Reproductive rights should be a vital part of sex ed — and that means talking to your kids about abortion

This story is part of Amy Bell’s Parental Guidance column, which airs on CBC Radio One’s The Early Edition.

My children were aware of abortions long before recent news regarding the push against reproductive rights in places such as Texas and Oklahoma started coming through their social media feeds.

They knew some people were very much against them, but I don’t think they fully grasped that the right for safe and easily accessible abortions was still something anyone would have to fight for.

So I’ve used the past few weeks as a launch pad for some more in-depth explanations about how the right to choose abortions is still very much something we all need to support.

It’s one of those discussions that can be uncomfortable, and it can mean that some parents will have to choose whether to be honest or not about their personal experiences. 

Teach the importance of choice

Elyse DeBelser was in her last year of university in the 1970s when she was raped and became pregnant.

She lived in California at the time; Roe v. Wade had just been decided in the court and while she knew that legally she could have an abortion, the procedure was still clouded in secrecy, shame and performed under less than safe conditions.

This spurred her to become a lifelong activist for women’s reproductive rights. Her two daughters were very aware of her involvement with that cause. As they became teenagers, she shared her story in the hopes they would further understand the importance of having a choice and support, and continue to fight for that. 

“I wanted them to know the full range of what their bodies did and that they had control over the bodies,” says DeBelser.

“They could make the choices that were right for them and I would talk them through anything they wanted to discuss. They had to know they had choices.”

But there is still much work to be done. While what’s happening in the U.S. will likely never happen in Canada, access to safe abortions can still be difficult for people here.

There is still a lack of providers outside of major cities, adding immense travel costs and time to the process; different provinces have different rules surrounding medical coverage; and many of those who provide abortions still hide their services out of fear of stigma of how they and their families might be treated. 

No abortion should be judged

Tammi Heimstra knows all too well that abortions are sometimes the only viable end to a much wanted pregnancy. 

At 26 weeks into her pregnancy, Tammi and her husband made the heartbreaking decision to have a late-stage abortion when their son was shown to have no chance of survival.

She said the care she was shown during the diagnosis and procedure was outstanding, but medical staff still warned her she might want to keep the procedure quiet to avoid judgment from others.

She would later have twins, a boy and girl, who are now 19. Heimstra says she was always very open with them about what she went through and how she and her husband made such a difficult decision. 

“I showed them pictures of a developing fetus. And I said: ‘We chose what some people would call a later term abortion, but what we call euthanasia.’ Because we don’t know how much he was suffering, if he was in any pain. And he was going to die,” she says. 

So many people still make these heartbreaking decisions in secret. But abortions are part of health care and they need to be openly accepted just like any other medical procedure. 

Tasia Alexopolous, who works with the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, says they also need to be included in any discussions around sexual education. 

“When we are talking about abortion, it’s just one piece of the puzzle,” says Alexopolous. “It’s on that spectrum of sex, sexual health, consent and reproductive health education that kids should be receiving anyway. I think abortion can fit into that really comfortably.” 

Alexopoulos also stresses that as we hear news of threats to abortion access, we should also remember how many people continue to uphold the importance of this issue. 

“We don’t see the activist on the ground every day, we don’t see the medical providers and the nurses doing all this incredible work. There have always been folks fighting for these rights, there always will be,” he says. 

As long as there are pregnancies, there will be abortions. Avoiding the topic with your children won’t change that fact, but it could make it harder for them to make an informed decision in future regarding an unwanted pregnancy or accessing a safe procedure.

Abortion can be an incredibly emotional choice, but shame and embarrassment should not be feelings we associate with it. Half of our population could get pregnant, and we need to make sure all of our kids understand the importance of having the right to end that pregnancy safely, and know to fully support and respect anyone who makes that decision.

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