Explaining Abortion to Children

By Amy Welborn

Editor’s note. This story from the July 8, 1998, National Right to Life News is our latest installment in the year-long “Roe at 40” where we bring you a sample of the best stories that have appeared in NRL News going all the way back to 1973. My guess is you will quickly understand why this story is among my favorites.

AbortionKillsChildrenI once spoke at a Catholic parish on behalf of the cause–the pro-life cause, that is. I chose my words carefully, as I always do. Uncompromising and compassionate is the tone I strove for, because that’s the way I feel.

After Mass, a woman approached me, balancing a toddler astride one hip and holding a slightly older child by the hand.

“I really liked your talk,” she began, and as her voice trailed off, I could sense a “but” hanging in the air.

Sure enough.

“But,” she continued, glancing at her children, “I just don’t like my kids hearing about abortion, I try to protect them from things like that, and I’d hope that when I brought them to Mass, I wouldn’t be put in this situation.”

Before I could answer, she rushed on: “See, we’re expecting another baby, and they’re so excited. It upsets them to know that some people don’t want their babies.”

And it should. I understand this woman’s concerns because I’ve lived with it myself for many years. I, too, protected my children from knowledge about that horrific thing called abortion for as long as possible, but when my oldest finally asked me about it directly, it turned out he was just looking for confirmation of information he’d heard elsewhere.

Although legal abortion is a quarter-century old and is performed with horrifying frequency, it’s still something we feel children shouldn’t know about.

Our squeamishness about explaining it to children should tell us something. The reason we protect them from knowledge about abortion is not only because of what it is, but also of how we sense this reality will affect children and their self-understanding.

After all, remember how we teach children about pregnancy and childbirth? When small children ask, “Where did I come from?” we usually answer something like:

“Mommy and Daddy made you with God’s help. At first you were very small and you lived in Mommy’s stomach. For nine months you grew and grew. You didn’t look like a baby at the very first, but it was still you. Mommy could feel you kick and move, and sometimes we’d even talk to you through Mom’s tummy. Finally, you came out so we could hold you in our arms and love you right here and right now.”

Notice who the center of that conversation is? Not “a pregnancy.” Not “a fetus,” and not even just any old baby, but a very special “YOU!” When we tell children about the beginning of life, we make it clear that their lives began long before they were born. Their identities as a unique “you” were established from the very beginning.

So, when children hear about what abortion is, they are horrified, not just by the thought of babies being killed–and what other way is there to explain it–but also by fears about the solidity of their own existence. Almost every child wonders at some point, rationally or irrationally, if he or she was adopted. Are we raising a generation of children who will now be nagged by fears that their lives were in danger when they were in the womb?

Yes, abortion is disturbing to children, and once again, we should learn something from our little ones.

When we explain anything to children, we have to put it in simple terms, accessible to them through their own experience of the world. So when we answer the question, “What’s abortion?” we are forced to say it like it is, because none of the euphemisms would make any sense to them.

It makes it impossible to ignore what abortion is really about–killing real babies as unique and as precious as those little ones who asked that troubling question with trusting, yet worded eyes. Perhaps in forming the answer, we’ll be moved to resolve that, through our prayer and our support for pregnant women in need, a few more of those precious eyes might be given the chance to open and wonder in the beauty that is God’s gift of life.

Reprinted with permission of Our Sunday Visitor.