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11 Ways to Support a Friend Who’s Considering Getting an Abortion

Self [Non-Video] logo Self [Non-Video] 6/30/2022 Carolyn L. Todd, Cathryne Keller
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The overturning of Roe v. Wade means getting an abortion is or will eventually be illegal or heavily restricted in 26 states, the Guttmacher Institute predicts—a devastating blow to reproductive justice that will disproportionately hurt marginalized communities, including people of color and LGBTQ+ folks. To help those most affected by this lack of access, you can donate to the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) or local abortion funds in vulnerable states, and/or give your time or money to abortion advocacy groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. But people who are fortunate enough to be able to access (and afford) an abortion in their state—or have the ability to travel or use telemedicine care to get one—may need a different kind of support.

When a person isn’t ready for a baby—or doesn’t ever want to have one—an unexpected pregnancy can be emotionally and physically overwhelming. Odds are that somebody you know will experience a surprise pregnancy at some point. About 45% of all pregnancies—about 2.8 million—in the United States in 2011 were unintended, according to a 2016 study in the New England Journal of Medicine which looked at the most recently available nationally representative data from various official sources.

Of course, not all unplanned pregnancies are unwanted, but in some cases they are. And in other cases, people with wanted pregnancies may still face an abortion decision if their health or the health of the fetus is on the line.

No matter the reason(s), if a friend or loved one is pregnant and has decided to get an abortion or is leaning heavily toward one, you probably want to know what you can do to be there for them. That’s why we asked abortion-care experts for their advice on how best to support a friend before, during, and after the procedure.

1. First, withhold all assumptions about their pregnancy news.

This is the most important thing to keep in mind if a friend tells you they’re pregnant, Gillian Dean, MD, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, tells SELF.

You might think they want an abortion or to carry the pregnancy to term, but you can’t actually know how they’re feeling—or anything else about the situation—until they tell you for sure.

So, instead of reacting with something like, “Congratulations!” or, “I’m so sorry,” try responding with a judgment-free inquiry to get a sense of where your friend’s head is, clinical psychologist Lisa Rubin, PhD, associate professor of psychology at The New School and past chair of the reproductive issues committee of the American Psychological Association’s Society for the Psychology of Women, tells SELF. She recommends something simple like, “How are you feeling about this?”

2. Reinforce that this is their choice and their choice alone.

Your friend may ask you for advice, but that can be an incredibly tricky situation. This decision is a personal one, and it should be made carefully by them—not influenced by you or anyone else. “Your goal is not to convince them one way or the other,” Dr. Rubin says.

So, if they ask what you think they should do, the experts we talked to suggest compassionately and respectfully declining to tell them. Instead, express confidence in their decision-making abilities, Helen L. Coons, PhD, clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, tells SELF. She recommends something like, “You’ve made good decisions before, and I trust you will make the best one for you.”

You can also ask thoughtful questions that may help them feel more certain either way, Dr. Coons says. Some potential options: What are you most worried about? What are the pros and cons you’re weighing? Are mixed emotions confusing you? Are there important people you’re scared to tell?

3. Offer to help research the resources that are available to them.

First, if your friend is worried about local laws that could potentially influence the process of getting an abortion, check out the Guttmacher Institute’s informative guide or Planned Parenthood’s state-by-state map, as individual state laws are likely to change in the coming weeks and months.

If they need to find an abortion provider, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) has a nationwide database. And it also offers a toll-free multi-lingual hotline your friend can call to learn more about their options, including potential financial aid to help with the procedure or travel expenses, if they don’t have access to abortion care near where they live. (Here’s a brief guide on what every person should know if they have to travel for an abortion, an increasingly plausible scenario in post-Roe America.) 

It’s also important to research and familiarize yourself with state and local laws related to accessing abortion and supporting those who are seeking abortions; for example, an Oklahoma law opens the door for relatives of the aborted fetus to sue abortion providers and anyone who helped the pregnant person get an abortion. It’s still unclear how these types of laws may be enforced. Researching the specifics of abortion laws in your state can help you make an informed decision.

You should be aware, too, of state laws possibly pertaining to telemedicine services to obtain abortion medication as well as self-managed abortion, both of which may be banned or restricted in some states. (If your friend is considering getting an abortion via a telehealth appointment or ordering abortion pills online, here are some important considerations regarding the efficacy, safety, and legality of those methods.)

