‘The Talk,’ Circa 2023

For decades, Black parents have sat their children down for “the talk,” in which they explain the realities of being Black in America. Now, “the talk” must also center abortion.

Different versions of ‘the talk’ have been around for generations—each with a specific set of warnings about the times. (iStock / Getty Images Plus)

For generations, Black parents have sat their children down for “the talk”—not about the birds and the bees, but about the pigs. Black children are brutalized through systematic racism and must grow up faster than their white peers. Thus, parents find it vital to warn their children about the violence that could be at any moment inflicted upon their bodies, particularly by police, for the smallest perceived infraction.

This rite of passage occurs as adolescents become independent and need to learn what is likely to be in store, what to be wary of, and what they can do to protect themselves. With the reversal of Roe v. Wade, the issue of abortion has taken center stage. Parents must incorporate into their talk the stark fact of abortion restrictions and the implications for their adolescent children, especially their daughters. 

What if your daughter becomes pregnant before she is mature enough or independent enough to take care of a child? What if your son finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant with a child neither he nor she is able to take care of?

What is your child to do? For the last 50 years, likely the child would talk to the parents and together make a decision. Is adoption a realistic choice, or not? Is abortion the best way to go? Should they talk the prospect of an abortion over with their doctor, minister, or a neighbor who had confronted a similar situation? 

But those questions are increasingly complicated thanks to punitive anti-abortion “bounty hunter” laws that follow the example of Texas’ abortion ban.

Under the Texas ban, nearly all abortions are illegal, with no exceptions for rape or incest. As lawyer Jill Filipovic noted for the British publication Unherd, “In a novel twist, the Texas statute would not penalize the woman, but would institute a wholly different Republican approach. It pays private citizens up to $10,000 to spy on, snitch on and sue anyone who has ‘aided or abetted’ a woman in having an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.”

To be clear, six weeks is just two weeks after a woman misses her period. The $10,000 reward would be paid by the defendant for each abortion that’s reported. 

“In true dystopian fashion, ‘aided or abetted’ is defined broadly enough to cover any health care provider who performs or assists in performing an abortion, anyone who goes with a woman to an abortion appointment and anyone who gives a woman money to pay for her procedure. Even a taxi driver who takes a woman to a reproductive health clinic could now be sued—and potentially bankrupted.”

Not to be outdone, Oklahoma lawmakers passed legislation in May of last year that would ban almost all abortions starting at fertilization, with no exceptions for rape or when a woman’s life is in danger. Like Texas’, the law relies on lawsuits from private citizens to enforce it.

Last July, stories about a 10-year-old girl who got pregnant after being raped in Ohio circulated. Conservatives were quick to call the story fake news. An op-ed in The Wall Street Journal said the story was a “fanciful tale” and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) tweeted that the story was “another lie.” 

In fact, the rapist was quickly arrested and charged, and the girl traveled from her home in Ohio to Indiana, where she received a non-surgical abortion from Dr. Caitlin Bernard, an ob-gyn specialist. The attorney general of Indiana, Todd Rokita (R), said he would be investigating Bernard, suggesting that she violated state laws about reporting abortion procedures, which a CNN report says is not true. He also said publicly that she was “an abortion activist acting as a doctor.” Bernard has sued the AG for defamation, but has since dropped the suit.

In the wake of Roe, “We’re hearing stories all across the country of people who are in dire circumstances, complications of their pregnancies or traumatic situations and are needing abortion care and are not able to get it,” said Bernard, who is also a professor at Indiana University Health.

Women who have had ectopic pregnancies in the past or have miscarried and fear being charged with an abortion are thinking of leaving their home states where they have lived for years. 

In the U.S., the targets of bounty hunters used to be fleeing felons who robbed banks, kidnapped or murdered people, or engaged in massive fraud. Now in Texas, the targets can be doctors, counselors, moms, dads and best friends.

So much for family values, in whose name this insane system has been created. We must practice our own family values, and make sure our children are informed of the dangers of racism and misogyny, of their rights, and of the importance of safe sexual practices. “the talk” must now also center abortion.

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About and

Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University. She is the a recipient of both the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism and a Goldsmith grant from Harvard Kennedy School. She has written critically praised books for Harper Collins, Dutton, Basic Books, McGraw-Hill, Tarcher/ Penguin and others. The New York Times called her book She Works, He Works—co-written with Rosalind C. Barnett—a bold new framing of the story of the American family, and praised its lucid prose. From Harper Collins, it was the winner of the 1996 Books for a Better Life Award.
Rosalind C. Barnett is a senior scholar at Wellesley. is a recipient of both the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism and a Goldsmith grant from Harvard Kennedy School. She has written critically praised books for Harper Collins, Dutton, Basic Books, McGraw-Hill, Tarcher/ Penguin and others. The editorial board of the Boston Globe voted her book Same Difference (Basic)—co-written with Caryl Rivers—one of the best books of the year.