“Mommy, What’s Abortion?”

The taking of a tiny human being’s life is not only a grave evil and a grievous sin, but a very difficult topic to broach with children. How does a parent explain to a child that there are people out there who not only advocate for the killing of babies, but who revel in the ability to do so? It’s a topic that can stop a parent in his tracks.

I have been pro-life and very much sickened by abortion since I first learned about it in grade school. I tried, however, to shelter my young children and not allow them to learn about its gruesomeness too soon. So, imagine my immense sadness when I was thrust into giving them just a bit of reality when they were 9, 6, and not-quite 3.

Monument to the Unborn, St. Michael's Church, Emlenton, PA

Monument to the Unborn, St. Michael’s Church, Emlenton, PA

One Sunday morning after Mass, someone from our church’s respect life committee was standing in the back handing out spiritual adoption prayer cards. On it was Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen’s simple prayer for a preborn baby who is in danger of abortion. The committee was asking people to pray for a preborn baby every day. They even handed out tiny fetal models, which my kids thought were really cute. In the car on the way home, my 2-year-old played with the baby, and my daughter, who was 9, read the card. I knew the question was coming. It was a word she’d never heard before. And then it came: “Mommy, what’s abortion?”

I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I said the one word that I knew would get their attention. I responded, “Murder.” We spent the rest of that ride home talking about how precious all life is, how all human beings are unique, and how we must do everything in our power to protect the most vulnerable among us.

That night at dinner, after our usual grace, we began saying Archbishop Sheen’s spiritual adoption prayer. My two-year-old listened intently as we recited it. In just a few days, he had it memorized, and it became his prayer to say at dinner. He turned 14 a couple months ago, and he still says that prayer with our grace every night before dinner.


Print on card stock and use as bookmark

Instilling Pro-Life Values

Not everyone is thrust into a situation where they are forced to begin a discussion about abortion, so what are some good ways to begin to talk to your children about it? I believe that it’s incredibly important to lay a pro-life foundation from the time your child is old enough to understand about babies. Kids don’t have to learn about abortion specifically to understand that all human beings are precious. You can point out pregnant women and marvel at the baby in her belly. You can read the Bible story about the Visitation, explaining how John the Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb at the presence of Christ. You can show your child his sonogram pictures and talk about how he used to kick or move around. All of these things help children understand that a baby is growing inside his mother. You could even look up the different stages of a preborn baby’s development online and show your child how the baby grows every week. If you want something tangible, order your own fetal model. They’re a hit with children because they fit in their tiny hands. My son made a Kleenex bed for ours, whom he named Elizabeth. She “slept” on the end table, and he checked on her every day. This helped him not only identify with her, but it encouraged him to be responsible for her as well.

As kids grow, you can offer more information—whatever you think your child can handle. This will range from explaining simply that some women do not want a baby in their belly to discussing the fact that the law says that she can kill him. You do not need to go into details of how it’s done or show pictures. Just that knowledge alone is enough to sadden most kids. If your child asks questions he’s not ready to hear the answer to, simply tell him that it’s such a horrible thing that he doesn’t need to know details until he’s older. Explain that he can help by praying for preborn babies. Introduce Fulton Sheen’s spiritual adoption prayer and encourage him to say it every day.

Once kids get to be around 5th grade, they will begin to ask more questions. They may hear things on the news or at school, or they may see articles online. In today’s world, it’s very difficult to watch the news and not see something about abortion, especially as we are gearing up for another election. Have a candid conversation with your children. Explain that abortion violates the 5th Commandment and that taking the life of a tiny preborn baby is a serious offense against God. Explain that it doesn’t matter where a person lives (in the womb or outside), what a person looks like, what he can do, or whether he has a disability. Every single person deserves to be cherished.

Children in middle school and high school will likely have more in-depth questions and may know someone who has had an abortion. They may even buy into the argument that it’s “my body, my choice.” Or maybe they will be apathetic because they don’t feel that the issue affects them. This is when you must stress to them that this issue affects every single one of us. Explain that we must be the ones to give voice to the babies, for they have none.

At this age, you can begin to talk about the “hard cases” too—that of rape, incest, and life of the mother. These tug on the heartstrings of many kids. Explain that a baby never has to die to save the life of his mother and that, should a life-threatening situation occur, a doctor should try to save them both. If the baby dies, it is not considered an abortion. In addition, kids this age may ask about rape or what to do if the baby is really sick. Practice how you will respond. Help them understand that, in the case of rape, it is never the child’s fault. The child should not get a death sentence for simply existing. Give them examples (there are plenty online!) of people who were conceived as the result of a rape and who are incredibly thankful that their mothers allowed them to live. In the scenario where a child may be very sick, help kids understand that, while it’s very difficult to watch a child suffer, that child is still a gift who should be treasured—even if he lives for only a few minutes and even if he has disabilities. These things do not lessen the worth of a human being.


Take Action

One of the most important things to instill in your child is courage—courage to stand up for babies when no one else will, when others might make fun of him, or when others might say mean things. It can be extremely difficult for teens to do this, which is why it’s so important to keep the lines of communication open. Help your child find activities where he can use his voice in a nonconfrontational way. There are lots of great events to take part in, including a Pro-Life Cupcake Day and a Pro-Life Chalk Day. If your child is a writer, have him participate in the yearly pro-life essay contest sponsored by the Culture of Life Studies Program and the Institute for Excellence in Writing. He may even win a prize for his essay!

