Wednesday Weigh-In: How do you talk to kids about reproductive choice?

Last Wednesday, while many of us were celebrating the 41st anniversary of the historic Roe v Wade decision, the DC streets, buses, and metros were swarming with abortion opponents who gathered here for their annual March for Life. Whenever im unlucky enough to be surrounded by a bunch of anti-choicers, a few things always stand out. Last week was no different. The first thing i noticed was that I didn’t see a single person of color who ​was an identifiable attendee. No surprise there that white folks have decided to place judgement and condemnation on a procedure that poor communities of color are more likely to need. The second thing was that there were so many young people. And I’m not talking​ about college freshman – there were elementary school kids there. A bunch of them.

Organized youth within the anti-choice movement have become increasingly visible and have even taken to calling themselves the “pro-life generation.” And from the looks of it​, they are doing a good job of bringing up generations after them as well. But how? ​It has become painfully obvious that abortion opponents have no problem talking to their children about how abortion is wrong from very young ages. When I was in Albuquerque, working on the campaign to block a 20 week abortion ban I came face to face with a little boy who was no older than 10. He had signs and pamphlets and was calling out to the college students who passed to vote for this ballot measure. His language was on point and it was obvious that he was passionate about the “rights of babies.” ​Looking back on that experience, in collaboration with the groups of kids that were able to miss school in order to be part of the March for Life, I find myself impressed with how the anti-abortion movement has included and uplifted young people and children to be proactive. Their messaging seems to be pretty easy to push​: “Hey little Timmy, some people kill their babies and that is bad. We have to stop them because that’s the right thing to do.”

But this also has me wondering if ​we, supporters of reproductive choice and freedom, are doing the same thing with our kids? Our issues are obviously complex, situational, personal, and intersectional. There is a shit ton to unpack within a reproductive justice framework, so it can be hard to create language for children that encompasses the values of justice and respecting personal decisions. ​While there may be some debate as to what age is appropriate to engage with these issues, we can’t deny how important it is to activate and engage young people in order to push our movement forward. This is more than comprehensive sex education. We should be ​fostering a future that is more empathetic to the fact that sometimes people are pregnant, don’t want to be, and should be able to decide whether or not to remain pregnant.

I don’​t have children of my own. But I have a 4-year-old niece, and I often think about what I will tell her about reproductive health and decision making, and when. I’ve played with a few scripts in my head but I haven’t settled on anything yet.​ I know it will be something along the lines of: “When you’re old enough, you will have to make decisions that are best for your life. That’s called being responsible. Some people might not like the decision​s​ you make and sometimes you might not like the decisions that other people​ make. But being kind and compassionate ​means you have to let people decide for ​themselves​. It’s kind of like when I let you pick which book you want to read at night.” Or something like that. I haven’t perfected this, obviously. ​

​I’d love to ​hear different tactics and ideas on this. How do you plan on/are you talking to kids about reproductive choice?
Avatar Image Sesali is wondering if she should try her hand at feminist children’s books.

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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  • Alisha Walker

    I have no children of my own, but I do have 14 nieces and nephews and five siblings. We have always been a religious family. The never ending miracle that is my mother probably has the smartest approach that I’ve ever seen to this. It only works if you’re in a religious family, but here’s how she explains abortion to her children and grandchildren: “Babies are the very best kind of blessing from god. That’s why we love you so much; because you’re such a wonderful blessing from god. God also gives people other blessings, like food to eat and chances to make your life better by working hard, and fellowship like you find in church. Most people don’t always get blessings exactly when they need them, so God also blessed us with the ability plan and self-control so that we can decide how to use the blessings he gives us. Sometimes, we get so many blessings at once that we have to decide which ones we should take and which ones we should decide not to take. God knows we aren’t perfect, so he also blessed us by making us smart enough to make our own decisions and to let us decide when we can’t accept his blessings. It’s always sad when you have to turn down a blessing from God, but it does happen sometimes. When you can’t accept the blessing of a baby, that is called abortion. It is very important to remember that god could have made us any way he wanted. If he didn’t want us to be able to decide when to turn down one of his blessings, he wouldn’t have made us smart enough to do that.”

  • Lalita

    But actually- feminist children’s books written by Sesali would be amazing! The world definitely needs more of that- start ‘em young!

  • amy

    This is a small thing, perhaps, but I am tackling this by making sure I am open about my abortions (yep, plural) with my child. I stick to the facts and don’t hang my head in shame and I answer all the questions. I absolutely WILL NOT raise a child who thinks only “those people,” whoever they may be, have abortions. One of those people is his mother.

  • amy

    Also, there is a WONDERFUL book for kids (tween-to teen) by Robie Harris called It’s Perfectly Normal that covers sexuality, reproductive health, healthy relationships, boundaries, abuse, etc. It’s a really great resource and starting point, and features depictions of a variety of ages, shapes, colors, orientations, and abilities. There’s another for younger kids called It’s So Amazing.

  • Rebecca

    I first spoke out about reproductive justice (before knowing what that was) when I was twelve. My class broke up into teams to debate current issues and my team was chosen to debate for or against abortion rights. Doing actual research for the project, myself, rather than just listening to what adults told me was really important in formulating my opinions and arguments. I hope to encourage the same exploration with my own child(ren) someday on all kinds of issues.

  • Serenity

    Great piece, Sesali.
    I have a two year old, and we already work on things like learning the accurate names for body parts and talking about (and respecting) her ownership of her own body. There are discussions on parenting sites (eg, about things like tickling. We also work on asking permission before touching or hugging others (and these topics conveniently dove-tail with sexual assault issues). At a later point, we’ll start to talk about autonomy of medical decisions and things like that.
    I wish there were a manual!