With abortion and Roe v. Wade in the headlines and all over social media, your kids are likely hearing about the procedure. Here’s how to explain it.
Then, on May 19, lawmakers in Oklahoma passed a bill banning nearly all abortions starting at fertilization, which would make it the nation’s strictest abortion law in the country.
Naturally kids ― especially those who are constantly online and seeing TikTok videos and remarks about it on social media ― have a lot of questions for their parents and caregivers.
Some parents find the conversation considerably easier than others. At OB-GYN Jennifer Lincoln’s home in Portland, Oregon, the questions came when her two sons, ages 11 and 6, saw that she was headed out to a protest for reproductive rights.
Lincoln, who has over 2.8 million followers on TikTok, had made a sign that read, “It’s not about abortion ― it’s about control,” which prompted the boys to ask us what abortion meant.
Given Lincoln’s job ― and her TikTok-perfected ability to break down complicated medical topics into simple terms ― Lincoln wasn’t as caught off-guard as your average parent.
“I explained that it meant someone is pregnant and does not want to continue the pregnancy,” she told HuffPost. “Sometimes they’re not prepared to have a baby, or there are medical reasons they should not, or sometimes they just don’t want to continue the pregnancy.”
Then, she explained that a person takes medicine or has surgery to end the pregnancy.
“We talked about how having and raising a baby takes a lot of money and effort and not everyone gets pregnant on purpose,” said Lincoln, who’s also the author of “Let’s Talk About Down There: An OB-GYN Answers All Your Burning Questions.”
The “talk” was a little bit more choppy for Benjamin Linas, a physician and professor at Boston University School of Medicine. He has three daughters, ages 18, 15 and 12. The older girls have a knowingness about the ongoing abortion debate in the country, but his 12-year-old had questions about why the procedure was so controversial.
“She could not understand why the court, which she has been taught is a guardian of equality and human rights in a democracy, would choose to take away rights from women,” he told HuffPost.
“That was a hard question to answer, especially when we talked about the effective strategy that Republicans have taken to manipulate the appointment process and force a radical right-wing majority that does not reflect the morals or values of most Americans,” he said. According to a new PBS News Hour and NPR poll, six out of 10 Americans — 61% — say they support abortion rights, including 88% of Democrats, 59% of independents and a third of Republicans.
Linas said he couldn’t answer all of his daughter’s questions, but because she was bothered by it, he told her he’d join her at a local local abortion rights protest. (His older daughters went, too.)
However the conversation goes, Lincoln thinks it’s a vital talk to have with kids.
“It’s important to sit down with them because they’re already hearing about it at school, on TV and on social media, as much as you might wish that weren’t the case,” she said.
“It’s better that you’re able to engage in these discussions because you can give them the facts, correct the misinformation they may hear, and you show them they can come to you about topics like these in the future.” she said.
Below, OB-GYNs like Lincoln and other parents who had “the talk” explain how they went about it.
Don’t exceptionalize abortion. (And use the actual word, not a euphemism.)
Today, about 1 in 4 pregnancy-capable people have had an abortion, and the risk of complications from an in-clinic procedure is extremely low. The majority of women who seek a legal abortion are already mothers.
Because the procedure is relatively commonplace, there’s no reason to exceptionalize abortion services, said Johana Oviedo, an OB-GYN and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Health.
“My kids are still too little to have this talk, but the time will come when I will have to discuss it with them,” she told HuffPost. “I’ll explain to them that abortion, as is true of other medical procedures, is essential health care. Abortion is very, very common. People of all different ages, races, religions have abortions.”
As parents discuss sexual health and reproduction with kids, Oviedo thinks abortion should be a normal part of the conversation especially given how prevalent it is over the course of most people’s lives.
“We might need abortions. People we love will need abortions,” she said.
Lincoln added that it’s important to actually use the word abortion in these chats: “Euphemisms are confusing and imply that the word is shameful and shouldn’t be said,” she said.
Use earlier conversations about consent and bodily autonomy to guide this talk.
