Thanksgiving Conversation Guide, Or How to Talk About Abortion When Your Family Is Borderline Tea Party

This article is cross-posted from NYC Unfiltered and Unrated.

Thanksgiving is upon us! Going home for the holidays is always a stressful time, but if your family members have been regularly attending tea party rallies, don’t believe President Obama is a citizen, or volunteer at the local Crisis Pregnancy Center, you know that this holiday is going to be a doozy.

Luckily, we have some tips for surviving those awkward conversations. So read on, and bring some diplomacy to the table along with that pumpkin pie.

1. Remember the big picture. Debating “Obamacare” or whether or not abortion should be legal will get you nowhere. Instead focus on your shared values and the big picture – for instance talking about how you believe everyone should be able to afford to go to the doctor, or that the decision about when and whether to become a parent is a personal one. You never know, you just may find yourself actually agreeing with your relatives.

2. Learn to deflect. Not all questions are created equal. In fact, many are baited to start a debate or disagreement. Take a page out of the media talking head handbook, and learn how to deflect.

Quickly answer the question, part of the question, or none of the question at all, and then respond with a big-picture answer. Such as:

Question: “Why do you support Obamacare?”

Response “I believe that every American should be able to go to the doctor and be covered by health insurance. No one should ever have to chose between buying groceries and antibiotics for their children.”

Of course, if that doesn’t work, you can always change the subject to more important issues – like just how juicy the Turkey is this year.

3. It’s all in how you frame it. In so many of these political disagreements we revert back to bumper sticker slogans instead of really talking about an issue. Instead of just repeating the same catchall phrase over and over again, try personalizing the issue, and evoking empathy. Oftentimes it’s easier to dismiss abortion as “bad” when it’s framed as a political issue, but when you’re talking about an individual woman making a personal decision it’s harder to just write off. Also keep in mind that not everyone has to feel the same way about an issue to find something to agree on. For example:

  • A woman may have an abortion for any number of reasons. Some of these reasons may not seem right to us, but even if we disagree, it is better that each person be able to make her own decision.

  • I can accept someone’s decision to end a pregnancy, even if I wouldn’t make the same decision myself.

  • There’s just something about pregnancy-and everybody has feelings about it. Each circumstance is different, so we should respect and support women and families that must make life-altering decisions about whether or not to have a child.

  • We can try to imagine the heartbreak of a family when they get the news that a test has show there is something wrong with their baby.

  • Ultimately, we all want healthy, thriving families and that is why we need policies that respect our ability to make thoughtful decisions and support us in our role as caregivers and breadwinners.

4. Practice! Below are some sample questions and responses:

Q) How can you support abortion?

R) The decision about when and whether to become a parent is an intensely personal one. I believe each woman has to make that decision for herself – and that no one can make it for her.

Q) Emergency Contraception is just another form of abortion.

R) I’m glad you asked me that question—a lot of people have that misconception. Emergency Contraception actually prevents pregnancy before it begins. On the other hand, the Abortion Pill ends a pregnancy. Emergency Contraception works the same way as regular birth control; in fact it’s just a higher dose of the daily birth control pill. I think Emergency Contraception is a great thing, because it gives people a second chance to prevent pregnancy —and I think everyone should be ready before they become a parent.

Q) Why are you anti-family and anti-baby?

R) I think that being pro-choice is the most pro-family and pro-baby position in this debate. I love my daughter, and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me, but I also remember a time when the thought of a positive pre and give her everything I can give. I truly believe that the decision whether and when to become a parent is a sacred one, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Q) I don’t want my tax dollars to be spent paying for abortions.

R) [Note: nearly everyone wants to respond with “well, I don’t want my tax dollars being spent on _________ (the war, abstinence-onlyuntil- marriage programs, etc.).” We recommend fighting that urge—you want to have a conversation, not just a comeback.] I think we can all agree that our tax dollars should be spent making sure that everyone has great medical care. In the world I want to see, no one has to put off going to the doctor because they can’t afford it, and every child has access to a pediatrician. I also believe that our medical care shouldn’t be based on how much money we make. Women who are poor should have the same ability to decide whether and when to become parents as women who have more money.

Q) I think sex ed should be left to the parents.

R) I totally agree that parents should be the main educators of their children when it comes to sex. Kids need to hear our values and our sense of what is appropriate for kids their age. But I also know that those conversations are hard to have—I remember my father stumbling over some of the very same questions my kids ask me now. And I think lots of parents put off the conversation or avoid it entirely. Honestly, all kids need information about protecting themselves from disease and unintended pregnancy—probably not for now, but for the future—and we need to make sure all kids get this information that could save their lives.

That’s it! Good luck, and remember, if things get really bad, you can always bring up something everyone can agree on, like how much we all hate bedbugs.

Image thanks to Flickr user Tray.

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  • julie-watkins

    Those are a lot of good answers, and I agree with the point about trying to have a conversation. (The last abortion conversation I had — a young woman who’s mother had been told she should have an abortion because the child wasn’t likely to live “Here I am”) I was disappointed with myself for the missed opportunity because I was stuck on my point and not trying to listen.

    But on another occassion when I was being pressed by someone on I forget what — I think it was something about “personal responsibility” — I flat refused to answer. I was already on guard because she had said something racist&classist earlier in the evening. Without answering the question AT ALL I refused to acknowledge the question as valid because the situation arose because of … pork barrel or government corruption, argh, I wish I could remember. I had to refuse to answer more than once before she gave up. I think refusing to answer can be done politely and effectively if the person refusing to answer is very careful not to answer rather than  trying to have the “last word”.

  • saltyc

    Yes, one problem with the comeback of what else you don’t want tax dollars paying for is that it does not justify tax dollars paying for abortion, so saying why you want to help women in very hard situations is better.

    But can you please fix the sentence

    I love my daughter, and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me, but I also remember a time when the thought of a positive pre and give her everything I can give

    What does it mean?

  • beenthere72

    Not sure about my inlaws, but I’m happy and relieved that my own family and extended family are all pro-choice Democrats.