How do you respond to news of a recent abortion?
December 9, 2006 9:38 PM   Subscribe

How do you respond to news of a recent abortion?

Someone I know was expecting in about five months and told me recently she had an abortion. I didn't know what to say, really. She wasn't asking for condemnation or proselytizing, and I wasn't interested in offering any. I hope that you aren't either.

I said something along the lines of "that must have been a hard decision to make." The conversation went well enough, I think, but it's been bothering me since.

I see clear social standards for reacting to the news that someone is pregnant--responses accepted as generally polite, like "congratulations" and "when are you expecting?"--but I don't know what the proper responses are to news of an abortion.

Assuming you respect the person, her beliefs, and her right to make decisions, what do you say to that news? What do you make sure not to say?
posted by Tuwa to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe say: "How are you feeling?"

Don't say: "Did they bust out the Hoover-like uterus sucker thingy?"

Really, I don't there's anything that you *should* say, unless they bring it up. It sounds like what you said was appropriate for the situation.
posted by drstein at 9:42 PM on December 9, 2006

I would have said what you said. It depends on the circumstances, though. You say that you knew she was expecting in 5 months. Before you heard about the abortion, how was she thinking about the pregnancy? Was it a planned event, long looked-forward-to, and something she was happy about? In that case, I don't think it's wrong to say "I'm sorry to hear that." However, if you don't know any of the circumstances, I think you did the right thing. If there's one thing you can be sure of, it's the difficultly of making that decision.

I may be stretching here, but I think that condolences of some kind are generally in order no matter what the circumstances are. Even when abortion is totally the right choice, it sucks. No one sets out to have an abortion. It's always a negative outcome - unless, perhaps in extreme cases of pregnancy by rape or incest or perhaps others. But yeah, in general, it's not a happy occasion for anyone.

"How are you feeling?" Is also an okay thing to say as it's a physical trauma, an operation, and triggers changes in her body.
posted by scarabic at 9:45 PM on December 9, 2006

I think you did the first right thing - acknowledging the difficulty of the decision. For some people, the decision is tough, for others it isn't particularly. But even if it wasn't a tough decision, there's nothing wrong with starting the conversation off that way. Sometimes the person will say, "you know, I never thought twice about it." A lot of times women have thought about the issue for years and came to a conclusion about the course they would take long before getting pregnant.

The one thing that gives me pause about your specific tale is that you say she was (doing the math here) about four months pregnant. That's late enough in the game for me to imagine that either she deliberated about it for a long while or that there was something wrong with the pregnancy that necessitated an abortion. (And a third reason, I guess - some women are slow to recognize that they're pregnant!)

In either of those cases, what you said was fine. I would have followed it up with, "If you ever want to talk about, you know I'm here." And for a few weeks, I would have asked her occasionally if she was okay, in a manner that implied you were ready to listen.

If she wasn't asking for condemnation or proselytizing, she probably just wanted to unburden, so it would have been appropriate to ask if she was feeling okay and to suggest something lighthearted to get her mind off of a procedure which imposes some physical stress too. Believe it or not, the (occasional) physical discomfort is something that a lot of women would love to discuss (in the way that you might talk about a recent fever), but this is often obscured by the "moral" debate. A night at the movies or a casual dinner and some kvetching time would have been cool. Maybe she just wanted to talk about it. For some people, verbalization of an event is necessary to get past the event, even if it's just gabbing.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:57 PM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

yeah, I had an induced abortion last year due to a miscarriage. Unfortunately it was long into the pregnancy that people around me knew. I heard a lot of things. Some OK, some plain rubbish.
A few words are fine along the lines 'how are you feeling?' If you are close enough, offer to talk if/when she wants. Anything more can be too much. Please, show support not pity. It is disgusting. And really keep your ears open, let her guide you to what she wants. Maybe she wants to talk further about it, maybe not. I asked point blank everyone to STFU. It is a very hard time...

on preview:
Dee, I am reading a problematic pregnancy that had to be terminated here. Already people knew as it is customary for announcements to be made after the 3rd month.
posted by carmina at 10:09 PM on December 9, 2006

She wasn't asking for condemnation or proselytizing, and I wasn't interested in offering any.