The most important thing for you to do is to be an example to your children. Your child will feel more comfortable standing up for preborn babies if he sees you doing it too. He will know how to lead if he has seen you lead. So think about your actions and the example you are setting. Do you speak out at parties if someone is advocating abortion rights, or do you sit silently? Do you wear a pro-life T-shirt in public, or are you too embarrassed? Do you pray in front of an abortion clinic? Do you support movies like Unplanned or Gosnell: The Trial of America’s Biggest Serial Killer and take your children to see them to help spark conversations? Are you a part of the respect life committee at your church? Do you donate to, or volunteer at, pregnancy resource centers?

You don’t need to do all of these things, but you must do something. When you do these things, especially if you do them as a family, you build that pro-life foundation so that your child will grow up knowing deep inside that abortion is wrong. So when their children ask them years from now what abortion is, they will not hesitate to respond, “Murder.”


The Prayer

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love you very much. I beg you to spare the life of [baby’s name] the unborn baby that I have spiritually adopted who is in danger of abortion.” ~Fulton Sheen (daily for nine months recommended)

Susan Ciancio has a BA in psychology and a BA in sociology from the University of Notre Dame, with an MA in liberal studies from Indiana University. Since 2003, she has worked as a professional editor and writer, editing both fiction and nonfiction books, magazine articles, blogs, educational lessons, professional materials, and website content. Fourteen of those years have been in the pro-life sector. Currently Susan writes weekly for HLI, edits for American Life League, and is the editor of its Celebrate Life Magazine. She also serves as executive editor for the Culture of Life Studies Program, an educational nonprofit program for k-12 students.


  1. Caroline Dale on December 11, 2019 at 4:46 PM

    This is an amazing article. I have a ten-year-old daughter and have always tried to protect her from learning about the horrors of abortion. Of course I knew that one day, she would be exposed to the terrible truth about the meaning of the word ‘abortion’, but I wanted to protect her from this truth for as long as possible. The thought of my daughter learning about this kind of evil, and the fact that it is also legal, filled me with dread. This article has provided me with the courage and the tools I need to start a conversation with my daughter. I am so grateful for all of the advice on the practical ways in which to talk to children about this challenging issue. I especially loved the part where you mentioned your son caring for the fetal model and making a little bed for her. That is the sweetest thing, and it just proves how children are naturally pro-life and should be encouraged to continue being pro-life. Thank you, Susan!

  2. Gerard Pinkas on August 16, 2019 at 3:10 PM

    About a month ago while going through our mother’s effects just after the cause for Venerable sheen was reopened, my sister found an old yellowed 8×10 picture my Mom had from decades ago of the young archbishop that she was going to dispose of so I took possession of it. My Archbishop blessed it and I am currently on a personal pilgrimage of 40 Masses with the image. My wife and I were delighted to find out just now through this article that the prayer we have been praying for the unborn was written by him. We have expanded the prayer past the birth date for the children we have prayed for and do this every day after our evening Rosary.
    We had a very rare experience that one of the babies we were praying for anonymously was saved from abortion which we discovered through an article in a local newspaper and got to have an actual name associated with the child, as well as her mother and father. It was a rather shocking thing in a very good way. We continue to pray for this baby and her parents.
    Thank you Venerable Sheen for your prayers!

    • HLI Staff on August 20, 2019 at 3:17 PM

      Moments like these are wonderful! Thank you for sharing them with us, Gerard.

  3. Ariey on August 15, 2019 at 2:39 PM

    Please don’t forget to pray for the woman health, safety and stability, people get so concerned about the unborn child and don’t think about what the would be mother is going through. By helping her with what she needs, not just the unborn child.

    start finding a way to help those women to go get their health care physical, mental health, as well as finding good place for her child when she at work.

    Also sex education free for all college students and helping women know that they are not going through this alone, they have help whatever happens to her.

    So don’t forget to pray for guidance and Redemption to help those who are in need.

    • HLI Staff on August 20, 2019 at 2:40 PM

      Yes, you are right, Ariey, we need to love and care for both mother and child!

  4. RJA Lenferna de la Motte on August 15, 2019 at 1:58 PM

    Thank you for this great advice Susan Ciancio.

    Since last year I have started teaching catechism as a volunteer teacher to grades 5 to 7 on a once a week basis at my parish. Never having been a teacher in my life, I found my task to be a huge learning curve. The issue of abortion has already been raised in my class. My response was similar to yours: I told the children that abortion was murder of unborn babies which was murder because it was a violation of the 5th Commandment. Your article has provided me with excellent ideas that can be used to explain to these little ones when the need arises in future.

    Also great point made with regards to the issue cropping up during a social event and the need to respond when pro-abortion comments are made. Being intimidated and remaining silent is to condone murder by omission.

    • HLI Staff on August 20, 2019 at 9:11 AM

      Thank you for your comments, Lenferna! We’re glad this article will be helpful to you in the classroom and in defending life generally.

  5. Dr. Robert N. Schwartz on August 15, 2019 at 1:50 PM

    well stated!

  6. Susan Nemetz on August 15, 2019 at 1:47 PM

    When I was pregnant, I would always drag out my book with the Nillsonn photos of the developing baby. I would show my children the pictures, saying at different times “This is what your baby brother or sister looks like now.” They got the message, and all remained pro-life.

    • HLI Staff on August 20, 2019 at 2:43 PM

      That’s a fabulous idea, Susan. What a great way to witness to Life!

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