My family members are anti-choice. This usually hasn’t been an area of conflict for us, because we typically keep our opinions about abortion to ourselves. There are two notable exceptions to that, though. I don’t know that my response in either of these conversations was ideal, but I did the best I could to defend my pro-choice beliefs.
The Older Brother
My older brother and I couldn’t be bigger opposites. He’s staunchly Mormon. I’m a heathen Wiccan. One of the last phone calls we had with each other pretty much sealed the wedge between us. I was telling my brother about how excited I was to meet Gloria Feldt and Gloria Steinem at an event I had helped organized. This was a big deal for me. My brother changed the subject and started talking about cat poop in the litter box. I swear I’m not making this one up, ya’ll. I decided that I wasn’t going to let it go this time.
“Why did you change the subject? I was trying to tell you about something that was very important to me.”
“I’m uncomfortable talking about it. Those are immoral women, and I don’t know why they’re heroes to you.”
“Excuse me? Immoral women? If they’re immoral, then I’m immoral. And your wife got prenatal care for two of her pregnancies at Planned Parenthood because nobody else would accept a patient on Medicaid. So it’s OK to take advantage of Planned Parenthood’s services as long as it supports your family’s choices?”
“I don’t want to talk about this.”
I hung up the phone – and we haven’t had a phone call in five years.
Maybe that wasn’t the classiest response I’ve ever given. But I felt that I had to call out the hypocrisy of calling feminists immoral when it’s those very feminists who fight for my brother’s right to choose to have a family. Pro-choice is, after all, about supporting every woman’s choice.
The Inquisitive Mother
My mom and I usually keep our opinions to ourselves. Mom knows I volunteer at Planned Parenthood and have helped get an abortion fund started in Arizona. On her last visit, my mom asked me a question:
“Why do you raise money for abortion instead of adoption?”
Wow. Where to start the response . . . I explained to my mom that we don’t try to influence anyone’s decision about what to do with their pregnancy. The people who call us have already made up their minds about getting an abortion. If they sound hesitant, we refer them to Backline so that they can talk to counselors who are qualified to help them explore their options.
I went on to explain that many of the groups, like crisis pregnancy centers, who claim to offer support for women who choose adoption lie to women about the support they will receive. I also told her that we could not honestly refer someone to a religious organization for support since we are not a proselytizing organization.
I took a deep breath and went to take a shower before my mom could respond. I really didn’t want to have this argument with my mom. I don’t think she meant to ask a question that would get me all riled up – but when you’re used to having folks yell at you on the sidewalk or hassle you online with these very same questions, it’s hard to maintain a mellow attitude. After I calmed down I apologized for getting argumentative. My mom said it was OK, she was just asking an honest question.
Talking to our family members about abortion can be one of the hardest tasks pro-choice advocates have to do. It’s easy to reject a clinic protester’s arguments by thinking, “they’re just assholes.” But I do love my family. So it makes me hope that we can keep a respectful tone when we have discussions about abortion.
I don’t have any tips for these types of conversations, other than to say “I’m proud to defend women’s health,” and call it a day. If any of you have suggestions for engaging family members in a discussion about abortion, I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Serena is a freelance writer who enjoys baking, protesting, and playing with little dogs.