If they seem scared or unsure about their decision, you can also offer to look into mental health support. This is an especially good idea if they’re facing intense pressure to get an abortion or remain pregnant from other people or even themselves, Dr. Rubin says. In this case, Dr. Coons recommends helping them find mental health resources, ideally from a provider who specializes in pregnancy and abortion. 

It’s important to note that depending on how far along they are (medically known as gestational age, a marker that guides many state abortion restrictions), they may not have much time to make their decision. To find a mental health provider as soon as possible, you can ask your ob-gyn, primary care doctor, local health center that provides abortions, or local Planned Parenthood for references. Resources like your local abortion clinic or Planned Parenthood may offer in-house counseling, too.

If financial concerns arise, you can also offer to help them look into organizations meant to ease that burden, Dr. Rubin says, like the NNAF.

4. Make sure any clinics they’re considering aren’t crisis pregnancy centers.

Crisis pregnancy centers (also known as CPCs) are family planning clinics that offer counseling and other prenatal services from an anti-abortion position. As SELF previously reported, these centers are often advertised as judgment-free medical facilities for people who may be considering abortion, when in reality many of them are unlicensed, religiously affiliated organizations. While they refuse to offer information about how or where to obtain an abortion, there are reports that CPCs lie to patients about the safety, accessibility, or legality of abortions.

For all of these reasons, they are not a helpful resource for someone who is looking for unbiased counseling or information on where to get an abortion. Again, the NAF database is a great resource for this, but it’s not exhaustive. If the clinic you’re considering isn’t on the database, Google it. Even one negative review about abortion-related dishonesty is a reason to be suspicious, because the clinic may be stacking the deck with fake positive reviews, Dr. Rubin says.

If the clinic has a website, look for red flags like lots of information about abortion (or “abortion counseling” and “abortion alternatives”) without actually indicating anywhere that they provide abortion services, Dr. Rubin says. Phrases like “emotional healing” and references to religion could be other warning signs, as is the presence of misleading information (like the suggestion that abortion increases the risk of infertility, which safe and legal abortions do not).

If you’re still not sure, you can call the clinic. Crisis pregnancy centers are typically “evasive about whether they actually provide abortion services or the cost of services and encourage you to come in for a sonogram and pregnancy test,” Dr. Rubin says. You can also ask if they have a licensed medical provider on staff. People working at CPCs may lie to you, but looking into all these aspects can give you a better sense of whether or not the clinic in question provides the unbiased, quality abortion care your friend deserves.

5. Try to find answers to any of their questions about the process.

Unjust laws, abortion stigma, and deeply-rooted health and economic inequities make it impossible for some people around the country to make their own decisions about continuing or ending a pregnancy,” Dr. Dean says. “Accurate information can help them make the decision that’s best for their circumstances and enable them to take care of their health.” This is why Dr. Rubin recommends asking if your friend needs help researching anything about the process.

Or maybe they’re worried about the procedure itself—how long it’ll take, how much it’ll hurt, whether they’ll have to take time off work. In that case, you can search for information on what to expect throughout the process, like this guide to in-clinic abortion from Planned Parenthood.

Researching information about pregnancy and abortion can be overwhelming, and you won’t always find evidence-based, accurate, or pro-choice resources. Dr. Rubin suggests helping your friend distinguish between factual and incorrect information. For instance, if a family member warns that abortion will cause depression, tell your friend about the science showing that having an abortion doesn’t hurt mental health. Or maybe they’ve heard that the abortion pill is unsafe—doctors and data say that it’s clearly not.

6. Specifically, you should look up pre-abortion counseling requirements for the state they will be seeking an abortion in.

Speaking of misinformation, many states require that people seeking abortions receive counseling before the procedure is performed, and some of that counseling may involve unsubstantiated, misleading, or irrelevant information, according to the Guttmacher Institute. For example, some states “require medically inaccurate information that a medication abortion can be stopped after the patient takes the first dose of pills” and others “stress negative emotional responses” as a possible psychological side effect of having an abortion.

Researching local abortion laws and policies can help your friend know what to expect pre-procedure if they decide to get an abortion—and again, looking for unbiased, science-backed abortion information can help them separate fact from misinformation. These frequently asked abortion questions answered by Planned Parenthood are a good place to start if you need a primer on the basics.

