The Best Way You Can Support a Friend Who’s Having an Abortion

Zero judgement with a side of take-out.

BY CAITLIN ABBER

2015-9-25 AbortionThe Senate voted against a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. While this is a definite win for those in the pro-choice camp, it’s also part of an ongoing argument over reproductive healthcare that may very well lead to a government shutdown next week.

In response to the rejection of the bill, Mark S. DeFrancesco, M.D., president of the American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians said in a statement: “We applaud today’s vote by the U.S. Senate opposing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. This bill would have represented a clear blow to women’s access to needed reproductive services and was an example of gross legislative interference. Leading medical groups agree that a 20-week ban on abortion, if passed, would interfere with the patient-physician relationship at a time when women are in need of quality, compassionate care. These medical decisions should be made solely by women in consultation with those she trusts the most, including her gynecologist—not politicians.”

It’s true—women who are choosing to have an abortion are in need of two things: compassion and care. And as politicians fight over whether it’s within their purview to potentially take these away from women, we can still take action to support each other—particularly when someone you know is getting an abortion.

Renee Bracey Sherman, an abortion-policy advocate and a board member at NARAL Pro-Choice America, had an abortion at age 19.  “I didn’t tell my friends,” she says. “I didn’t have anyone to hold my hand in the clinic, which was hard. Offering support is huge.”

She spoke to WomensHealthMag.com about the support she lacked during her abortion—and what you can do to be there for a friend who is making this choice, too.

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“Being faced with an unintended pregnancy can bring up a wide range of emotions for a person,” says Bracey Sherman. “The most important thing to remember is to show up with unconditional support for your friend.” She recommends asking your friend exactly how she wants to be supported but also not pressuring her if she wants time to be alone. “Your friend knows what’s best for them,” she says. “Let them lead. Try to refrain from giving them judgmental advice, and let them talk out the pros and cons to whichever decision is best for them.” She also suggests letting your friend know about services like Backline and 1 in 3 Campaign, where she can talk to counselors and other women who have had abortions.

“Remember, your friend’s abortion is just that: her abortion,” says Bracey Sherman. “Unless she gives you permission, do not share her story with anyone.”

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In times of need, good friends always come through the game plan. Even if your friend is totally at ease with her decision (as 99 percent of women who have abortions are), chances are she could use a little support on the logistics—like finding out the laws in her state and making sure she’s going to a clinic that actually performs the procedure she needs.

“Not all clinics that advertise about abortion actually provide abortions,” says Bracey Sherman. “In fact, many are anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers that offer patients deceptive, biased, and scientifically inaccurate information about abortions.” Bracey Sherman recommends checking out the The National Abortion Federation’s website for a list of reputable abortion clinics throughout the country. Also, Planned Parenthood is always a safe bet (as long as they continue to receive donations so they afford to stay open).

Something else to keep in mind: The laws surrounding abortion do vary by state, and depending on where you live, your friend might need to factor in things like the cost, the distance between her house and the closest clinic, and waiting periods that would require her to take multiple days off of work. “A first trimester abortion costs about $400 to $500, which can be a financial barrier,” says Bracey Sherman. “You can be supportive by helping your friend figure out how to pay for her abortion.”

While there are limited resources out there for women who cannot afford abortions, the National Network of Abortion Funds does offer some financial support. Her insurance may also cover abortions, but there are a couple of things to consider if your friend chooses this option: “Many insurance companies send the policy holder a list of services used in a document called the ‘Explanation of Benefits,'” says Bracey Sherman. In other words, if your friend’s not the holder of her policy, someone else may end up finding out about her abortion. “This can be devastating for those in an abusive relationship or young people on a family member’s policy since it could reveal to them that you had the procedure.”

Since Bracey Sherman was still on her parents’ insurance when she had her abortion, she had a tough decision when it came time to pay. “When I presented the clinic staff with my insurance, they told me about this policy. And since I hadn’t yet told my parents about my decision to have an abortion, I decided to pay out of pocket.”

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While having an abortion is a very personal decision, everyone has an opinion about it. And some of those people like to show up at clinics and let women know exactly how they feel.

“There are often protesters standing outside clinics shouting horrible things at patients,” says Bracey Sherman. “While they might be scary, never forget that your friend does not have to listen to them, accept any of their pamphlets, or engage with them in anyway. You can offer to take your friend to the clinic to hold her hand as she walks through the barrier of protesters.”

And if you can’t make it on the day of, let your friend know that lots of clinics have volunteers to escort women inside—they’re usually wearing bright vests, but you or your friend can call the clinic ahead of time and confirm just to be sure. “While my clinic didn’t have any protesters, it did have a bomb-proof door as a security measure,” says Bracey Sherman. “It was scary, but I remembered it was there to keep me safe.”

Depending on the type of abortion your friend has, she may also need someone there for her physically and emotionally. “If your friend has a medication abortion, often completed by taking the second pill at home, be prepared to stay with her for several hours,” says Bracey Sherman. “Treating your friend to a nice meal, ordering take-out to your house, or even curling up on the couch to watch your favorite movie with a cup of tea is a good way to help her relax. She may experience a few cramps, so keep a hot water bottle or heating pad handy.”

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how involved you want to be in your friend’s abortion, but as Bracey Sherman notes, it’s important to recognize how normal this whole experience is for many women.

“Thirty percent of women have an abortion by age 45,” says Bracey Sherman (and the Guttmacher Institute). “When I returned home, all I wanted to do was cuddle with my cat and watch the television. Ask your friend what she feels like doing to relax and decompress, and just do that.”