Choosing to have an abortion is never easy. Many difficult considerations come into play, and the decision is never taken lightly. However, in the aftermath of abortion, you may find yourself encountering others who have very different perspectives on your very personal choice. While social media can be a wonderful venue for bringing friends and family together, arguments online can devolve into the Wild West. Safe behind computer screens, individuals feel empowered to hurl insults, name-calling, and engage in a take-no-prisoners approach, especially on the sensitive topic of abortion. It is a hot topic where nearly everybody has an opinion. Remember, you never have to defend your choice to anyone, and your decision to have an abortion nobody else's business. However, if you do feel compelled to duke it out on social media, it can be helpful to learn about a few guidelines for having contentious conversations, as well as take the time to truly consider what your goals are when you click on the text box to respond.
Before posting a response online, it is important to prepare yourself for negativity and hurtful comments, and to remember that in general, people have less accountability online when it comes to nasty behavior. If you ever feel your safety is threatened, it is important to use administrative tools like Reporting and Blocking in order to create some distance. However, if you want to debate abortion online, it is important to also go in knowing that you may not be able to change anyone's mind. While sometimes it can be therapeutic to tell your personal story and receive support from strangers, there may be others who see your disclosure as an invitation to attack. Know that your narrative is precious, despite others' spins on it. Nobody else but you has walked the path you have, and until they are in your shoes, there is simply no way to know what you have gone through. Some women feel that making their story and reasons for abortion public can be healing, while others find that particularly insensitive responses undermine the choice. Only you will know what feels right for you.
If you do move into a conversation with pro-life proponents, one useful framework to consider derives from religious traditions and is called the Hospitality Model. Under this approach, individuals approach each other valuing freedom in dialogue and truly attempt to get to know the other person, despite differences. Adopting a posture of reciprocity, in which each member of the dyad feels that the other has something of value to offer in the discussion, is important, as is coming to the table with a true belief in shared, common humanity across each individual. Of course, engaging in the Hospitality Model also means that you are having a conversation with someone who is open to hearing what you have to say, even if that person is in disagreement. The Hospitality Model suggests that even strangers are worthy of love and respect, and sometimes the most vulnerable of strangers can come across as the most contentious. Indeed, sometimes people cling to their beliefs so firmly because they are ultimately afraid of them being dismantled, causing them to question their own decisions and values. Hospitality suggests that you recognize the vulnerability of your discussion partner in addition to taking an approach of humility as you tell your own story, acknowledging and validating your personal experience, but not discounting the experiences of others. It can be easy to stick with our own kind and avoid conflict, and harder still to welcome others into difficult but respectful conversations. Note that this never means you should subject yourself to abuse, name-calling, or abiding with others who are judging you. Rather, if you sense that there may be others who are open to learning from you, respectfully disagreeing, and engaging in dialogue, it can be helpful to use Hospitality as a framework from which to begin.
Another useful approach can be one of Forgiveness. Organizations like The Forgiveness Project promote the act of forgiveness as a first step in bringing people of vast differences together. Often, forgiveness is an introspective process in which the act of forgiving another person means that you no longer allow that individual to have power over your emotions or decisions. Approaching contentious conversations by calling upon forgiveness, telling yourself that you can release others from hurting you due to their own ignorance about the topic of abortion, can help to protect you when you are feeling vulnerable. Forgiveness can be incredibly challenging in the best of times, when we are trying to go easy on people that we love and care about. Extending it to hurtful strangers can feel like a nearly impossible task, but it can be possible, and you might find that you feel lighter when you can do it.
Always remember that the internet keeps record of everything, and it is not so easy to simply delete things you've written. If you feel as though you need to write a nasty, angry, defensive response to a particularly cruel internet troll, go ahead and do it--just don't do it online. Open up a word document or a journal and let'er rip! Writing out your anger, refusing to censor your emotions instead of stifling them, can be cathartic, and doing so in a protected forum in document instead of Twitter form is the best way to do it.
Finally, I want to stress again that you are not required to defend or justify abortion anywhere, at any time. Not every woman feels ready to have difficult conversations about it, and it is completely justifiable if you don't want to, as well. Online comments can be so hurtful and triggering, causing you to feel more pain and heartache as you attempt to create meaning in your life and face your day-to-day in the face of loss. There is never any justification for cruelty, abuse, or judgment of women who have abortions. You are not required to be the pro-choice covergirl. Choosing to take on this battle in an online space should be carefully considered, in consultation with the people who love and support you the most, as well as your therapist. There are many other aspects and strategies to consider, but ultimately, you need to respect your healing and wellness above all else. For some women, that means duking it out on Twitter, and for others, it means quiet contemplation and mindfulness. Be careful with your heart during this process, as your health is always what matters most.