of them are as supportive as we’d like them to be. But often they are curious as well. Many abortion funders have experiences with family and friends who want to ask questions, and for the first time have someone to turn to. Often, one of the biggest ways abortion rights supporters can help move the cause forward is by voicing your support, often and without judgment; the people in your life who have questions will find you. We all have experiences with people we’d least expect asking us questions, sharing stories, and quietly voicing their support to us.

These conversations are critical for people who don’t feel like they have other safe spaces to talk about abortion. We can be harbors of support, springs of information, vaults of stories. Abortion funds are raising money to ensure people are getting access to abortion, but they’re also doing critical culture change work; abortion funders are expanding the often singular narratives and deepening empathy. And those are things we can all do. In times of stress and strain, our conversations and our relationships will nourish us.