Welcome to ask a child-free person, the blog where I, a child-free person who studies motherhood for a living, negotiate common conflicts that arise between the parented and the child-free.
For my last ever “Ask a Child-Free Person” column, I am going to tackle a divisive topic that I firmly believe needs to be discussed more in our society. This topic is how best to support people you love that are considering having an abortion.
Reproductive rights are indescribably important. In Canada, it is regrettably difficult for women to obtain safe abortions in many parts of the country. If you don’t believe me, just google “Abortion in PEI.” You’ll learn a lot. Having said that, reproductive rights are about more than just the right not to have a baby; they are also about the right not to feel coerced or pressured by others into terminating a pregnancy. With that in mind, I am going to take a hardline approach to answering this week’s question. I say NO! It is frankly always unacceptable to tell a friend she should get an abortion.
Am I telling you that if your friend has chosen abortion of their own volition, you are not allowed to support that decision? Absolutely not. A good friend typically supports their loved ones through hard times, and going through the motions of ending an unwanted pregnancy can be trying for some people, and a completely tortuous process for others. While I know several individuals who have had abortions and are ultimately happy they chose that path, I have never met anyone who found the actual procedure to be a day at the beach. For many people, it can help to have a support network surround them at this time. You might want to call your friend, bring her soup, or if you can, even pick her up from the clinic.
Friends can be an invaluable resources to people choosing abortion, but only if they respect certain boundaries. Here’s the thing: many of us have been in the position of a friend calling us in a panic, explaining that, for whatever reason, an unplanned pregnancy has happened to them. Perhaps you believe this friend is not in the best position to be a parent, or perhaps they already have as many children as they ever wanted. Unwanted pregnancy is very democratic, it affects people of all walks of life. It is possible that if you were in their situation, you’d already know what you would do, and maybe that decision would be to get a termination ASAP, damn it! Perhaps you think that your friend’s precarious employment situation/fondness for partying/shitty partner makes it a less than ideal time to become a parent. The thing is, however, it’s not your body, so you really shouldn’t get involved in the decision-making process.
You may think your friend’s obstacles are insurmountable and would simply be made worse by a tiny human, but you know what? It’s not up to you to decide. The difference between an “unwanted” pregnancy and a “surprise” pregnancy is the pregnant person’s perspective on it. If the news of pregnancy inspires them, or fills them with a sense of possibility, pregnancy can be a great motivator that transforms people’s lives.
Please don’t tell me, “But Sarah, my friend only THINKS she’s going to like having a baby. I know she’ll hate it when it comes along.” Sorry, but you don’t know that. You are not inside your friend’s head or her body. Think about it this way: If your friend had a hernia and it hurt so much to walk she felt she needed back surgery to get through her life, would you insist that she was wrong? I hope not, because you do not share her nerve endings. You do not know what her herniated disc feels like, and similarly, you can’t truly understand this pregnancy, because every pregnancy is a truly individual experience.
But what if you’re meddling because you’re worried about the future of the baby, not your friend? It’s still not okay. Perhaps your friend was drinking pretty heavily for the first couple of months before they realized they were carrying a fetus. Perhaps you’re worried about potential health problems the future baby may encounter if delivered. Well, unless you are your friend’s DOCTOR (which you shouldn’t be, because being friends with your doctor definitely gets into some murky ethical territory), you are not the expert on this topic. Plus, lots of babies with varying degrees of health issues grow up to be happy people with fulfilled lives. It’s not for you to judge based on an ableist assumption that only certain babies grow up to be happy adult humans.
Now, what happens if your friend, in a panic over their situation, is plagued by indecision and basically asks you to choose for them? Well, say no. If they later come to regret what you chose, that could have disastrous results for your friendship, and your friend’s life in general. If your friend needs help, tell them you are there to listen to them talk it through, but you don’t feel comfortable making the final choice yourself. You can even recommend counselling if your friend is in a particularly vulnerable state, but please don’t take this opportunity to mold their reproductive decisions to your liking.
In the end, the classic reproductive rights mantra, “My Body, My Choice,” extends to your friends. Maybe you think they’re not ready to be parents, but truth be told, no one ever knows for sure how parenthood will work out for them, so it’s best to leave the decision to the person who is actually incubating a little critter inside their uterus. From your standpoint, you have no idea how a pregnant friend is truly feeling inside. Try to be a good friend and a good listener. Help them talk through the decision if they want you to, hold their hand through whatever they decide, but don’t be the decider here. It’s just not your place.
Sarah Sahagian is a PhD candidate in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at York U, where her academic specialty is motherhood. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, xoJane, & The Beaverton. When she’s not writing her dissertation, Sarah reads a lot of novels about other angsty young women, streams a lot of Netflix, and tweets about topics ranging from reproductive rights to who’s going to win The Bachelor.