Talking Turkey: Eight Easy Steps for Discussing Reproductive Health and Justice at the Holiday Table


This article was originally published by PPNYC, in 2011 and cross-posted at that time by RH Reality Check. We are bringing it back for the holidays again this year.

The holidays are upon us! Going home or getting together with relatives for the holidays is always a stressful time, but if your family members are the type who regularly protest outside the local Planned Parenthood, 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 and understanding to the table along with that pumpkin pie.

1. Avoid bumper sticker talk. A slogan might work for a poster or a button, but in a conversation it just leads to a heated back and forth. Try to steer clear of catchall phrases—they very rarely lead to common ground or change anyone’s mind.

2. Remember the big picture. Debating when life begins or whether or not abortion is federally funded may get you nowhere. Instead focus on your shared values and the big picture—for instance, talk about how you believe everyone should be able to afford to go to the doctor, or how 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.

3. Know your facts, but keep the conversation more global. It’s good to clarify misinformation—for example, the misconception that emergency contraception ends a pregnancy—but staying there can cause a fight. Instead, try to clarify, and then transition back to the underlying value of why you believe what you do.

4. Create a space for the listener. Ambivalence is normal. Reproductive health is not a black and white issue, and there is no one right or wrong way to feel. Be open and accepting of other people’s personal views, and instead focus on the distinction between your personal beliefs, and what should or shouldn’t be imposed on others. For example, “I might not personally choose to get an abortion, but I could never decide for another woman whether or not she was ready to become a parent.”

5. Learn to diffuse. There are some debates you’re just never going to win, and not all questions are created equal—in fact many are designed to start a fight. Instead of getting caught in the weeds, try to recognize when a question isn’t a real question, and transition back to what you feel is the bigger picture:

Question: “I don’t want my tax dollars going toward abortions.”

Response: “Actually, because of the Hyde Amendment, tax dollars can’t go toward supporting abortion. But I do believe that everyone deserves access to basic, preventive reproductive care, and that it’s important we support those services. No one should ever have to choose between paying rent and buying birth control.”

6. It’s all in how you frame it. In so many of these political disagreements, when things get heated we revert back to bumper sticker slogans instead of really talking about an issue. Instead, take a few deep breaths and try personalizing the issue, or evoking empathy.

Oftentimes it’s easier to dismiss abortion or other health-care procedures 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 everyone doesn’t have 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—everybody has feelings about it. Each circumstance is different, so we should respect and support women and families who 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 shown 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 roles as caregivers and breadwinners.

7. Know where you stand. It’s easier to talk about what you believe in if you know what you believe in and why beforehand. Ask yourself why you believe that reproductive rights, or sex education, or health care, are important, and you might be surprised at how universal your reasons are. For example, you may believe that sex education is important because you feel it’s the best way to protect young people. Or you might believe abortion should be legal because you could never make the decision about when someone else was ready to become a parent.

8. 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) Isn’t emergency contraception just another form of abortion?

R) I’m glad you asked me that question—a lot of people have that misconception. Emergency contraception pills actually prevent pregnancy before it begins. On the other hand, the abortion pill ends a pregnancy. 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 am very pro-family and pro-baby! I love my daughter, and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me. That’s why I truly believe that the decision about 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: you may be tempted to respond with “Well, I don’t want my tax dollars being spent on _________ (war, abstinence-only-until-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 medical care. In my ideal world, no one would have to put off going to the doctor because they can’t afford it, and every child would have 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 love pumpkin pie.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Erica Sackin please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • expect_resistance

    Thanks for posting this. I needed to read this today as I’m experiencing some pre-holiday angst. I don’t why they call is a “holiday” when there is so much stress involved.

  • Bridgette Dunlap

    Love this.

  • jruwaldt

    Sex-selective abortion is a red herring. There is no evidence that it is happening at all in the United States, let alone at a high rate. Nevertheless, if a woman does seem to be having her abortion due to the sex of the fetus, that is almost certainly due to external pressure and should be dealt with as such, i.e. as abuse.