7. If they need to wait before getting an abortion, suggest ways to help pass the time.

The majority of states that require counseling also require a waiting period—typically 24 hours—between the counseling and the procedure, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Or maybe your friend can theoretically get an abortion immediately but can’t take time off work just yet.

Whatever the reason for the delay, help your friend wait it out if they’re finding it difficult, whether that’s with a movie marathon, crafting project, or some other diversion (like watching one of our favorite stress-reducing Netflix shows). “Sometimes when you’re waiting for the procedure, distraction is one of the best medicines,” Dr. Coons says.

8. If you’re comfortable with it, offer to accompany them.

Again, it’s important to consider what state or local laws may potentially apply to you or your friend when deciding how to best offer your support. They might want you by their side as much as possible, or maybe they prefer total privacy. The best thing to do is to offer to be there, which gives them the option to decline.

If they’re having a surgical abortion at a health center or doctor’s office, you can ask if they’d like you to accompany them to and from the procedure, if you’re able to. (Depending on the type of anesthesia your friend is getting, the clinic may require that someone goes with them, so doing this research in advance can be helpful.) You may or may not be allowed to be with them in the procedure or recovery room, so check in with the clinic and your friend about that possibility.

Overall, getting an abortion can involve a lot of waiting around, so it can be helpful to bring things (crossword puzzles, a stockpile of saved Instagram reels) that will keep you both occupied when necessary. On that note, if you or your friend is traveling for the procedure, stocking up on snacks and downloaded podcasts may help pass the time and make your friend feel more comfortable.

If your friend can go alone and would rather do that, you could also offer to arrange transportation by ordering a rideshare or sending a Venmo to cover some or all of their travel costs, if you have the means and want to help in that way.

Now, let’s say your friend is having a medical abortion—which consists of two different prescription medications, mifepristone and misoprostol—at home. Offer to be there with them, if you’re up for it and available. (Potential side effects like cramping, bleeding, and nausea often kick in after the second pill, misoprostol, which causes cramping to pass the pregnancy.)

Maybe you can even offer to sleep over so that you can be there if they need you. And if they want to be alone or with someone else, a care package with painkillers, pads, a heating pad, their go-to comfort food, and their favorite flowers—or whatever you know they’d love—can go a long way.

9. After the abortion, check in. Then keep checking in.

Just because the procedure is over doesn’t mean you should stop showing up. “After your friend has an abortion, the most important thing you can do is listen to their needs and continue to be a supportive friend,” Dr. Dean says. “Maybe they just want someone to be around after their abortion. Maybe they want you to rub their back, make some hot tea, watch their kids, bring them comfort food, or let them rest up.”

Or, if alone time is what your friend is craving, give them that space. But Dr. Rubin recommends offering to be available in the event that they change their mind. Try something like, “Can we make a plan that you’ll contact me if you’re not feeling OK?”

10. Assure them that however they’re feeling is perfectly valid.

Depending on their circumstances, your friend could feel relieved and excited to move on with life. They could feel sad and wish they’d never had to make the choice in the first place. Or they could feel a mix of many emotions. Try to help them let go of any expectations that they should feel a certain way by reminding them that this is their experience and theirs alone. “Sometimes it’s talked about as if abortions are all the same,” Dr. Rubin says. “But there is no single way to experience abortion.”

Likewise, there’s no one way to support someone through the experience, so, again, what your friend or loved one probably needs most is for you to tune into their specific concerns. And if you’re reading this article, you’re already off to a great start.

11. If your beliefs will make it hard for you to be there for your friend, explain that in the most loving way you can.

Maybe if you became pregnant unexpectedly, you would never get an abortion. Doing what’s right for you is always a valid choice, but that doesn’t have any bearing on what’s right for someone else. “Only your friend knows what’s best for them,” Dr. Dean says. “Every situation is different.”

So, what does being a good friend look like if you’re against a friend’s abortion? If you’re able to offer specific kinds of support without judgment, do that, Dr. Rubin says. For instance, perhaps you’re willing to listen to your friend without trying to sway them, but you can’t accompany them to and from the procedure.

If you can’t be impartial at all, it’s OK to say as much for the sake of your friendship, Dr. Rubin says. You can tell your friend this is something you feel really strongly about, and although you respect their bodily autonomy, you can’t talk about it with them because it would probably just cause both of you distress. The bottom line: They need your friendship, not your judgment.

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