The holidays are almost here, and I’ll admit I’m a little anxious about discussing certain topics at the dinner table with extended family. I’ve got some very outspoken anti-abortion relatives. And even though I work to advance reproductive rights for a living, it can still be incredibly difficult to have meaningful conversations with them about abortion.
I know it’s going to come up, though, and I need to be prepared. Abortion continues to be a major issue in the news. Recently, Ohio became the seventh state in which voters directly backed abortion access with a ballot measure since Roe v. Wade was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022. Also, over the past year, anti-abortion groups have tried to take mifepristone, a safe, effective drug that is often used in miscarriage and abortion care, off the shelves, and restrict medication abortion. Abortion is now banned or severely restricted in 21 U.S. states, and the right to determine what happens to your own body is being challenged in many others.
Now is not the time to stay silent, even if it’s more comfortable to do so. The good news is that open, civil dialogue is the best way to make your voice heard and hopefully change hearts, minds and cultures. Here’s what I’m keeping in mind as I go into holiday gatherings with my family.
1. Assess whether it’s worth the conversation in your specific setting.
Take stock and think critically about whether it might be safe to talk to this person about abortion, especially in front of others around the dinner table. If you are in a position where it is not safe for you to openly disagree (i.e., your parents will kick you out of the house), do not feel pressured to have the conversation at that moment. Give yourself some grace, consider bringing it up with them at a later, more private time, and remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation or debate about your body and choices.
2. Arm yourself with facts.
The more information you have, the more confident you will feel talking about abortion, especially if your relatives begin spewing misinformation. This fact sheet from Planned Parenthood is a great place to start.
With laws around abortion access varying state-to-state, it’s especially important to learn more about what your state’s abortion laws actually allow so you can confidently call out and correct wrong information.
3. Don’t automatically write people off.
Just because someone voted for Donald Trump, or plans to, doesn’t necessarily mean they are anti-abortion. Voters have continually shown that they care about abortion access, as we’ve seen with the passage of Issue 1 in Ohio and other ballot initiatives in six other states protecting reproductive rights. Overall, 61 percent of Americans regardless of political affiliation believe abortion should be legal—so don’t immediately approach the conversation with hostility. Instead, ask open-ended questions, and try to understand exactly why your relative believes what they do. Use this to find common ground.
4. Remember: Abortion is healthcare, and reproductive freedom states like California have a moral responsibility to provide it.
Out-of-state abortion patients coming to California and other reproductive freedom states are being forced to travel because their state isn’t allowing them to make their own decisions about their bodies. Many are in desperate circumstances and cannot access needed healthcare in their own state. Our doctors are treating patients who must drive hours for needed care and in many cases, they immediately turn around and go home because they need to get back to their jobs and families.
5. Help destigmatize abortion by sharing your story.
Unplanned pregnancy touches everyone, regardless of political party. One in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime, so everyone likely knows, and loves, someone who has had one. If, like me, you or someone you care about has had an abortion, consider sharing your story—even if it happened decades ago. Reinforce that regardless of their decision, everyone should be able to make their own choice. Remember also that most people of all political stripes get their news from one-sided sources, and only interact angrily and anonymously with opposing viewpoints online. However, hearing from someone they love, in-person, can have a powerful effect.
Editor’s note: The Ms. series, Our Abortion Stories, chronicles readers’ experiences of abortion pre- and post-Roe. Abortions are sought by a wide range of people, for many different reasons. (Share your abortion story by emailing [email protected].)
The more comfortable you get sharing your point of view, the more likely you are to have civil, productive and compassionate conversations that result in a deeper understanding around the need for abortion access.
6. Practice with a like-minded friend.
Get comfortable talking about abortion before you dive right into a dinner table conversation with family members who may disagree with you. Practice asking open-ended questions, sharing your story, and talking about the facts with a like-minded friend who’s open to role-playing as one of your relatives.
7. Keep in mind that this will likely take more than one conversation.
People’s minds and hearts do not change immediately. It’s difficult to realize that someone may not fully comprehend the importance of protecting abortion rights overnight, and you’ll need to come to terms with that discomfort. However, know that the more you practice having these types of conversations and the more comfortable you get sharing your point of view, the more likely you are to have civil, productive and compassionate conversations that result in a deeper understanding around the need for abortion access.
If it’s safe for you to do so, use your voice to speak up on behalf of people who are suffering right now because of laws needlessly restricting reproductive care access. Millions of people no longer have the freedom to make their own personal health decisions. Patients have been forced to bear financial hardship and travel thousands of miles for necessary healthcare, and those unable to travel have been forced to carry the pregnancy to term against their wishes.
I encourage you to join me in stepping out of your comfort zone and engaging in conversation if abortion comes up. Make your views known in a compassionate way, and you can make the change we need!