If you're unexpectedly pregnant, here's how to work through this big conversation.
There is no one “right” reaction to finding out you’re dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. You might come to a decision about next steps quickly and easily, or you might feel pulled in multiple directions. Either way, your emotions are 100% valid. If you and your partner disagree about how to handle the pregnancy, that added emotional weight can feel unsettling and scary. You might be caught between your relationship with the person you love and your right to make choices about your own body — two things that are deeply important.
Even if this feels like uncharted territory for you, you’re not alone. “Finding out you’re pregnant when you don’t expect it is a pretty common experience — nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended,” Sara C. Flowers, DrPH, vice president of education and training at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, tells Elite Daily. Every year, 5% of reproductive-age women have an unintended pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization focused on advancing reproductive rights — that’s one in 20 women.
If you want to involve your partner in your pregnancy decision-making process — whether that means asking for their support or talking through your options with them — that’s common, too. In a 2010 Guttmacher survey of women who had recently had abortions, 82% stated that the person who got them pregnant knew about their decision to get an abortion. Of those whose partners knew, 79% said their partner was supportive, 5% said their partner was neither supportive or unsupportive, and 9% said their partner was unsupportive of their decision. (The remaining 7% were unsure of their partner’s feelings.)
So, what happens if you want a different pregnancy outcome than your partner? Can you work through this together, or does it necessitate the end of the relationship? How can you maintain your personal boundaries in this situation? Here’s what reproductive health experts say about your rights and your options.
Your Body, Your Choice
Legally, it is a pregnant person’s right to decide whether or not they want to end their pregnancy — your body, your choice. “The most important value is the bodily autonomy of the person who is pregnant,” says Desireé Luckey, director of policy at URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity. If you are over 18, this decision rests with you alone, and your partner cannot legally stop you from getting an abortion that is within legal grounds in your state.
There are a few important caveats that are worth noting here for your safety. Texas’ SB8 law has made it legal to sue someone who assists in an abortion after the first six weeks of pregnancy. This means that if you get an abortion in Texas, your partner (or anyone else in your life) could mount a legal challenge in response to your abortion. Thirty-eight states, including Texas, also require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to get an abortion, so if you are under 18, you may need to alert your parent or legal guardian. Depending on where you live, this can sometimes be avoided by receiving consent from another adult relative or receiving a waiver of adult involvement from a judge. You may also consider getting an abortion in another state. If you need help finding a provider or creating a plan for safe abortion care, call the National Abortion Federation to talk through your options and find a clinic.
If you choose to have the baby and either raise it for yourself or pursue adoption, look into your state’s laws regarding parental rights. Unmarried couples do not automatically both get parental custody rights — only the pregnant parent does — so your partner would have to establish paternity through voluntary confirmation or by filing a court affidavit. Without this, they don’t have the legal grounds to oppose your decision to raise a child or pursue adoption. If you are married, however, you and your partner are both the child’s legal guardians, so you will have to make a joint decision about adoption or custody of the child.
If you ever feel like you are being pressured into a decision about your pregnancy — by your partner or anyone else — you might be experiencing something called reproductive coercion. This, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, is “behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health,” and it is considered a form of relationship abuse. “No one, including your partner, has the right to abuse or threaten you, attempt to induce an abortion or sabotage one, or tamper with anything you need for managing your reproductive health,” Luckey says. If you find yourself in this situation, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or text START to 88788 to get immediate professional support.
How To Talk Through This With Your Partner
You should never feel obligated to explain or justify your decision to anyone, but you may still want to discuss your options with your partner. “Ideally, the pregnant person and their partner would be able to talk about their feelings, thoughts, and concerns and come to an agreement,” Flowers says. “That doesn’t mean they have to feel exactly the same way about everything, just that they agree on — or at least accept — the chosen option.”
One of the most difficult things about a conversation like this is that there isn’t much room for compromise. “You either decide to keep the pregnancy or terminate it,” explains relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW. “You cannot meet in the middle.” Still, Hartstein tells Elite Daily that two partners can have a healthy conversation about their feelings, and even ultimately stay together, provided they already have a basis of mutual respect.
“A good approach to take is to try and be very respectful and very gentle with each other,” Hartstein says. “It’s OK to disagree.” She suggests that both partners try to think about the situation from the other person’s shoes. “Assuming you are the biological female in this scenario, you do really have the final say over whether or not you plan to carry the baby to term,” Hartstein says. “It can be very upsetting and frustrating for your [biologically] male partner not to have an equal say and equal power. However, the biological mother also has a lifetime of responsibility if she decides to birth the baby … All of these factors should be considered in the decision.”
