We try to use our blog as a platform to talk about ways to have better conversations about abortion. We write about pro-life and pro-choice arguments, think about how to engage with people in a polite and sensitive way, and also just discuss anything to do with finding common ground, or having good conversations about controversial issues more generally.
Some of the questions we write and talk to each other about are very practical. How do these conversations start in the first place? When should you back away and bring them to an end? When should you pro-actively bring up abortion and your pro-life views?
This blog is about one of these very practical questions. What if you’re just hanging out with friends or acquaintances, and not only does the topic of abortion just happen to come up, but someone makes the kind of remark or observation you wish you never had to respond to because you don’t really know how? These ‘surprise’ conversation starters can be especially dismaying if we’re just going about our daily lives, and weren’t expecting to wind up talking about abortion on that particular occasion at all. Different people might think of different types of questions or scenarios here, though there are probably some situations that none of us are exactly hoping to wind up in. For example:
- You’re a student or employee, and are in a group of peers talking about ableism. You’re nodding along until someone says “It’s so terrible how pro-lifers used people with disabilities and adoption as talking points in the referendum.” What do you do?
- You’re at a party, talking to a small cluster of people you know, but not very well. Over the course of the conversation, this remark ends up being made: “Yeah, it was funny. My cousin’s super religious and she had this birthday party, and there were all these people there, and they were all anti-choice and they were talking about the referendum the whole time. It was super awkward.” People laugh. How would you respond?
- You’re walking through town with a friend and pass by some people protesting abortion with large signs and your friend says “I hate those protesters with graphic images. They creep me out. Of course, as time goes on, we’d expect socially conservative views to become less popular. So you’d hope that over time abortion will become less controversial as people get used to it.”
The main point of the blog is that it’s worth thinking about how you’d respond to situations like this before they happen. We’ve led workshops where we give people the opportunity to ‘practice’ by acting out conversations that start like with these remarks. But it’s worth considering by yourself as well. This can make it a little easier to react well in the moment. I know, for example, that I can sometimes be taken by surprise when abortion gets mentioned. If I wasn’t expecting the topic to come up, I can sometimes be very slow to think on my feet and figure out whether I should say anything, and if so, what. Having thought about hypothetical situations like the one I’m in helps with that. It’s also a general confidence booster: there are certain topics related to abortion that it can be difficult and upsetting to talk about, and if you dread these coming up, you might also find more general conversations about abortion more stressful as a result: it’s reassuring to have a sense of how you could deal with them.
So, for example, you might not really look forward to a discussion that went like the ones below, but if one did unfold this way, it’s worth thinking about what you could say in response:
- You: I am against abortion because I think that the a fetus born of human parents is a living organism that is a member of the human species, and i think that all human beings have the right to life.
- Interlocutor: My mum had an abortion
- You: I am pro-life.
- Person looks distressed/solemn: People are entitled to their right to choose, that’s fine with me, but it’s when people try to impose their views on others, that’s just wrong.
When we’ve done workshops to help people think this through, we’ve talked these through in much more detail. But here, I’m going to emphasise two points.
- There isn’t one ‘right’ way to respond to these situations. You should respond in a way that is in keeping with who you are, is honest, is respectful, isn’t patronising or aggressive etc. But there are many ways of doing that.
- Though sometimes you definitely can turn these situations around, there isn’t always one ‘right’ way of responding to situations that will guarantee that they won’t be awkward – or upsetting – but that doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.
- You shouldn’t feel like, for these exchanges to go well, you have to ‘win’ them, or make your ‘opponent’ realise they were in the wrong. This rarely happens – and if people feel like you’re trying to ‘defeat’ them, they might not warm to you! There are lost of other ways to ‘succeed’ in conversations like these (and it’s often helpful to listen to and make the other person feel understood!)
If you’re thinking about how to respond to difficult conversation starters, you might find some of our other blogs helpful:
Current events at the time of writing: This blog by Gavin explains the Dobbs case at the US Surpreme Court, and its significance. Here’s one Ben wrote about how pro-lifers should (and shouldn’t) respond to the Roe overturn leak.
What’s your pro-life elevator pitch? Muireann writes about how she changed hers here.
What you’re trying to achieve in a conversation: When you’re thinking about these things, it’s very worth keeping in mind framework a Ben wrote about awhile ago about three different kinds of conversations you can have about abortion and why it can be really helpful to distinguish between them. It’s well worth reading the whole blog. One is the ‘everything on the table’ kind of conversation where you’re talking to someone who’s up for having a detailed and in depth conversation, and you both listen to each other and try to get to the bottom of things: you’re really making your strongest arguments and trying to convince them. But that’s a kind of conversation you might not often have with your pro-choice friends.
In a lot of contexts, especially the kind this blog is about, it’s usually better to make one of the other two conversational moves instead. The first is the ‘I’m pro-life and I’m not a monster’ type intervention where your only real aims are to tell people that you, a normal person, are pro-life, and not close off opportunities for future conversations. Maybe you also mention common ground, or dispel some stereotypes. But that’s it. The second conversational move you might make involves going into slightly more depth: your aim here is to introduce the people you’re talking to to new ways of thinking about the issues, or kinds of arguments you think they might not have heard of – but without actually aiming to convince them or have a drawn out argument.
It can be very useful to be clear with yourself about what kind of conversation you’re having!
Responding to ‘hard’ cases: Here’s one I wrote about ‘responding to hard cases‘ without ignoring inconvenient truths. Sometimes people bring up topics, like rape and abortion, or life-limiting conditions. (I know that these are among the topics I dread having to talk about!) It’s obviously important to talk about these things sensitively, and sometimes that can be a little daunting, so it’s worth thinking how you’d go about it. This blog is about defending the pro-life position without minimising the suffering or sacrifices that carrying pregnancies to term can sometimes involve.
And, if you’re really enthusiastic, have a look the other posts on our blog that have the ‘having better conversations tag’!