How to Have Meaningful Conversations With Anti-Choice Relatives Over the Holidays

A key way to dismantle abortion stigma is to talk to the people we love about the values we hold—even if it means educating our anti-choice family members.

[Illustration: A family gathered during a holiday.]
Taking care of yourself in the presence of anti-choice relatives must be your priority because you’re worthy—and we need you with us for the long-haul. Shutterstock

As an out queer person and a proud abortion storyteller, the holidays can feel overwhelming and difficult. When I go home to visit my family—many of whom are Catholics with various political alignments—I experience a mix of emotions. I often teeter between feeling bold and unapologetic, or timid and self-conscious.

As the executive director of a Texas-based abortion fund, Lilith Fund, who has spent the last ten years working in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movements, my work isn’t a passive part of my life. It’s an integral and uncompromising part of my identity. And while I’m privileged and grateful that most of my family members are unconditionally supportive of me and my work, there are a handful of anti-choice relatives with whom I clearly don’t see eye-to-eye. It’s no secret that they did not envision this path for me.

Nonetheless, every year I carefully weigh out my emotional capacity for engaging in dialogue, big or small, around abortion access and other issues I care about. It’s a careful balance, but if I have learned anything from being in this movement, it is that conversations rooted in love have the potential for powerful transformation. Difficult as it may be, a key way to dismantle abortion stigma is to engage in tough conversations with the people we love most about the values we hold—that all people have the right to autonomy over our bodies, our sexualities, and access to safe, legal abortion care is requisite to ensuring equity and justice for all. Family gatherings over the holiday season could provide you with an opportunity to do just that.

However, before engaging with anti-choice family and anyone in your life who may be hostile to abortion, it’s essential to evaluate the situation. Ask yourself these two questions:

  • Is this the right time and place, where I’ll feel comfortable and safe speaking about abortion?
  • Is the conversation with someone that I trust who loves and cares about me?

You must prioritize your well-being and understand that you have no obligation to put yourself in harm’s way to change anyone’s mind. And if you’ve had an abortion, know that you owe no one any details about your personal health-care decisions and that your decision is indisputably valid.

Despite the hard-won progress we’ve gained in reproductive rights, abortion remains stigmatized. That stigma laid the foundation for the sweeping restrictions we’ve seen over the last several years, which harm marginalized communities the most.

It is more important than ever to engage in these meaningful, heart-to-heart conversations, and to educate the people you love most. Once you’ve decided it’s safe to move forward, here are some suggestions on how to have an effective, compassionate discussion: 

  1. Acknowledge that someone may have deeply personal and complex feelings about abortion. Remind them we all have our own unique life experiences, and that no one’s personal feelings should dictate the rights and health of others. No one is truly free if we can’t make our own decisions about our bodies, lives, and futures.
  2. Challenge the idea that abortion is harmful to families. Barring access to abortion and other reproductive health care can negatively impact the long-term economic well-being of women, particularly Black women. If the person supports a pro-family agenda, they should also support access to critical resources that empower all people to build families on their own terms and raise healthy children in safe communities. Only a framework of reproductive justice that advocates for all communities to have access to the support they need to live healthy, autonomous lives could truly be considered “pro-family.”
  3. If you have family members who may support abortion rights in theory, but not policies that make abortion available to people regardless of their income or zip code, remind them that the decision on whether and when to become a parent is one of the most important life decisions. When we are able to make decisions that are best for our lives, families thrive—and each of us can participate in our communities with the dignity we all deserve.

Decades of needless and harmful stigma attached to abortion in politics and society have made conversations about this issue sometimes emotional and difficult, and the complexities surrounding family and chosen family feel especially heightened during the holidays. But the personal is the political, so our one-on-one talks with loved ones can be the most generative for moving us forward.

Remember that regardless of who you’re in community with, your well-being comes first: Taking care of yourself in the presence of anti-choice relatives must be your priority because you’re worthy—and we need you with us for the long-haul.