“I’m pregnant, and I want an abortion.”
How should one react when a friend says those words?
My colleagues and I are routinely (and as recently as the day I write this) contacted by friends (and strangers!) who have friends who are considering abortion. “What should I do?” they ask. “What should I say?” they wonder.
Their concern is the well-being of their friend and her pre-born child; they don’t want her to go ahead with the abortion, but they come to us because they recognize a noble desire, while necessary, is not sufficient to save a life. How do they actually achieve their mind-changing goal? They follow these four steps:
- Seek to Understand
- Support Her
- Inform Her
- Be Unwavering
Let’s look at each in more detail, with practical tools to get the message out:
Seek to Understand
Think through your past to a time when you felt utterly overwhelmed and afraid. Think about an experience of despair where you felt helpless. Think about what it’s like to feel panic—to feel trapped—and how that affects your decisions.
A woman facing an unplanned pregnancy may feel any number of emotions like the above, and anything you say or do is seen through the lens of what she’s feeling. Rather than start your exchange by jumping onto a soap box, instead, grab a Kleenex box and ask questions that give her a chance to express herself.
Truly and deeply listen to her—what are her concerns? People not only need to be heard, they need to feel heard. This is achieved through affirming truth she’s expressed, and communicating compassion:
- “There is no denying that is a really difficult situation…” or,
- “That is really tough; I’m sorry for your suffering…” or,
- “If I’m hearing you correctly it sounds like the crisis is overwhelming, and I can imagine it would be…”
Notice what you’re not doing here—you’re not saying something false (“I know what it’s like” when you, in fact, don’t know what it’s like); rather, you’re formulating words that acknowledge you understand her feelings are consistent with her crisis.
From this expression of compassion, you seek to understand by asking questions that will give her a chance to express herself, and to help identify what she’s most concerned about (which you need to know in order to address the problem—you cannot alleviate a problem you do not know exists).
For example, ask her, “Why do you want an abortion?”
Her response will likely involve expressing concerns about money, school, lack of support from her partner or family, feelings of inadequacy, or perhaps even pressure to abort.
What does this show? She does not desire abortion as an end in and of itself; rather, she sees it as a means to address a problem. Once she identifies the problem, suggest other means to address it, always through the approach of asking questions:
- “I’m sad for you that your parents said they’d kick you out. You’re right to be devastated by that. What if I was to let you live with me? Would that help? [Or, what if I was to connect you to a place where you could live?]”
- “If I’m hearing you right, it sounds like you don’t have the resources to care for a child. What if I was to connect you to a centre that will give you the resources you need?”
RESOURCES: Listing of pregnancy help centres: helpforpregnancy.ca and heartbeatinternational.org.
- “It sounds like you don’t feel prepared to parent a child right now, and I can understand that. What do you think about adoption?”
- “When a person receives a poor prenatal diagnosis, it can be scary to envision a future where the child has a disability. Have you heard of stories of people who have had positive experiences caring for children with special needs? May I share some of these with you?”
Questioning is not only important to identify her motivations to abort so you can provide alternatives, but questioning is an important tool to help her explore her “gut” feelings about abortion. Questions that help her think beyond the present scenario, to imagine a positive situation in the future when she’s pregnant, can help bring to light her own negative feelings about the abortion procedure:
- “Given that you just said you don’t even love the child’s father, I can understand it would be hard to envision parenting the baby. Something that’s worth considering is if your scenario was just the opposite—if you were happily married and pregnant with a child you’d tried for so long to be pregnant with, would you ever consider abortion? [After her answer: Why not?]”
- “If your parents wouldn’t kick you out of the house, would you be less likely to consider abortion? Why?”
- “If you had the financial resources you needed to raise another (or this) child, would you want to carry through with the pregnancy? Why do you think that is?”
NOTE: The point of these questions is to draw out of her any instinctive feelings of revulsion toward abortion—if she articulates that she would never kill her child in these scenarios, you can now explore her thoughts that it is a child, and whether the difficulty of her situation changes what the child is.
