In the last year alone, I know a non-zero number of folks who have had an abortion — medical or surgical. If you’re like me, chances are you know at least one person (or are that person) who’s had an abortion. This is especially likely because according to the reproductive rights research group Guttmacher Institute, 1 in 4 women will have an abortion by the time they reach menopause.
If you are privileged enough to be someone deemed safe for your friend to confide in, please don’t be like 17-year-old me and spout worthless platitudes, or even more horrifyingly — judgmental ones. While it makes sense that we don’t have an ingrained script for reacting to this information, thanks to our society that polarizes abortion rather than normalizing the experience, we can change this one interaction at a time.
Here are seven ways you can be a good friend and offer support after abortion.
1) Be present
It might be a lot more difficult in these COVID times to be physically present for your friend, but if you live close enough or can meet safely, your physical presence can be greatly appreciated. Whether you’re driving them to appointments, keeping them company before, during, or after the procedure, or even reaching out via text, phone, or video messaging, it can be helpful.
And sometimes — sometimes, sending endless cat memes or Schitt’s Creek gifs is just the lighthearted distraction your friend needs.
2) Listen without judgment
A lot of times, we think we need to know the right things to say or have it all come out perfectly — but sometimes, the best thing we can do is shut our mouths and listen. Whether your friend’s decision to have an abortion was purely a medical one or a difficult one fraught with strong emotions, let them talk and sort out their feelings.
Be a safe space for your friend and provide the emotional support they need. They may need somewhere to process all their feelings — all of which are valid, even if they contradict each other — and you can give the non-judgmental space they need.
3) Only give advice if specifically asked
Resist the urge to say crap like “Everything happens for a reason” or “Are you okay?” or “Did you consider all the options?” or “I’m sorry” (which implies that an abortion is something for which to be sorry).
Instead, opt for supportive statements like “I’m here for you,” “Is there anything you need?” “Whatever you’re feeling is valid,” or “I’m glad you made the best choice for you.” The last thing we want is to be judgmental or condescending — they’re likely getting enough of that from everyone else.
4) Help with research
Finding out the ins and outs of medical procedures can be incredibly overwhelming. Offer to research your friend’s state’s laws regarding medical and surgical abortion or locating clinics that perform the procedure they require. For example, many crisis pregnancy centers are actually run by religious groups and don’t even provide abortion services. These will just waste valuable time and cause unnecessary emotional trauma for your friend.
5) Practical support
If you are able — and your friend is willing to accept — provide practical support. Money or gift cards are always great and can be used to cover hospital bills, surgery fees, blood tests, childcare, food, self-care, or medical supplies like painkillers or pads.
You can also offer to cover their other domestic needs such as watching their kids, child pickup/drop off, doing household chores like washing dishes or doing laundry, cooking, or running errands.
6) Respect their privacy and boundaries
Don’t discuss your friend’s business with other people. Period.
Also, it doesn’t matter how much support you provide your friend, you are not owed their feelings, thoughts, or decisions — past, present, or future. Allow your friend whatever space they need — if any at all — to process this experience.
7) Ask your friend what they need
It seems so Captain Obvious, but really. Just ask.
Very likely, if you were on the short-list of people they told about their abortion, they will also feel comfortable enough to disclose some of their needs.
If they have decision fatigue or don’t know, that’s okay, too. You can always check in again later or give them some options instead of asking an open-ended question. If they’re like most of us, the answer usually defaults to “I’m fine” — and though that may be true since everyone is different, giving concrete options can be appreciated.
In the end, every person is different … and however your friend needs to be supported, do that.