It was bath time in Cynthia Carrasco’s household when a news alert flashed across her phone last week — Politico had published a leaked draft opinion signaling that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The abortion talk: How moms are navigating this moment with daughters
Still, Carrasco said, “I instantly knew that I had to talk to my children.”
So later, she printed copies of the draft to analyze closely. With her 7-year-old daughter, Charlotte, Carrasco highlighted various passages and tried to explain the impact of the potential ruling. “We used color-coding to go over everything together and help her understand what it means,” she said.
“I helped her understand that there could be a very significant change in the rights that we enjoy as humans,” said Carrasco, 43. “That the risk of us not being able to be fully free and fully make choices over ourselves in our lives and in our bodies affects everyone, not just women.”
For her 3-year-old daughter, Matilde, Carrasco said she showed her photos of the Supreme Court and tried to explain how the different bodies of government work. “I let her know that there’s going to be a very big fight,” Carrasco said. “And I use that word ‘fight’ because I want her to know that there are things out there that you have to fight for and fight against.”
While an official ruling could still be several weeks away, many across the country are bracing for a possible post-Roe future. Abortion rights and antiabortion activists have been leading demonstrations. Republican lawmakers are readying “trigger laws.” More people are seeking out IUDs and other contraceptives. And parents like Carrasco are trying to tactfully broach discussions about abortion with their kids.
“When this kind of thing happens, it makes it really top of mind for parents,” said Amy Lang, a parenting and sexuality educator who says the Supreme Court news is a chance for many families to have a larger conversation about sexual health and pregnancy prevention.
“Your children need to know what abortion is, and they need to hear from you a fact-based, calm perspective,” she said, “because 1 in 4 women in the U.S. has [had] an abortion.”
These conversations can look very different depending on the family. As president of Students for Life of America, one of the country’s largest antiabortion groups, Kristan Hawkins and her family — her husband, her three boys ages 13, 12 and 8, and her 6-year-old daughter — travel across the United States advocating for abortion restrictions.
“Everyone in our family knows exactly what our mission is,” Hawkins, 37, said. “Selling our house and traveling the country full-time is an attempt to bring them along in my mission and what I’m doing.”
In talking about abortion, Hawkins said her children often ask why a mother would choose to terminate a pregnancy. “That’s always the first question,” she said. “So I’m trying to help them understand why some mommies feel this way.”
Above all, Hawkins hopes that she’s an example for her kids.
“I think it’s important for them to see that if you know that there’s injustice happening, if you know that something is being done to someone weaker than ourselves, that you have to speak up,” she said. “That you’re called to act.”
Since the draft leak, antiabortion activists have taken to social media to cheer the news, and some have shared how they are engaging with their children in this moment.
One user tweeted about the demonstrations she and her daughter observed in D.C. last week: “I was glad we were able to witness peaceful protests at the Supreme Court and have open discussion. #ProLife”
Another user posted screenshots of the backlash her daughter was receiving for making an abortion rights statement on Instagram. “I’m proud of my brave girl,” the tweet read. “She’s trying.”
Lang strongly encourages parents on both sides of the issue to disclose their beliefs with their children, but she warns against using shaming language or fiercely expressing their views in ways that could be alarming or fear-inducing.
Such behavior, she said, could make their children “considerably less likely to confide in them about any aspect of sexuality — especially birth control or pregnancy.”
Lang, who is releasing a book to help guide parents in these conversations, recommends a number of resources that can help parents raise discussions about sexual health — including shows like “Every Body Curious,” learning platforms like amaze.org and children’s books like “It’s Not The Stork,” which she said offers sex-positive and neutral language around abortion.
Over the last 30 years, the U.S. teen birthrate has been declining, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it remains substantially higher than other Western industrialized nations — and disparities persist based on racial, ethnic and geographic factors.
Kendra Johnson is wary of this fact as a Black single mother raising a 16-year-old daughter with special needs.
“We’re not protected,” she said.
Johnson, a 42-year-old medical coder based in Oxon Hill, Md., also expressed concern about the “trigger laws” in red states that will go into effect if Roe is overturned — some which don’t include exceptions for rape or incest.
“It’s very scary to me, because there are people out here that target certain people. If something happens and [my daughter] happens to get pregnant, I’m going to be the one that’s going to have to take care of that child,” Johnson said.
Because of her daughter’s intellectual and developmental disabilities, Johnson said conversations about sexual health are limited in their home. For instance, “she doesn’t understand the concept of a period,” Johnson said. “So I have to pay a lot more attention to when she gets her period and track all of that, in addition to mine.”
For freelance writer and stay-at-home mom Uly Siregar, 48, these conversations come naturally.
Her teen daughters — a 15-year-old and 13-year-old twins — talk often about boys and relationships, Siregar said, and they have already formed strong opinions in support of abortion rights.
Her husband’s views are more conservative, Siregar said, but he’s open-minded, and “he trusts me to guide our daughters when it comes to women’s issues.”
Siregar said her key strategy is to be “very open with them,” so her daughters know they can come to her to talk through different options in the event of an unintended pregnancy.
For Siregar, whose family lives in Phoenix, the draft opinion mostly raised worries about limited options for her daughters. “It scares me because … what are they going to do if they are in a situation where they need [an] abortion and it becomes illegal and then they have to go [to an] illegal place to do that?” she said, echoing similar concerns experts have raised about a potential spike in unsafe abortions.
While navigating these conversations can be awkward and uncomfortable, Lang said they can help parents establish a closer connection with their kids. According to one 2019 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, parent-based sexual health interventions led to better sexual health outcomes and family communication.
Carrasco, the mother of two in Los Angeles, agrees.
“A lot of people object to this idea that you can’t really talk to little ones about identity or sexuality or concepts of relationships or love — that’s not true,” she said.
“They’re more ready than anyone to understand the depths of the world.”