Discussing Abortion During Polite Dinner Conversation

Inspired by Merle Hoffman’s new book Intimate Wars, we’re sharing some of our own most memorable pro-choice/social justice personal actions this month. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

It had been a lovely wedding, and now the reception was packed. We sat down to dinner; at my table was my husband and three of our friends, along with three of the groom’s friends from grad school. Introductions were made and small talk ensued, and as our salad courses were cleared away one of the men I’d just met struck up a conversation about abortion with one of my friends.

My husband nudged me and one of my other friends grinned as I inclined myself towards the conversation, trying to discern the tone and content of the discussion – or was it debate? After a few minutes, the man noticed me listening and asked my opinion, and I offered it up, along with the caveat that I was writing a book about that very subject and had worked in the field for years.

He was less pro-choice than I was (admittedly, that’s not difficult), but not exactly anti-choice; rather, he seemed neutral and curious about the subject, though very opinionated about Tony Kaye’s documentary Lake of Fire. But it’s funny – I don’t remember a lot of specifics about our discussion. It’s as though a kind of mental tunnel vision took over, and I was so busy listening and responding that few other details even registered.  It was kind of exhilarating, to be honest, being in a zone of such extreme focus and energy.

The word ‘abortion’ has been invested with so much power, loaded with associations and assumptions and politics. The number of people that still say ‘abortion’ in a hushed voice, the way that uttering the word can bring a conversation to a grinding halt, belies the fact that nearly one-third of all American women will have an abortion by age 45.

Perhaps that’s why this conversation sticks out when I think about what actions I’ve taken in the name of the pro-choice movement. This conversation, and the ones I’ve had with other strangers on planes and subway platforms or with my own mother-in-law at my kitchen table. Conversations that I never initiated but that naturally followed the question, “so, what do you do?” (or, in my mother-in-law’s case, “how’s work going?”).

The discussion at the reception wrapped up by the end of the main course. As the band began playing and guests got up to dance, the man and I thanked each other for an interesting conversation. As we shook hands, I could feel my husband relax next to me. And then we all stood up, and joined the rest of the party.

About Sarah:
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.


  1. Haha, I can totally relate to this post. Being at a party, and accidentally finding myself in a conversation that I can’t always back down from…

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