Kids are curious creatures and no topic is off limits for the wandering mind of a six-year-old, even (and especially) discussions adults would typically avoid.
Roe v. Wade, and the abortion rights it provided, is over and kids have noticed. For parents, that means uncomfortable questions and discussions are only a matter of time.
To have those conversations, first parents need to understand what’s happening.
“What ‘the end of Roe’ actually means is that there’s no longer federal protection for the right to an abortion,” says Mira Edmonds, a clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan. “The decision of legality of abortion has been returned to the states, and the effect of that is very different because of the diversity in approaches states are taking.”
In Illinois, abortion rights are mostly unchanged.
How this decision could affect families
For parents, this decision will impact how they grow their families. Even in states where abortion is legal, like Illinois and Michigan for the time being, mothers seeking abortions may experience longer wait times as those seeking abortions from other states start to tax the system.
Edmonds says the hardest part of talking to her three children about the end of Roe v. Wade has been the paradigm shift it represents.
“It’s hard for them, and also for me, to not consider the sequence of cases that came down as a real affront to our common understanding for the past half-century about what the role of government is and what kind of decisions we let individuals make about their own lives,” she says. “That’s the piece I find the most challenging talking to my kids about.”
Kids and parents have real fears about what this means, says Alejandra Cárdenas, a child therapist with the Family Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago.
“I spoke to parents weeks ago, before the decision, and they were concerned about how they would talk to their children,” Cárdenas says.
How to talk to young kids about abortion rights
When talking to kids about this ruling, Cárdenas says that keeping things general and relating this issue to real-world experiences that younger children understand is key.
She recommends framing it around a real-life example such as visiting the park or playground and choosing what you do once you get there.
“(Explaining it like) when we go to the park, you have a choice in what game to play. Moms have a choice, too, about whether they want to be moms,’ can be helpful,” Cárdenas explains.
Or, parents can say something like, “Sometimes moms get pregnant and they don’t want to be, and doctors and nurses can support that mom,” she adds.
Younger kids may not need a full understanding of what an abortion is to have a conversation about the overturning of Roe v. Wade — and some may not even be aware of or need a conversation about this issue at all.
“With my six year old, this isn’t really on their radar at all,” says Edmonds. “I feel like it’s a very important issue that could affect them in the future and something I feel passionately about, but I don’t feel like I need to broach the topic.”
How to talk to older kids about abortion rights
Older kids with access to social media are almost certainly already seeing information about abortion rights.
“I will say, for better or for worse because of social media, I feel like my kids are ahead of me in social issue conversations — not in terms of feelings, but they’re not waiting for me to start the conversations, and my 14-year-old, in particular, has strong feelings about bodily autonomy,” says Edmonds.
Cárdenas says when talking to teenagers about abortion rights, it’s helpful to listen to their perspective. She suggests asking questions like, “What do you think about it?” and “What do you feel?”
The most important thing is to ensure older teenagers feel heard and supported. Doing so will keep communication channels open.
“I don’t feel I’ve had to do much explaining about the morals, or the right or wrong, with my older children — I’ve done more explaining how it happened and the dynamics of the federal court appointments and the political history around it as a lawyer,” Edmonds adds. “It’s been helpful for them to understand that.”
For parents who want to give older kids a factual understand of what’s happening, NPR has a podcast episode explaining the history of abortion rights in the United States.
“Right now, I’ve been focused on helping them understand historically that all the rights we have, have been hard-fought,” Edmonds says, “And it turns out they might have to fight for them all over again.”
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