Since the Supreme Court decision last month striking down Roe v. Wade, the news is full of stories about what the ruling means for women and girls. From outrage and appreciation over an Indiana doctor’s treatment of a 10-year-old rape victim to debates about government officials using social media to ‘monitor’ pregnancy outcomes, the issues of abortion and bodily autonomy are tough to talk about with kids. We might wish to shield them, but they overhear adult discussions and sense our feelings. So how do we address this hot topic from a spiritual perspective with children under 12?
Experts suggest that we frame these conversations in terms of a family’s moral values and social justice beliefs. This means thinking first about what we believe is important for a good and just world and then sharing our thoughts with our children.
- If we believe that people should be able to make decisions about their own bodies, then we might share that perspective and talk about the ways that the ruling limits such decisions for girls and women. We might even link this issue to how we teach our children that they can refuse when another person wants to touch them in inappropriate or uncomfortable ways.
- If we believe that life is precious, then we could talk about the emotional and practical resources needed to support a baby and the kinds of choices (including birth control and abortion) that people make to prevent the birth of a child they cannot help to thrive. We can emphasize the ‘big commitment’ required and how having a choice makes it more likely people will fulfill that commitment.
- If we believe that ethical decisions are contextual, then we might explain that sometimes girls and women are hurt by others in ways that result in pregnancy and abortion is one ethical choice they might make in response. We can remind children of how we encourage them to weigh pros and cons (perhaps by using a decision matrix) when making ethical decisions.
- If we believe that abortion should be limited, then we might share the ways that our family works to support women and children who experience violence, poverty, and other circumstances that affect their well-being. And we might explain how this view is consistent with other ways that we are ‘pro-life’.
As with all difficult conversations, we need to consider our children’s ages and personalities as we talk. While young children may not understand what ‘abortion’ is, they are affected by the strong emotions the adults around them are experiencing. Explain that some people do not want to have a baby and there are different ideas about what they can do to prevent it. Affirm that having a baby is a big deal and so people have strong feelings about it. Encourage them to ask questions and share their own thoughts.
Older children may already have some sex education knowledge. Ask them if they know what an abortion is and provide basic facts about how and why women and girls might chose to have one. Respond to their questions and help them research the issue if they ask something you cannot answer. Model for them ways that they can participate in the debate if they decide it is a social justice issue they want to pursue.
Photo credit ABC News.