Abortion is a fact of life.
Regardless of what you might hear from pearl-clutching fundamentalists, your friend who is pro-choice but would never have an abortion, or even your doctor, abortion is common. We see messages about abortion in all kinds of media we consume—on social media, on TV, in movies, and on podcasts. Yet it is nearly impossible to find age-appropriate resources to discuss abortion with young people.
Carly Manes, an abortion doula in New York, discovered this the hard way after sitting with patient after patient who worried about how they were going to tell their other children that they were no longer pregnant—and why. Because another surprising fact about abortion is that the majority—almost 60 percent—of abortion patients are already parents, according to the Guttmacher Institute. It was out of these tough situations that the idea for What’s an Abortion, Anyway? was born in 2018.
“I had just gotten off a shift at the abortion clinic where I volunteer as an abortion doula. I just had the really common experience when during people’s procedures, I would often hear them say they want to talk to their kids at home about this, or they had kids in the waiting room, that they want to talk to [them] about their procedure but they didn’t know how to have that conversation,” Manes said. “And I didn’t really know either and I didn’t have anywhere to point them.”
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Upon further research, Carly realized the only available resources for children on the topic of abortion were pieces of anti-choice propaganda aimed at manipulating young children into thinking abortion is wrong or sinful. Obviously, these resources aren’t accurate. Abortion is a very common pregnancy outcome, with nearly 1 in 4 pregnant-capable people choosing to have an abortion at some point in their lives.
Age-appropriate picture books on topics like sexual education, pregnancy, and birth are prolific, and there are even books about death and other conversations that adults might deem tough subjects. It is precisely because abortion is deemed a difficult or tough topic for adults that it’s critical for children to have age-appropriate ways of understanding it.
But children have the right to know about abortion as well. “I opened a Word document and just started writing,” Manes said.
What’s an Abortion, Anyway? isn’t just a children’s book. The book’s illustrator, who creates art under the name Emulsify and is also an abortion doula, says they personally felt comforted by the book’s affirming message.
“We tried really hard to make this book nonjudgmental and just affirming of the individual experience that people have,” they said. “For a lot of adults who have abortions, this book is going to be a place where they find that comfort.”
One of the ways they made this happen was using the illustrations to feature the real likenesses of people who have had abortions. Emulsify spent time talking with We Testify storytellers who recounted their abortion experiences and submitted pictures to be used in the project.
Anti-abortion opponents, Emulsify said, “use a lot of imagery. It’s one of their biggest tools of shaming and causing harm. I really wanted to draw people doing their regular life stuff, like sitting and contemplating, and painting, and skateboarding. I thought it was so important to capture, specifically for children, the fact that an abortion is a moment that exists within so many other moments, and the people having an abortion deserve to be seen not just for their choice but to be seen as whole.”
Getting this book published has been an uphill battle, as the stigma around abortion is particularly amplified when it comes to children. Since writing her first draft in 2018, Manes has reached out to over 300 editors, publishers, and agents—and not one agreed to take the book.
So Manes and Emulsify decided to self-publish and launched a Kickstarter campaign a week ago. Within 36 hours, they reached their initial fundraising goal of $10,000. As of Thursday, the campaign reached $15,000, which means the book will also be printed in Spanish. Their current goal of $20,000 would allow 300 books to be donated to libraries.
They plan on making sure every abortion clinic in the United States has a copy as a resource for patients who may have children at home, or for patients who simply might need the self-compassion that this book offers. Children who come to the appointment, abortion doulas, clinic staff, and volunteers will be able to use the book to connect with young people to talk about abortion—without shame or stigma.
The book allows for an expansive understanding of abortion. For some people, it’s a hard and sad choice that’s made out of necessity. For others, it’s a liberating experience. The narrative of the book doesn’t follow one person’s experience having an abortion, which is how a traditional children’s book might be framed—but, rather, it gives a multitude of examples of how someone might feel towards their abortion. The illustrations feature disabled people, as well as those who aren’t easily identifiable as cis male or female.
“If just one child sees it or one adult feels held and feels touched—that’s huge to us. That’s worth it,” Emulsify said.