There’s something terrifying about being alone in moments of crisis. There is something comforting about sharing, even a hard experience, with another soul.
A true friend will stand by her throughout this unplanned pregnancy. If she feels abandoned, then she may run to the abortion which she feels will get her “out” of this experience of crisis and “aloneness.” Knowing she has someone to stand by her through the crisis will make it easier.
Offer to be with her when she has difficult conversations with her relatives or boyfriend/husband. Offer to go with her to the doctor. Time is of the essence in these situations and so is generous, self-less help. If you have to miss work or school to accompany her to a pro-life doctor the next morning, do it. Offer to accompany her to a pregnancy help centre. As a friend, it’s important to remember you aren’t a professional. Correspondingly, remember that professionals aren’t friends, and offering to be present when she gets assistance from them will make her feel more supported than simply giving her a phone number to call.
NOTE: When she gets professional assistance, ensure that the people you recommend for this are 100% pro-life.
Tragically, some individuals and groups that are labeled “Christian” don’t always hold a consistent pro-life ethic, and this requires you be extra vigilant in your recommendations.
FURTHER NOTE: Get to know your local pro-life doctors and local pregnancy care center staff as soon as possible, before you meet someone in crisis. The more information you can give to your friend about who works where, what they offer, and how friendly they are, the more likely it will be that she will call or visit. And remember—offer to accompany her.
Part of being a support is helping her see goodness in a future that she thinks looks grim. Being on the outside, you have the chance to paint a picture of hope when she feels despair, to help her consider how short-term gain can bring about long-term pain, whereas short-term pain can bring about long-term gain.
This message, handed out by pro-life activist Mary Wagner to women going to abortion clinics, speaks important words of hope to women in crisis: “You were made to love and to be loved. Your goodness is greater than the difficulties of your situation. Circumstances in life change. A new life, however tiny, brings the promise of unrepeatable joy. There is still hope!”
It is possible to communicate truth without love, but it is impossible to communicate love without truth. Loving your friend therefore means communicating the truth about the abortion she says she wants.
Certainly how you communicate that truth matters. You need to be sensitive and should continue to use questions as much as possible, but you nonetheless need to impart some hard truths. When providing information, you should convey three things:
- The humanity of her pre-born child,
- The inhumane nature of abortion, and
- How abortion can hurt her
Let’s look at each of these in more detail:
The humanity of her pre-born child
A lot of women are unaware of just how rapidly their pre-born children are growing (for example, that a baby’s heartbeat has been detected at 3 weeks, and brainwaves have been detected at 6 weeks). Ask a question like this:
“May I take you to a site which has amazing scientific facts of your baby’s development?”
RESOURCE: Fetal-maternal health website with prenatal development facts, along with actual video footage and 3D and 4D ultrasound: ehd.org
Helping her bond with her child is key; two other ways to do this is through giving her a fetal model to hold, which helps her visualize her baby, and encouraging her to give a nickname to her child, for it’s harder to kill someone we’ve named and connected with.
RESOURCE: First-trimester fetal model: heritagehouse76.com/details.aspx?prod_id=3378 (or ask your local pro-life society to give you one)
The inhumane nature of abortion
Remember, you’re having this conversation with your friend because she said she wants an abortion. But does she know what abortion actually entails? It is essential that you convey the facts of the procedure. You can ask,
“What do you know of the abortion procedure? I have some knowledge of abortion and I believe you deserve to know what I do. May I share some information with you?”
When trying to explain that your motivation to share what you know comes from a place of goodness, you could use this analogy:
“Imagine there’s water with poison in it—whoever drinks it will die. Now imagine you are thirsty and, not knowing the water is poisoned, you drink it. Would you have knowingly committed suicide?” She’ll say no. Then continue, “Now imagine that I know there’s poison in the water and you don’t. I see you grab the glass and I don’t warn you what’s in it. You drink it and die. Have I just been an accomplice to your murder?” She’ll say yes. Then connect the dots: “In the same way, I know some pretty shocking things about the abortion procedure, and if I don’t share these things, then I’d be guilty of withholding life-saving information. That’s not fair to you.”
