Help! Should I Tell People I’ve Had an Abortion?

Advice on manners and morals.
July 29 2014 6:00 AM

Nothing to Hide

In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman on whether she should be open about her abortion.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Q. Should I Out My Abortion?: In 2006 I had an abortion. It was the right choice for me at the time, but my problem occurs when acquaintances include me in their conversations about reproductive rights. I often end up nodding along while they discuss the pros and cons of abortion or talking in “hypotheticals,” when in fact my own life is a great example! I think that if these people knew there was “one among them,” they would feel embarrassed by their comments. Is there a graceful way for me to come clean, preferably early on in the conversation? Or should I stay quiet even though I feel like I’m hiding or misrepresenting myself?

A: Just as someone doesn’t have to be a minority or female to express an opinion about racism or sexism, you don’t have to have had an abortion in order to have strongly held views on reproductive rights. It’s been interesting to hear public officials change their minds about gay marriage because they have a gay son or daughter who wants to marry. But as powerful as the personal anecdote is, policy should be based on a view about the universal nature of such rights. You say these are debates among acquaintances, so you do not owe them the information that you yourself had an abortion. It’s one thing if you want to use yourself as an example, but there may be plenty of good reasons you don’t. You can surely express your beliefs and keep your own reproductive history private.

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Q. Garlicky Husband: My husband who has perfectly good hygiene has one fault: he loves garlic. He will eat entire cloves and the smell will seep out of him. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep due to the smell. I have brought it up politely but he says it's his right to eat what he wants. Any ideas how to work this out short of wearing a clothespin?

A: First, explore whether you husband is worried that you’re a vampire. Maybe wearing a necklace of dried cloves would be enough for him to feel he was able to repel you while he slept. While any individual is entitled to eat what he likes, the man who devours raw garlic bulbs is the man who may end up being single. Anyone who eats that much garlic is going to exhale the stinking rose, but some people really are seepers and the aroma exudes from their skin. Of course one should always endeavor to be polite to everyone, including one’s spouse, but I’m wondering if you haven’t been too meek about this. Tell your husband that it would be one thing if his evening snack enabled you to drift off to sleep happily feeling like you are at a Mario Batali restaurant. It’s another if you’re tossing and turning because your beloved is reeking most foul. Explain this has nothing to do with his hygiene, but you two are going to have a more chaste marriage because you can’t be near him after one of his garlic sessions. If he won’t cut back, then one of you is going to sleep on the couch.

Q. The Class Bully’s Daughter—and My Son: Throughout middle school and high school, I was tormented relentlessly by “Sally.” This included emotional and physical attacks from her, and I could never figure out why I was her target. Over the years, I’ve encountered her a few times and the brief conversations I’ve had with her have included passive-aggressive insults about my looks before I promptly went my own way. Years later, my son is now 19 and brought a young woman for us to meet last week. She was kind and polite enough. But when it came time for her to go home and her mom picked her up, I discovered Sally behind the wheel. Part of me feels I should be able to let go. The other part is worried that my son may also be dating a monster, and that he will get sucked in and ruined by her. The thought of having to encounter Sally at my son’s wedding and at my grandkids’ future birthday parties seems like torture. Do I speak up to my son? Do I grin and pretend nothing’s wrong? Do I just act like I have no idea who Sally is?

A: I have had so many variations on this letter that it could comprise a Bravo series called “Bully Returns.” I understand it was disturbing to see your old torturer show up in front of your house. But you are getting way, way ahead of yourself if you’re worried that your still-teenage son is going to make Sally the other grandmother of his children. You also should not fear that Sally has passed down her evil to her daughter. You met the daughter and she didn’t give you the once over and make comments! You say she was kind and polite (enough). You yourself are old enough to know that horrible people can be begat by lovely people and vice versa. Put aside your judgment and worry about this young woman. It would be normal, having seen that Sally’s mother was a classmate, to mention it to your son. So go ahead and mention that simple fact. Then step back and stay out of it. There’s no reason to get into the details of your past (and possibly color your son’s nascent relationship) until it really is relevant. Even then, your history with Sally should be incidental to this couple’s feelings for each other.

Q, Re: Should I Out My Abortion?: I would never, ever tell people I had an abortion. Never. You will not be able to control who knows.

A: It’s true that if you talk about this among acquaintances, that information is out of your control. Some women are gutsy enough that they are willing to make this public in order to demonstrate that the people who have abortions are one’s friends, co-workers, daughters, etc. But unfortunately, such information could also hurt one professionally without even knowing it. However, a woman can be a forceful advocate for reproductive rights without disclosing something so personal.

Q. What’s in a Name?: I’m a 27-year-old man who will be getting married this fall. I’m taking my fiancée’s name for a number of reasons and am very comfortable with this decision. It’s a statement against continued patriarchy. It’s important to her that she continue her name, as much of her family was lost in the Holocaust. It’s also a way for me to distance myself from my dad’s father, an emotionally abusive narcissist with whom I relate very little. The issue is that my dad and his father are both still alive, and will likely take this as an insult. My father is paying for half the wedding, and while I feel he deserves to know before it happens, I worry this news will have a negative impact on my relationship with him and the rest of his family. My older brother is not having kids, so I’m also the last of my line in a way. How can I tell him in a way that leaves our father-son bond intact?

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