Maybe you have had it happen where a friend confides in you that she had an abortion and you are left wondering what to say. Or perhaps your girlfriend mentions in passing that she had an abortion in the past. Or maybe it’s your sister who tells you her secret that she can’t keep any longer. Or maybe it’s a post on social media where someone shares their abortion. 

Whatever the situation is, it’s important to know what not to say because the damage can run deep from your words if you inadvertently (or purposely) say something that is harmful. Saying the wrong thing can increase loneliness and compound grief in an already fragile situation.

TIPS ON BEING A GOOD LISTENER

Most of us notice when someone is listening to us. They are looking at us, not elsewhere. They may be leaning forward to show with their body language that they are engaged in the conversation. They don’t interrupt. They don’t try to finish our sentences. 

Being a good listener is key when someone comes to you to talk about their past abortion experience(s). Compassion and attention can go a long way for someone who needs a good listener. 

These tips are great for engaging in a sensitive conversation, but can certainly be used for almost any conversation: 

  • Stay calm and focused: be present and control your own emotions
  • Be an active listener: nod at appropriate times to show that you are hearing what the other person is saying, look the person in the eyes. 
  • Use body language appropriately: if possible, lean a bit toward the person to show them you are engaged and don’t cross your arms. 
  • Offer support: be compassionate and offer to support the person however they feel they need it most. 

WHAT NOT TO SAY TO SOMEONE WHO HAS EXPERIENCED ABORTION 

When someone has experienced abortion, coming across as unsympathetic, judgmental, dismissive, and presumptuous are all main themes to avoid. 

Here are some specific things that can be really harmful for someone to hear who has experienced abortion: 

Don’t say: “You murdered your child.”

Believe it or not, people who have experienced abortions hear this one often and it is terribly unhelpful. The last thing someone who experienced abortion needs is a harsh, judgmental reaction. 

One man described seeing “Murderer” and “Rot in Hell” signs outside an abortion clinic when his girlfriend had an abortion they didn’t want, but her mother insisted on. The experience and those words haunted him for decades. Years later, when he returned to church looking for solace, he was met with a sermon full of harsh language condemning abortion as murder, which further intensified his pain and sense of emotional isolation.

One woman shared publicly about her abortions and healing journey. The comments on that post are a prime example of what not to say to someone who experienced abortion. These are just a sample of what was written: 

“So, she murdered [her] babies and found it uncomfortable…Rot in hell girlfriend.” 

“She is evil and killed [her] babies why was she not on birth control”

Another person sharing their grief and emotional struggles after abortion was met with comments such as:

“I hope every person that decides to murder an unborn child will suffer the rest of their life with knowing they murdered their child. No forgiveness from me.”

This isn’t what a person who has experienced abortion needs to hear and can be incredibly harmful.

Don’t say: “It’s not a big deal, lots of people have abortions.” 

This kind of comment is dismissive of that person’s feelings and experiences. Just because abortion is common doesn’t mean that it is without emotional, physical, or psychological harm. 

Ask the person how they are feeling about their abortion experience(s) and validate their feelings. Don’t dismiss their experience. 

One woman who contacted Support After Abortion for help experienced both being called a murderer and having her grief dismissed:

“I had an abortion months ago and feel horrible. I cry all the time and hate myself for getting the procedure. I’m so full of sadness and regret, but the clinic told me only 5% of women regret the decision. My boyfriend wanted the baby, and calls me a murderer and other names. And everyone else in my life is telling me it was months ago and I should be over it by now. “ 

The man mentioned above who was haunted by his girlfriend’s abortion and messages of “murderer,” also experienced disenfranchised grief. A therapist he told about his struggles related to the abortion told him that emotional impact from abortion “isn’t a thing” and wouldn’t discuss it. The man said that statement and dismissive attitude kept him from talking about it or seeking help for another 15 years.

Don’t say: “You can just have other kids when you’re ready.” or “At least you already have a child.”

This is in the same vein as the above comment about abortion not being a big deal. Saying this to a person who has experienced abortion invalidates their particular experience with that particular pregnancy. And implying that having other children can alleviate the emotional impact of abortion oversimplifies the complex feelings that individuals may experience after abortion. Pushing someone toward future pregnancies without acknowledging their current emotional circumstances or giving them space to heal emotionally can add further distress. This is not a helpful thing to hear for someone who has experienced abortion. 

