How do you explain abortion?


By Judith Costello

Judith Costello

I remember for many years I tried to distract my children at church whenever the word “abortion” was used. I didn’t want them to know about it. When they saw the word on a billboard or somewhere else and asked questions, I switched the conversation. I could not imagine how to describe what abortion means to them.
In early childhood, parents “stand in” for God…we are all-powerful to them. The child, both in the womb and in the early years of life, is absolutely dependent. The child trusts with blind-eyed devotion that goodness, safety, sustenance and love will come from the big people who stand over them.
How could I possibly explain to a child that there are mothers who don’t want their babies? There are mothers who allow doctors to murder their babies? There are parents who decide the child in the womb will be too expensive and so have it “terminated.”
Children should not have to know there are such ugly realities in our world. I fear that learning about this at a young age could cause a deep sense of distrust and insecurity to develop.
But my children are older now. They’ve heard the word. They know what it means. I remember at some point seeing my daughter’s eyes grow big.  I asked them recently, “When did you know what the word abortion meant?”
Brigit, who is 13, was adopted at four months old. She said, “I think I was nine or 10. Peter was writing a report about it.” Her big brother had to write about a social issue for sixth grade (so Brigit was really only eight then.) Abortion was on the list of topics. Peter read over the pamphlets from church that didn’t have any pictures and we talked about it. I remember, he came out to the kitchen much later. He was deeply disturbed.  “Babies have a right to life, don’t they?” he yelled.
Several years after knowing the truth, Brigit says, “It makes me real sad and scared Mom.” I see her shiver. She could easily have been a statistic.
Recently, Peter, age 16, did research to offer a presentation at a catechist retreat. He and his friends had access to a computer. They “Googled” “abortion” and came across the truth that there are babies who survive abortions. They showed us a video of a young woman who tells about the attempt to terminate her life with a burning saline solution. She was born alive and a concerned nurse saw to it that she received medical treatment even though, if the abortion doctor had been there at the time, her body would have been thrown away.  This beautiful woman is now grown up and has spoken several times to say she forgives her mother. But she just wants to make sure the unborn are given rights.
Her words touched me, “If a woman loses a child through miscarriage, she names her baby and there is a funeral. If a woman doesn’t want her baby, it is named ‘fetal tissue’ and thrown away.”
My own daughter could have been one of those. I shiver at the thought.
How do you describe abortion to your children?
(Judith Costello is a freelance writer who grew up in Davenport and now lives in rural New Mexico. Her website is

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