How to talk to your teens (boys and girls) about the end of Roe v. Wade
Exactly one year ago we received the shocking news that the current Supreme Court of the United States had stripped women of their right to bodily autonomy. There is only one word for this: devastating. As a lifelong sexual and reproductive health educator, my work is to prevent unintended pregnancy and give young people the knowledge and skills to live healthy and productive lives.
Being pregnant when it was not planned is what I (and all sexual and reproductive health professionals) work to prevent. This is done most effectively through comprehensive sexual health education. Study after study shows that comprehensive sex education improves decision-making skills and future success for our youth.
Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, how do we begin (or continue) to talk about this topic with our kids? Adults and older teens understand its long-lasting impact and that rights are taken away for bodily autonomy and how dangerous this is, but for younger teens and tweens, and even younger children, they will most likely hear the word abortion - whether it is on the news, TV, radio or overhearing adults talking about this topic. The idea that a child asking about abortion may make some parents, caregivers and teachers want to hide under the blankets, evidence has shown that factual and honest sexual education is critical to healthy physical, mental and emotional development in children. So, how do we talk about this with youth of all ages?
Talking about abortion can be a very big and complicated topic. There is a lot to say about abortions and people have very big and very strong feelings on all sides of this topic. Just because it is a difficult topic does not mean that teens and tweens (and children) cannot begin to understand it and be educated in a clear and easy-to-understand way. It is important that we talk to our young people about this recent decision and what it means for them and their choices around healthy relationships and sexuality.
For Older Teens:
What is an abortion? Abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus. The procedure is done by a licensed healthcare professional. It is a very safe procedure. There are two types of abortion, medical and surgical.
Abortion is a very personal decision and only the person who is pregnant can know what is best for them. Every day, all around the world, people get pregnant under a range of circumstances. Some of these pregnancies are not intended. When a person gets pregnant they usually have three options: keep the pregnancy and have the child, keep the pregnancy and give it up for adoption, or have an abortion. The choice to parent or not parent, again, is very personal and there are many circumstances that go into choosing to become a parent. If they choose not to parent, they may arrange an adoption for their baby, or they may choose to have an abortion. Abortion is when a pregnancy stops developing. Sometimes this can happen without a person choosing it, which is called a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. If a person chooses to have an abortion, they will either pick a surgical or medical abortion procedure.
A surgical abortion is a short medical procedure, 10-15 minutes, that takes place at a clinic or hospital. The procedure is performed by the healthcare provider and uses local anesthesia. The majority of abortions are done during the first three months of pregnancy, almost all are done after a female realizes she is pregnant. During the procedure, the healthcare removes the uterine lining with a device that is a gentle suction to remove the fetus from the uterus through the vagina. It feels like stronger menstrual cramps. Contrary to its name, no surgery is actually involved.
A medication abortion uses pills to end a pregnancy. It can be started either in a medical office or at home. Medication abortions are most effective in the first twelve weeks of a pregnancy. Medication abortions consist of two medications. The first, Misopristol, stops the pregnancy from growing and the second, Mifepristone, causes cramping and bleeding and empties the uterus through the vagina. Most people report that the medication abortion feels like really heavy menstrual cramping.
There are many reasons someone would choose any of these options. If someone decides to get an abortion maybe they do not want to have a baby, or they can't afford to have a child. Maybe they are in school and they are afraid they won't graduate, or maybe they already have children and cannot afford or want more, or maybe there is something wrong with the fetus.
The information for tweens may be similar for older teens, but often, tweens (10-12) often want the simple facts. There may not be a need to go into too much detail. There are some very simple and helpful videos for tweens and this wording can help:
"Every day, all around the world, people get pregnant under a range of circumstances. When a pregnancy is not intended, or planned, a person has to decide if they want to be a parent. Some people choose to become parents when a pregnancy was not planned. If a person chooses not to parent, another option is to arrange an adoption for their baby. A third option would be to choose to have an abortion. Abortion is when a pregnancy stops developing. Sometimes this can happen without a person choosing it, which is called a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage. If a person chooses to have an abortion, they will decide to have either a surgical or medical procedure."
Amaze.org offers some very engaging and easily explained answers to why someone may choose to have an abortion. I would encourage parents and tweens/teens to watch the video(s) together. It is not important to have all of the answers, but to be the trusted adult that youth can come to for accurate and trusted advice.
For Younger Kids (5-10 yrs.)
Consent is Key!
Talking about sexual issues with our young people is daunting and difficult on the best of days, especially if we do not have the experience from our own parents. Answering sensitive questions about extremely difficult topics (abortion, drugs and alcohol, past relationships...etc.) can be a no-go zone for many. However, this recent court decision has sent women back over 50 years and will be an issue all of our children will continue to face as a country. We all want to live our best lives and taking away rights from people is not the way we continue to do that. Regardless of what you personally believe, bodily autonomy and letting people decide what they do with their own bodies should be a right every human enjoys.