Talking About Choice Over Turkey

If I’ve heard it once, I have heard it a hundred times. Thanksgiving finds confident pro-choice activists trapped in an uncomfortable conversation with a family member that is less-than-thrilled about their involvement with the reproductive rights movement, and can’t wait to confront them about it post-turkey.

Want to use the holiday as a time to find common ground and educate your loved-ones about the passion you have for all things pro-choice? Here are some helpful tips that I have learned through my experience as a Planned Parenthood Activist Boot Camp facilitator and my own humble experience as a pro-choice activist in this big, bad world:

  • Leave your favorite bumper sticker where it belongs. When having a conversation about choice with someone with a different view, avoid reverting to “my body, my choice!” The slogans do not facilitate dialog, and are not adequate tools when discussing reproductive rights with a hostile audience. Also, most anti-choicers have heard them all before. Instead, focus on your…
  • Worldview. Part of my role as a Boot Camp instructor is leading a “Tricky Subjects” training to assist activists in speaking confidently about reproductive rights. The first thing we teach students is how to define and use their worldview in such discussions. Such clarity is a great way to promote conversation instead of confrontation, and will help your family members understand how your work fits in with the “big picture.”

In a nutshell, try to begin statements with the words “In the world I want to see.” Some helpful starters:

“In the world I want to see, all babies are…”

“In the world I want to see, parents are…”

“ In the world I want to see, abortion is…”

Try it, you’ll like it.

  • Sing the praises of the country’s leading provider of reproductive health services. There is a huge misconception among the anti-choice community that Planned Parenthood’s services are limited to abortion. This could not be farther from the truth. In reality:

o   Planned Parenthood provides services to women, men, and teens, regardless of immigration status.

o   U.S. Planned Parenthood centers serve over three million people each year, and their international wing serves over one million people in various countries.

o   90% of Planned Parenthood’s services are preventative: i.e.–screenings for cancer, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and contraceptive services.

o   1 in 4 U.S. women will receive services from Planned Parenthood during their lifetime.

  • Let your family know more about choice in general. I know from years of experience that anti-choicers are hung up about abortion as though reproductive rights is a one-cause issue. They ignore all the implications pro-choice politics has for birth control, STI/STD prevention, community health, and pregnancy and birth, and would have the world believe that feminists care about solely about abortion access. Why not use this opportunity to let your family know about the other community health issues that are included in your political view? For an example of how I broadly define my pro-choice stance, check out my Feminists for Choice bio.
  • When all else fails, memorize some “bridge statements” to simply change the subject or gain control of the conversation. My favorite technique is to springboard. In other words, when confronted by a ridiculous comment or question, ignore the remarks and go directly to your worldview and the pride you have for the work.

My favorite bridge statements:

“It’s important to emphasize…”

“The most important point to remember is…”

“The real issue is…”

“I’m really glad you asked me that. Many people have that misconception, but the truth is…”

  • Above all…Be proud! Sure, some people won’t understand or even want to understand the true nature of the reproductive rights movement. But what you can leave them with is a sure sense that you are confident, proud, and bold in your decision to make this work an aspect of your life.

Being confident is the best way to help you remain calm and enjoy the time you have with your loved ones.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tricky Subjects is a program developed by PPNYC to help activists speak confidently about choice and grow support instead of building barriers. It is a service they share with the community. To see if the program is offered in your area, contact your local Planned Parenthood affiliate.

About Janice:
Janice is a Virtual Assistant, aspiring doula, and long-time feminist activist with a passion for women's history, nonfiction, nature, and wearing flowers in her hair. She is the Founder of The Feminist's Guide, a women's history travel website, which can be found at


  1. Thanks, Janice. I will definitely be using some bridge statements tomorrow.

  2. One thing that comes to mind when I think about mentioning (or even circling around) teen pregnancy and STDs: how is me saying this stuff going to put my teen cousins in a weird place they didn’t ask for? Last thing I want is for them to have to get into a conversation that is uncomfortable when they were just trying to cope.

  3. Harry, I can kind of see where you’re coming from. I don’t think Janice is giving these tips because she is advocating that people start a family fruckus. These tips are a great way for defusing a potentially uncomfortable situation, however, because many of us have family members who like to bring the controversy to us.

  4. Thanks, Serena. As a long time activist, I have heard from so many fellow feminists how uncomfortable they get during the holidays when family members use it as an opportunity to confront them about their work. I have been in the exact situation, not wanting to start a debate, but wanting my family to see how proud I am of the work I do. I am only providing these tips to help facilitate a productive conversation.
    When it comes to a topic as divisive as this one, I really feel that some tried and tested tips can only help build confidence before the conversation gets started.

  5. Thank you so much for this post Janice. Every holiday celebration, without a doubt, I come across a family member who wants to engage me in a debate about the work I’m involved in. Or the fact that I’m a self-identified feminist for that matter (male feminist…. who would have thunk it…)

    I actually used some of your tips last night and I have to say… they had some great results. I resisted my inclination to get defensive and came out on top because of it. Thanks a bunch!

  6. This is very good to know. My family is definitely not feminist, they don’t even like the idea of eating healthy, let alone abortion! Lets hope this year we will steer clear of that topic.

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