Abortion AMA: How Do I Support A Friend Having An Abortion?
Welcome to Bustle's Abortion AMA column, where reproductive rights advocate and Romper editor Danielle Campoamor will speak to experts and medical professionals to answer people's questions about abortion in a way that is educational, unvarnished, and judgement free. Ask us anything.
I'll never forget the moment I called my best friend to tell her I was unexpectedly pregnant. She could hear the fear in my voice and, without hesitation, scheduled an appointment for me to see her OB-GYN. She went with me to that appointment and held my hand when my pregnancy was confirmed. She validated my want and need for an abortion and didn't once question my decision. So, two years later, when another dear friend of mine needed an abortion, I already had the blueprint for how to support a friend having an abortion. I knew I just had to be like my best friend.
But every friendship, every individual, and every abortion is unique. What a person wants and needs before, during, and after their abortion depends on a variety of factors. To better understand how to help a friend who decides to terminate their pregnancy, Bustle interviewed three individuals who have had abortions and have helped their friends through their own abortion experiences.
"I had two abortions, and with the first one I didn't involve my friends, thinking they would judge me," Kelsea McLain, 33, from Raleigh, North Carolina, tells Bustle. "When I started sharing the fact that I had an abortion, it turned out a lot of the friends I was worried would be a little concerned or weirded out about the abortion really wished they could have been there for me." According to McLain, one of the most helpful things you can do is make your feelings about abortion known, so your friends know that you're a person they can come to should the need arise.
"It's hard to tell who is going to be your advocate and friend unless they're really outspoken," says McLain.
Because Jordyn Close, 21, from Columbus, Ohio, speaks out in favor of abortion rights and volunteers for pro-choice organizations like NARAL, We Testify, and the 1 in 3 Campaign, she is often the person her friends and acquaintances go to when they're seeking out abortion care. "A lot of my friends know the work that I do, so they reach out to me," she says.
Knowing your facts can also make you a better source of support for others. When she had an abortion at 18, Close didn't know about the organizations she now refers friends to, so it's important to her to pass on that information now. "I mainly try to steer people in the direction of organizations that can help them and the resources that are available," she says. "I make sure they get to the right clinic, and not a crisis pregnancy center, and make sure they know their choices."
To find an abortion provider in your friend's area, you can direct them to the National Abortion Federation's website, which highlights the various, certified abortion care providers across the country and provides contact information. The National Network of Abortion Funds can assist with any funding your friend may need, from transportation to child care to paying for their procedure. There are also various hotlines, including All Options, that provides judgement-free pregnancy support for individuals who are unsure of what to do when facing an unplanned pregnancy.
"You don't have to be an expert on everything," McLain adds. "If your friend is asking you to help them make this decision and that feels way beyond your control, then you can direct them to different third party resources and hotlines."
It's also important to consistently check in with your friend to gauge how they're feeling and what they need and/or want before, during, and after their procedure. No two people are going to feel entirely the same about their abortions, and since 95 percent of women who have abortions do not regret their decision, there's a good chance your friend might not feel sad, remorseful, or guilty.
"I would say let your friends figure out how they feel without putting words in their mouth," Close suggests. "Everyone feels differently about their own experiences. Following her own abortion, Close shared her abortion story on social media and was surprised and a little offended by some of the conversations happening in the comments. "My friends would try to defend me on social media, but they were saying things like, 'Obviously it wasn't an easy choice for her,' and, 'She probably regrets it.' They were trying to be helpful but actually doing the opposite." she says. Close didn't feel guilty or regretful following her procedure, she says, and didn't want any discussions about her experience to play into a false narrative about post-abortion feelings.
For Jack Qu'emi, 27, from Los Angeles, their friends' willingness to make jokes and laugh with them after their abortion was profoundly supportive.
"It was pretty clear they weren't sure how I was going to react," Qu'emi tells Bustle. "Once they saw that I still had my sense of humor about it, they said, 'Oh, they're fine. Let me roll on through with some jokes.'" For Qu'emi, friends who were willing to constantly check in, ask if they needed anything, and be physically present helped them through their medication abortion. "Just see where your people are at," Qu'emi says. "You know your friends, you know when they need space, you know what they say when they want you to come over but don't explicitly say 'please come over.' Just be willing to be open to whatever kind of mood they're going to be in."
For Qu'emi, the friends who didn't assume they needed or wanted space proved to be the most supportive, too. "Some of [my friends] probably did a lot more to not be present physically. I think they thought they were giving me space when I really didn’t need that. I needed the physical presence of other people to support me, and while I understand why they would think this is a private time and they probably want to deal with it on their own, I definitely wasn’t feeling that way."
McLain's friends sent her a care package after her abortion, which let her know they were thinking of her, even though they weren't physically there. In the package were nail art supplies, bath bombs, and other tiny self-care things, like coloring books — "things to keep me distracted," McLain says. "And a note that said they were thinking about me, and if I needed to, reach out." McClain didn't want the physical presence of her friends — just knowing they were there if she needed them was enough.
So check in with your friend often, offer up any support you're able to give (like transportation, being physically present during the procedure, or spending time with them after their abortion or while it's occurring at home during a medication abortion), and make it clear that they are free to feel whatever they're feeling. One of the most detrimental things you can do as a friend is project a set of expected feelings onto your friend, or assume their needs before they explicitly state them.
It's unlikely, but if you've helped your friend set up appointments and, in the end, they change their mind, it's important to support them through the remainder of their pregnancy, too. "A really good friend of mine initially approached me, said she wanted to have an abortion, and her reasons were complicated," McLain tells Bustle. "I set up an appointment for her, we lived in different states, and I told her to check in with me and let me know what’s going on. She ultimately decided to continue the pregnancy." McLain let her friend know that she's glad she received what she needed in order to make the best decision for her, asked her when the baby shower was going to be, and promised her she'd send the best shower gifts.
"She has since had the baby," McLain says. "And I felt it was really important that she knew I was always someone she could go to for help, support, or to complain about motherhood, and I wouldn't judge her for thinking she needed an abortion with that pregnancy and ultimately deciding against it."
Being there for a friend through an abortion doesn't mean making choices for them or swaying them one way or the other. Instead, it simply means being a non-judgmental sounding board, a source of factual information, and a person they can look to for unconditional support.
Have questions about abortion? You can email them safely and anonymously to Abortion AMA at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll answer them. Together.