Some people have an unfounded fear that using graphic pictures could do harm to a woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy. You don’t lose anything by showing her graphic pictures. But you potentially lose something by not showing the pictures: her baby’s life.
Remember all the fears that are motivating your friend to abort? Those fears are very real in her mind; they are immediate problems. If she continues to maintain the idea that her pre-born child is not a baby and that abortion is not an act of violence that will kill that baby, then it will be easier for her to have the abortion than to deal with her problems. Your challenge is to make your friend more horrified of the abortion than she is terrified of her unplanned pregnancy. Graphic pictures do that.
Admittedly, you need to be discerning in your one-on-one interactions about when to use any material. Be gentle, listen, and when it comes to showing pictures, tell her that you care for her and that you want her to be informed of everything she needs to know about abortion.
Finally, be encouraged that using this information doesn’t just work in theory—it works in practice. For example, a Los Angeles pregnancy center not only offers to show an abortion video to each client, but they provide a copy of that video for the client to take home. In 2011, they conducted a survey of all mothers who chose life for their babies at the centre after initially contemplating abortion. 80% of their clients who chose life said the video was the number one thing that helped them choose life for their babies.
When the women take a copy of the video home with them, it also helps them to convince husbands, boyfriends, parents or other people who might be pressuring them to abort that abortion is a terrible choice. Showing the abortion video to parents pressuring their teen to abort helps them to understand the profound damage to their daughter (and grandchild) whom they love and want to protect. It is good to show the video to everyone influencing her decision. Further, some clients have reported giving their copy of the video to pregnant friends who in turn opted against abortion.
That is consistent with this post below one of CCBR’s abortion videos on Youtube:
“A big thank you goes out to whoever posted this video. I scheduled an appointment with Planned Parenthood to have this procedure and wanted to learn more because they wouldn’t give me any information. I’m calling to cancel right now. I don’t want my baby ripped to shreds.”
How abortion can hurt her
Because abortion kills children it hurts women. It goes against human nature to kill one’s offspring—that is why abortion can adversely affect women emotionally. It goes against the nature of a woman’s body to unnaturally and prematurely interrupt pregnancy the way abortion does—that is why abortion can adversely affect women physically. Consider asking your friend,
“Have you heard about the complication risks of abortion? May I share what I know with you?”
Remember the earlier comment that being alone in moments of crisis is terrifying? That is true not only for the unplanned pregnancy, but also for the abortion procedure. The act of abortion could be, in her mind, a terrifying moment she wishes not to endure alone. Knowing she’ll be without a friend could be enough to convince her not to do it. But if you are present, that could make her abortion experience easier to endure. This is why it is essential that if, after your best effort to convince her of abortion’s wrongness, she goes ahead with the procedure, that you not go with her, not drop her off, not pick her up, not facilitate her decision in any way.
Keep this principle in mind: friends don’t drive friends to abortion clinics. After all, if your friend was going to beat up her baby brother and you failed in convincing her not to, would you participate in that action, even if only to “be there to support her”?
If your friend does abort and then realizes at some future point that she made a mistake, and if you had in some way facilitated that abortion, she’ll wonder why you did that when you knew it was wrong. She may even hold you partially responsible, and rightly so. But if you demonstrate integrity through your unwavering views and consistent action, this could be the factor that convinces your friend not to have the abortion—after all, actions speak louder than words.
Consider how you could explain your refusal to go with her:
“Because I love you, I can’t go with you. Because to love you is to desire your good, and I know too much—I can’t erase what I know about abortion and I know it won’t be good for you or your baby. If I go with you, if I help you get there, then I’d be betraying you. I’d no longer be guided by what’s best for you, but what’s best for me (namely, just making sure you aren’t mad at me). I love you enough that I’ll endure you being mad at me—even feeling hate towards me—rather than help you do something I fear you’ll regret in the future.”
Hopefully, though, it won’t come to making that statement. Because when you seek to understand and communicate truth in love, you can go far in convincing your friend to make a life-affirming choice.