Talking about life and death: abortion

aspen baker TED talk

L Aspen Baker, ProVoice TED talk

Listening to Aspen Baker‘s TED talk about abortion has shed new light on my thinking about talking about life and death.

I was a little shocked at the realisation that I haven’t touched on abortion in all my considerations of life and death issues.

As a life and death topic, and a taboo of a sort all of its own, it’s a doozy.

Listening to Aspen’s TED talk podcast, it’s clear she shares my simple passion – just to talk about the unspoken in the hope of better understanding of ourselves, each other, this wonderful thing called life.

Aspen set up ProVoice to encourage conversations about abortion. Brave for someone brought up in a trailer in the bible bashing belt where everyone’s hanging on for dear life to their patch of the morale highground, armed with the might of right, casting aspersions on the ones who’ve not made it to their dizzy heights, been wrong footed or slipped somewhere along the way.


As Aspen shares, the aim of ProVoice is just to encourage storytelling and listening. Sounds nice. Sounds friendly. Sounds open. Sounds honourable.

“It’s not easy. It’s hard,” she says. “We’re talking about the things that noone is talking about or the things that everyone is fighting about.

“I wish I could tell you that you’d find beautiful moments of breakthrough… that there would be a feminist welcoming party for you or a long lost sisterhood of people who are just ready to have your back when you get slammed but it can be vulnerable and exhausting to tell our stories when it feels like nobody cares.

“And if we truly listen to each other, we will her things that demand that we shift our perceptions.

“There is no perfect time and no perfect place to start a conversation.”

How to be a good listener

Aspen has some suggestions that tie in exactly with the tips we offer in our film about how to talk about death and dying generally.

Ask open ended questions… “how are you feeling?” “what was that like?” “what do you hope for now?”

Use reflective language… just feedback the words they use. This is a technique that is helpful whatever subject you are talking about – for example around diversity and equality it’s a good way to honour another person, using the words they use to describe themselves… lesbian, gay, queer or black, mixed race, person of colour.

In the case of death, someone might talk about someone close to them dying, passing over, slipping away. So use that language back.

And in abortion terms, Aspen suggests the same. If someone talks about a baby, use the word baby. If they prefer foetus, use foetus.

It shows we’re interested and listening.

We don’t have to share the same beliefs. We don’t have to agree. We just get to understand each other, see our differences, overcome the ways we hurt each other… stigma, oppression, intolerance.

According to this talk, 1 in 3 women in the US has an abortion. 185,000 women in England and Wales in 2014 had an abortion.

I wonder what understanding and care they experience for their loss?

You don’t know why a woman opts for abortion. You don’t know how they feel about it… at the time or later in life unless you ask. And listen.

So ask. And listen. Don’t judge.

Sharing can only make the world better for us all.




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