If you’ve already talked to your kids about consent and personal boundaries (for instance, that they don’t have to hug or kiss their aunts and uncles goodbye if they don’t want to), you can weave the conversation about abortion into that larger framework.
“Talking about bodily autonomy in terms of women being in charge of our own bodies is an easier concept for younger kids to understand because a lot of parents have already been teaching this from a safety and protection perspective,” said Ariane Le Chevallier, a mom of a 5-year-old son and the CEO of the communications firm Le Chevallier Strategies in Portland, Oregon.
Explain the procedure in a way your child will understand.
Ghazaleh Moayedi, an OB-GYN and abortion provider in Dallas, Texas, is mom to a 7-year-old.
Since she’s a Texas abortion provider, Moayedi said that her child is “acutely aware” that their home state “made mommy’s job helping people illegal” and that she may have to travel to other states “to help their neighbors.”
The doctor’s child has also come with her to the clinic before when school was canceled: “They know that there are people at mommy’s work that don’t agree with what she does, and hate her so much that they want to harm her or our family,” she said.
The general explanation Moayedi gave her 7-year-old about what her job entails is worth borrowing if you’re not sure how to explain to your kids why people seek abortions.
“I told my child, doctors help people who are pregnant and want to be pregnant, have their babies safely,” she said. “Then I said, doctors also help people who are pregnant and don’t want to be pregnant end their pregnancies safely through abortion.”
Answer questions in a non-judgmental way.
She and her husband have four kids at home: 9-year-old twin girls, a 5-year-old son and a 3-year-old son. Since her kids are still pretty young, the couple try to discuss these issues in a way that builds an age-appropriate foundation for them to understand. Nothing too complicated at this point, she told HuffPost.
“We have spoken about this in terms of taking away rights of others and people in charge not allowing us to have a say in what our body is used for,” she said.
They always have questions, she said, but for the little ones, it’s more of a building block situation.
“As an OB-GYN, I strongly believe this method of ongoing discussion is superior to just ‘having the talk’ one day,” she said.
The older twins, who tend to have a better understanding about sex and childbirth than most kids their age ― it pays to have a gynecologist as your mother! ― have more complicated questions.
“Overall, we like to let our children’s education on these topics be self-directed,” Jones said. “I aim to answer their questions factually and always with an overarching theme of the importance of respect, communication, self-love, mutual consent and science.”
Jones also tries to impress on the family that these are really complicated issues and personal choices: “We try very hard to discuss the fact that many things in life are not black and white and it’s important to give space to people around us to allow them to make decisions that are best for them,” she said.
Be prepared for the question, “Did you ever consider having an abortion?”
In a TikTok video on how to talk to your kids about abortion, Lincoln detailed how the conversation went with her sons. As she explains in the video, the only follow-up question one of the boys had was, “Did you ever consider having an abortion with us?”
Her answer was simple: “No, we planned to get pregnant with you, and then your brother. So when we found out, we were super excited [and] never considered it. But not everyone plans to get pregnant.”
Don’t shy away from explaining how abortion bans will impact poor people and people of color most.
LeChevallier said she tried to explain to her son how restrictions on abortion services will compound already-existing racial disparities in maternal health. (As many have noted, women of color will be disproportionately affected if Roe v. Wade is overturned.)
“It’s important to say that this will hurt some people more than others and that’s not fair, because kids understand the concept of fairness,” she said.
Talking about abortion doesn’t mean your kids are going to then think it’s OK to have sex because abortion is an option.
No, your older kids aren’t going to rush to have sex because they know that abortion exists, said Lincoln.
“This same mindset is why some parents are afraid to have the sex talk with their kids, and studies show that talking about sex doesn’t make young people more likely to have it, it just makes them more informed and more prepared when they do,” she said.
Be confident that your kids will feel comfortable coming to you with vulnerable topics because of tough conversations like this.
These conversations aren’t always easy but ultimately, they reinforce to your kids that you’re a safe person to go to with personal, complicated problems.
“That, as a parent, is priceless,” Lincoln said.
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