What Would a Humanist Do? Tough and Necessary Conversations

When you are a humanist from a religious family, the issue of abortion rights and reproductive healthcare can be a deeply divisive one. In today’s What Would a Humanist Do? column, an American Humanist Association (AHA) member is struggling with how to speak with his family about this important topic and how to help them understand his viewpoint that abortion must remain safe and legal.

Q: How do I talk to my religious family about abortion rights and reproductive healthcare?

I had a religious upbringing but stopped believing in god when I was in my 20s. It was only after the recent passage of the very restrictive anti-abortion law in Texas that I realized that the right to abortion must be protected.

My parents are still religious but they know that I’m a non-believer and we are able to discuss most sensitive issues reasonably. Abortion rights is an exception. My parents refuse to talk about the issue with me and they are not willing to even hear opinions that differ from their anti-abortion views.

What can I say to encourage my parents to discuss this issue with me and to help them understand the importance of abortion rights?


One of the best ways we can work to enshrine abortion access into law is to convince voters to support lawmakers who work to protect the right to choose. And that work of convincing starts right at home with our family and loved ones.

A specific part of your question jumped out at me: you say your religious parents acknowledge your lack of religious beliefs and are still able to talk to you about your perspectives. So why should matters of reproductive health be any different?

Assuming that their opposition to abortion stems from their religion, you could remind your parents that their religious beliefs cannot be imposed onto others’ legal rights. Indeed, many religious faiths like Judaism, Episcopalianism, Buddhism, and Islam outright support abortion or provide no clear position on the matter. Ask your parents: would they really want to force the tenets of their own religion on to followers of these other faiths? It stands to reason that they would not, as they don’t actively try to evangelize to you and seem to respect your lack of religion.

Tolerance of other faiths–or lack of faith–should be a black and white issue. If your parents have respect for you and for their neighbors, then they cannot support restrictions on reproductive rights.

—Peter Bjork, Web Content Manager and Managing Editor


When talking with folks who disagree with me on an issue, I try to keep in mind these three tactics: find common ground, share different perspectives, and provide facts. These are especially important when you care about the people enough to stay connected despite opposing views.

Find concepts you and your parents can agree on to open the discussion. Can you and your parents agree that every child deserves to be wanted and raised by a loving and capable family? Can you all recognize that not every person who is able to get pregnant is able to properly care for a child mentally, physically, financially, etc. at all times of their life, even if they have been or will be able to at some points of their life? Do you all understand that it takes a lot of resources, strength, and support to provide for a developing fetus, give birth to a child, and help a child grow?

Share the various reasons people have abortions including contraception failures, rape, incest, economic constraints, ectopic pregnancies, and spousal abuse. In their talk on Reproductive Justice and Intersectionality, Dr. Colleen McNicholas and Pamela Merritt explained that sixty percent of people who have had abortions are already parents and seventy-five percent identify as having financial insecurity, which greatly impacts their ability to complete a pregnancy whether or not they keep the baby. People of all races, religions, economic statuses, and education levels have abortions, and it’s important to know that people under ten years old and over seventy years old have gotten pregnant.

Provide facts on the pregnancy process, the types of abortions available, and how laws impact our access to resources. Your parents can disagree with people’s choice to get an abortion but that doesn’t mean people should lose the right to decide for themselves. A government that is truly of, by, and for the people would make it safer for people to discontinue harmful pregnancies before they result in babies and support people in completing pregnancies, as well as further development (i.e. healthcare, education, employment, safety, etc).

—Emily Newman, Senior Education Coordinator


With news of the recent leaked SCOTUS draft threatening to overturn Roe v. Wade, on top of bills being introduced to ban abortions in multiple states, I think this is an issue that many people are running into. So know you are not alone in figuring out how to go about this.

Abortion rights can be an extremely divisive topic of conversation and can be hard to navigate, especially with close family and friends. I think, if you want to have a productive conversation with your parents, you must be able to stay firm but not get overly emotional. Although you want to help them to understand why these topics are so important, it won’t be a productive conversation if they feel as though you’re putting down their viewpoint or telling them they’re wrong from the start. Both sides need to feel comfortable to share where they’re coming from and only from there can you start to educate them on the greater impacts and experiences around abortion care. Plus, your argument will probably be stronger if you can first, listen to their points and then, adjust your counterpoints to their views.

Try expressing to them how important it is to you to have an open conversation with them. It’s probably hard for them to accept that you have differing views around abortion, a topic that they feel strongly about, but if you make it clear that you just want to start with an open conversation, not a lecture, maybe they’d be more inclined to give it a try. Don’t expect to be able to change their opinion in the first conversation (although that’d be nice). Establish a mutual trust and respect around the issue, take it slow, do some listening, and maybe they’ll be more receptive to future discussions.

It’ll take a lot of courage and self-control (and many conversations, most likely) but I hope you can come together to find a way to help them understand the importance of abortion rights and reproductive healthcare.

—Kate Uesugi, Communications Coordinator

If you are as fired up as we are about the recent Supreme Court leak of a draft opinion reversing Roe v. Wade, check theHumanist.com next week where we will recap the Town Hall the AHA hosted yesterday on the subject of abortion rights and what it could mean if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Also, check out this important resource from the ACLU that outlines concrete ways you can join the fight to protect abortion rights.