Addressing the Future of Abortion With Students

Last week, two of my high school seniors approached me. The Supreme Court draft opinion that portended the overturn of Roe v. Wade – the landmark ruling which had made abortion a constitutional right in 1973 – had just been leaked, and they wanted to discuss what this meant.

I teach comprehensive sex education and when we talk about pregnancy options, I cover abortion. So addressing the procedure in health class was not new.

But still, I had concerns. As it is, abortion can be one of the harder classroom discussions. After the leak, I knew this conversation might be even more complicated and might feel even more personal. Indeed, today’s teens could be looking at a very different future than the one many of us had assumed was theirs. And while I am based in a state where an overturn of Roe would not mean the immediate end to legal abortion, some of my students were likely going away to college in places where the landscape could be very different by the time they arrived. Plus, the possibility that legal abortion will be challenged nationally was also becoming increasingly clear. 

I also had an immediate complication. With the aim of being trauma-informed, I usually like to let my students know what we will be discussing in advance and I hadn’t given them a heads up about the topic. 

Additionally, I knew that in a room full of teenagers, there were going to be some who had no idea what on earth all the fuss was about, and others who were diligently following every update.

So I started the lesson that day by reiterating our class agreements. These include what we call “literary moments” aka asking for more information when you need it, and using a “both / and lens,” which means that there is often more than one way to see a situation. Our agreements also allow students to step out of class for any reason, no questions asked. 

Then I explained that there had been a request to talk about the Roe leak. 

I reminded them that when we cover abortion in class, it is normally as one part of reproductive healthcare. But today I wanted to focus on the unfolding current events side. Since it is always possible that there are people in the room who support legal access to abortion sitting next to those who oppose it, I wanted to name that it can be hard to talk about this topic. “You may share the opinions of some people in this room or you may have really different ones,” I said. “But I want everyone to feel their voice is welcome here.” I also explained that I didn’t want the conversation to become a debate, since while it is important to discuss different views on abortion, debating isn’t the best way to distinguish between facts and personal values, and doing so can be stigmatizing for people who had had abortions. I emphasized that I hoped we could instead stick to the details of the unfolding situation at hand, while still making space for feelings.

I reminded them that abortion was still legal in all fifty states before sharing a few slides that explained what Roe was and what had happened with the Supreme Court leak.

Mostly, though, I let the students do the talking. After each slide, one of them would chime in with a comment or a question. Doing that let them work through the issue with each other while still affording me the chance to correct misinformation and fill in the gaps.

To close, I gave the class reflection questions to do on their own and reminded them of the various supports at school and who they could talk to if they ever had something on their mind.

There has been a lot of discussion in my circles about how to best address this issue with students, and not every educator is in the position to do that. But I strongly believe that any teacher who is able needs to consider how they can give their students crucial information about a topic that is so relevant to so many.

This microblog post was a featured post in #slowchathealth’s #microblogmonth event. You can search for all of the featured posts here. Please do follow each of the outstanding contributors on social media (including health and sexuality educator and writer Ellen Friedrichs, the author of this post) and consider writing a microblog post of your own to be shared with the global audience of

You can find much more from Ellen here.

Pair this blog post with the following:

Good Sexual Citizenship: How to Create a (Sexually) Safer World by Ellen Friedrichs

Life-Affirming for All, Life-Saving for Some by Gender Spectrum

Sex Ed Needs You by Christopher Pepper

Mind Your Language by Andy Milne

Period Poverty and Menstrual Equity by Sophie Draluck

In Support of Comprehensive Sexuality Education by Andy Milne

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