Rachel Dyer, board chair-elect at Exhale Pro Voice, an after-abortion support talkline, suggests using “I” statements to avoid making assumptions about what the other person is thinking. “Approaching these conversations with curiosity and empathy and care and love for your partner, rather than accusations or fear, is a great place to start,” she says. Saying things like “I want to become a parent right now,” or “I don’t think I’m in a place to raise a child” allows your partner to hear where you are coming from and offer their own feelings back to you. While there are no easy solutions, it is possible to reach a place of understanding and acceptance, even if your partner can’t ultimately get the outcome they hoped for.
Again, you should always feel safe during this conversation — and if you don’t, it might be time to take a step back from your relationship. “You absolutely should expect to be treated with respect and kindness,” Hartstein says. “If your partner threatens abandonment or even violence if you don’t do what they want you to do, you’ve just learned a lot about them. If they threaten or commit violence towards you in any way, you should enlist the support of friends and family and get out.” If you don’t feel that your partner is hearing you or respecting your opinion, it can help to seek out support from another close friend or family member. “Consider confiding in another person for support and as a sounding board,” Hartstein suggests. “They can help support you emotionally and even physically if you feel that you need another place to stay or just want to get a bit of space during an intense time.”
How To Get Professional Support
If you would like to talk to a supportive, nonjudgmental third party, you have several options. The first is the All-Options talkline (1-888-493-0092), which is available seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. ET on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET on weekends. All-Options “provides unbiased judgment-free support for people in all of their pregnancy decisions, including parenting, abortion, adoption, miscarriage, and infertility,” Paulina Guerrero, the organization’s national programs manager, tells Elite Daily. Anyone who is pregnant, who has previously been pregnant, or who is close to a pregnant person can call in and talk to a trained volunteer counselor. (Note that All-Options counselors are not licensed medical professionals — if you are experiencing a mental health or medical emergency, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.)
If you call the All-Options talkline, you’ll be able to talk through your situation with someone who wants the best outcome for you. “The core basis of our philosophy is that the caller has the answer,” Guerrero says. For example, a counselor might say, "You mentioned that your partner says X, Y, and Z, but I just heard you say that you feel X, Y, and Z. What comes up for you when you think about that?” From there, you’ll have the freedom to uncover more about your own feelings without the opinions of others weighing in. You can also call in with your partner to have the counselor mediate a conversation between the two of you. If you or your partner is a person of faith and would like to speak to a spiritual counselor, All-Options also runs a talkline called Faith Aloud, where callers can speak to clergy from different faith backgrounds who can provide religious support. It may also help you and your partner to speak to a licensed couples’ therapist.
If you choose to get an abortion, Exhale Pro Voice offers a text line for after-abortion support. “Folks can reach out to us if they have had an abortion and have feelings about it, whatever those feelings might be,” Dyer says. Your partner could also use the text line if they’d like to talk through their emotions with a counselor — a useful outlet for them to express their feelings without adding emotional strain to the relationship. Exhale partners with a group called Connect & Breathe, which offers post-abortion support on the phone if you or your partner would rather speak to someone directly. If you choose adoption or to raise a child yourself, All-Options also specializes in talking with individuals or couples who have gone this route.
Whatever you choose, don’t forget that there are people out there who want to support and advocate for you. “Reproductive justice requires that we prioritize the decision of the person who is pregnant,” Luckey emphasizes. “There are lifelong physical, emotional, and financial consequences that occur if and when a person decides to continue a pregnancy. No one else experiences those consequences as directly as the person who is pregnant.” If you do not feel supported by your partner, your family, or other loved ones as you are making your decision, reach out to a pro-choice organization like Planned Parenthood the National Abortion Federation for support and suggestions on what to do next. Your health and safety is always the most essential priority.
Jones, R. K., Moore, A. M., & Frohwirth, L. F. (2011). Perceptions of male knowledge and support among U.S. women obtaining abortions. Women's Health Issues, 21(2), 117–123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.whi.2010.10.007
Sara C. Flowers, DrPH, vice president of education and training at Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Desireé Luckey, director of policy at URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity
Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, relationship therapist in New York, NY
Rachel Dyer, board chair-elect at Exhale Pro Voice
Paulina Guerrero, national programs manager of the All-Options Talkline