So don't say anything in her case... for other women (and depending on where you live you likely know several other women who have had abortions but haven't told you) if the subject comes up (unlikely) just ask if it's something they want to talk about... if not, let it go. With about 88% of abortions performed in the first 13 weeks by about 20 out of every 1000 women in this country it can hardly be called a horrible, life altering issue...
posted by wfrgms at 10:12 PM on December 9, 2006

I probably would ask if she wanted to talk about it before I said anything further. I'd try to not offer opinions at all, just maybe gentle questions with at lot more listening that talking.

Abortion is a personal and political minefield these days. Let her guide you in any conversations she might want to have.
posted by chairface at 10:13 PM on December 9, 2006

wfrgms, although I agree with you that there are a lot of abortions that occur and I am perfectly OK with the elective ones, non-elective ones (as in medical circumstances) are a bad experience.

OP, if you really want to go an extra mile, here is a link that might explain maybe a bit how she's feeling. There are a lot of resources online which you might consult.
posted by carmina at 10:17 PM on December 9, 2006

Hmm, maybe I am reading this all wrong. In that case, I agree with wfrgms.
posted by carmina at 10:20 PM on December 9, 2006

what do you say to that news?

Depends on my relationship to the person. But my vanilla answer? Nothing. Probably a polite pause to acknowledge the comment, and then on to a different subject. If she had announced the pregnancy, I can understand why she would tell me about the abortion; but once that's said, it's none of my business.
posted by cribcage at 10:24 PM on December 9, 2006

Some abortions are necessary due to fetal anomolies; genetic diseases like cystic fibrosis, ankylosing spondylitis, Duchenne muscular dystrophy and hydatidiform mole (where a fertilised egg grows into a tumor).

There are numerous reasons why a pregnancy might be terminated beyond the singular decision that the mother (and father) did not want the baby.

Tread carefully.
posted by camworld at 10:26 PM on December 9, 2006

"I'm sure that was difficult." (Not specifying the procedure or the decision.)
Followed immediately by:
"Do you want to talk about it?"

This shows compassion without pity, and leaves the door open for her to give more information, without prying or accidentally asking a stupid or insensitive question by not knowing all the circumstances.
posted by The Deej at 10:39 PM on December 9, 2006 [2 favorites]

It really does depend on the person themselves how they deal with it.

I know of a woman who grappled with her conscience even months after her abortion, while on the other hand I know of another woman who had one and thought nothing of it - comparing it to 'just a normal day surgery'.

Your friend appears not to be overly concerned with what happened and so you should converse with ehr about it on those terms. In the future you might meet someone who is wracked with guilt after doing the same - to which you should respond supportively and sympatheticly.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 10:51 PM on December 9, 2006

not offering any opinion, especially when it's a different one, was the right decision - this person has enough to deal with right now. if she is your friend, offer support. be there, help out, take her by your hand. treat her like you would want to be treated. it's basic karma.
posted by krautland at 12:25 AM on December 10, 2006

Even if it is because the mother, father or both did not want the baby, support, preferably with as little assumption as possible, is probably the best way to go.

"How are you feeling?" "Let me know if there's anything you need" and general support statements that open up a conversation are a good thing to say. If she doesn't bite, let a little silence drift by. If she wants to talk about it, she'll talk. Otherwise, she'll change the conversation.
posted by Gucky at 7:21 AM on December 10, 2006

Thanks, everyone.

"Do you want to talk about it?" is a retrospectively obvious thing to say, though it's one I didn't think of. She told me about the abortion, the circumstances, and some of the results so I think she knew I cared and was willing to listen.

General (and generally safe) support statements were exactly what I was wanted from the question. "How are you feeling?" and "Let me know if there's anything you need" sound like good responses.
posted by Tuwa at 8:05 AM on December 10, 2006

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