Don’t say: “That must be hard for you.” or “Don’t worry, you did the right thing.”

Automatically assuming any kind of feeling that the person who experienced abortion is going through is not being a good listener. Let the person explain how they feel. Maybe they don’t feel like it was a tough decision or that they did the best they could in their situation. Maybe they feel like they did the wrong thing and need to get the experience out in the open. Maybe they are suffering in another way and felt the need to tell you. Don’t assume that the person is feeling any particular emotion until they reveal it to you.

Don’t say: Nothing at all 

Awkward silence is certainly something all of us have probably experienced. However, when nothing is said after someone confides in you that they have experienced abortion, it can feel even heavier to that person. They may regret telling you.

Of course, you may be initially surprised to hear that someone you know experienced abortion, but with quick thinking and by leaning in toward compassion, you can bridge that space between the revelation of the abortion(s) and your initial response, leaving awkward silence behind. 

REFLECTING ON WHAT WE SAY

Whitney Goodman, LMFT, suggests questions to ask ourselves as a way to create awareness of how the types of statements mentioned above shut down conversations and are obstacles to growth and healing:

  • What am I hoping to achieve by saying this?
  • Why might this be dismissive?
  • Why do I say this to myself or others?
  • How does this statement make me feel when I say it to others? 
  • How does it make me feel when I say it to myself?

By reflecting on these questions, we can begin to dismantle barriers to meaningful communication and foster environments helpful to personal growth and healing.

SO, WHAT SHOULD I SAY & DO AFTER SOMEONE SHARES THEY HAVE EXPERIENCED ABORTION?

Let’s revisit the Tips for Being a Good Listener that we started off with: stay calm and focused, be an active listener, use appropriate body language, be compassionate, and offer support.

Our research shows that one-third of women and three-fourths of men experienced adverse changes after abortion. Further, 3 out of 5 women and 4 out of 5 men want help to process their emotions. Yet only 18% know where to go for support. You can be part of their healing journeys by being a compassionate listener and having resources ready to share for those desiring support.

COMPASSIONATE CONVERSATIONS: 4 SIMPLE STEPS

Support After Abortion encourages following a simple four-step process when you encounter someone who has been impacted by abortion. The steps are: examine your judgment, walk in compassion, ask if they would like to share their experience, and connect them with support. Read our previous blog on Compassionate Conversation Training to learn more about these four steps and the importance of showing compassion, not judging, and being a safe space for someone who has experienced abortion. 

THE HARM OF INCIVILITY ON MENTAL HEALTH

You might also find insights from our blog discussing the harm of incivility and how it can be an obstacle to overcoming grief and restoring well-being. The article is specifically focused on obstacles to men’s grief healing, yet the negative impact of incivility on mental health is universal. The article delves into four categories of communication that can wound others and why negative comments are harmful and can lead others to not seek the support they desire and deserve. 

SHARING AFTER ABORTION RESOURCES

Here are two resources you can keep handy. Or, just remember our website – supportafterabortion.com – so you can point people to it who are in need of compassionate care after abortion. 

KEYS TO HOPE AND HEALING

We offer an introductory abortion healing program called Keys to Hope and Healing that walks people through the process of healing from their abortion experience(s). It is available for women and men, in English and Spanish, religious and secular versions. It can be done independently through a free self-guided online program, or virtually or in-person with a mentor or licensed counselor or in a facilitated support group. 

AFTER ABORTION LINE

We also offer our free After Abortion Line that people can reach out to for help by online chat, phone or text at 844-289-HOPE (4673), email, or messaging on Facebook or Instagram. We offer free, confidential, compassionate support. We can connect individuals to the healing resource that best meets their preferences. 

DO YOU – OR WOULD YOU LIKE TO – PROVIDE AFTER-ABORTION SUPPORT?

Explore our Provider Training Center and attend our free monthly Abortion Healing Provider webinars, Men’s Healing Matters webinars, and Quarterly Facilitator Trainings.

© Support After Abortion