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What to say - and not say - to someone who has had an abortion

Mar. 23, 2017
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One in three women will have an abortion at some point in their lives. Most people don’t realize how common the procedure is due to its being controversial and ‘taboo.’ This can be a problem for those who do have abortions, since a lot of people don’t know the right way to respond when someone comes seeking help or support for their decision. 

I had an abortion several years ago, and I know firsthand how important it is to have a support system behind you that doesn’t make you feel judged or looked down on. With that in mind, check out the following examples of what not to say to someone who has had an abortion--as well as suggestions for what you should say instead.

1. Don’t say: ‘Are you okay?’

This is a natural response for anyone who is trying to comfort another person, but it can be a difficult question to answer for someone who has just had an abortion. Whether they are happy, upset, sad, angry, indifferent, or just unsure of what they are feeling, they shouldn’t have to feel pressured to deliver a response before they are ready. 

Instead, say: Whatever you are feeling is valid.

Because it’s true: there is no right or wrong way to feel after an abortion. Letting this person know that you are supportive of them regardless of what they are feeling or how much they tell you is the best thing you can do. If they want to disclose more to you, that’s great, but don’t push them to do it. Once again, it’s their choice.

2. Don’t say: ‘I’m sorry.’

Although this may seem like a nice sentiment to say to someone after they have had an abortion, it could actually make the person feel worse. Saying sorry implies that having an abortion is something to be sorry for--or, at least, that you think this is true. This person has nothing to apologize for and they shouldn’t have to be put in a position where they have to comfort anyone about their experience.

Instead, say: I am here for you.

This is short, sweet, and communicates everything you need to say to the person. It doesn’t pry further into their experience and it doesn’t imply your opinion in any way shape or form. 

3. Don’t say: ‘Did you consider the other options?’

Stop right there. This question is full of assumptions, and assuming anything about this experience is just about the worse thing anyone can do--no matter whether your assumption has to do with the person’s decision, the abortion itself, or how they feel afterward. Not only is this information none of your business, but it assumes that either a) they are not capable of making an informed choice or b) they made the wrong decision.

Instead, say: I support your choice.

This is all the person needs to hear. They don’t need to know if you would have preferred for them to have made another choice, and they don’t need to justify why they chose to have an abortion. All they need to know is that you aren’t judging them or discriminating against them for their decision. 

4. Don’t say: ‘What was it like?’ or ‘Did it hurt?’

Asking what the abortion was like, or if it hurt, forces the person to relive their abortion. If the person had a negative experience, there’s no knowing what painful memories this question might bring up or what trauma it could cause. If the person had a painless experience, this question--because it assumes a specific response--might make them feel pressured to react a certain way. This person’s experience and how it affected them is none of your business. Their experience is also not an educational opportunity for you. If you want to know what an abortion is like, there is a world of internet resources that can provide you with answers.

Instead, say: Is there anything you need?

Asking this person what they need is the best way to help them. As mentioned earlier, assumptions are evil. Don’t assume that this person is sad and needs cheering up, nor that they are relieved and just want to act normal. You don’t know what they are feeling or what they need, but they do, and they will tell you and appreciate your support regardless of what their answer is.

5. Don’t say: ‘What did your partner say?’ or ‘Does your family know?’

You don’t need to know this information. This person could be dealing with a family or partner who is unsupportive, or this person might not have told their family or partner at all. They don’t need to be reminded of any extra stressors right now, they just need someone on their side.

Instead, say: I’m always here to listen if you need.

Regardless of how much of a support system this person has outside of you, what they really need is for someone to listen to them and not assume anything or make any judgements. Listen to them and they will tell you all you need to know.

6. Don’t say: ‘Do you regret it?’

This one should be an obvious no-no, but you would be surprised how many people ask this question. It is invasive and once again implies that having an abortion is something to regret. 

Instead, say: I’m glad you made the choice that was best for you. 

This is what it comes down to. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says or believes or feels, all that matters is that this person made the choice that was best for them. A decision that can be very hard to make at times. Let them know you think what they did was strong as hell--because it was.