When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last week, Sydney Spain, 19, texted her boyfriend, Steven, asking if he had seen the news.
Spain considers abortion a form of health care and a human right.
“With abortion, it’s not just politics — for me, it’s my human rights, having the choice, having the rights of my own body,” she said.
Steven, 18, is opposed to abortion — a view that he said stems from his Christian upbringing and his politics, which he describes as moderate or moderate conservative.
“I can’t morally agree to just taking what would be someone’s chance at life,” said Steven, who is being identified by his first name and was granted partial anonymity out of privacy concerns.
Now, the pair — who live in Alabama, one of several states that immediately banned abortion on Friday — are confronting what it means to be in a relationship in a post-Roe world with a partner who has a different view on abortion.
They’re not alone: Many people have taken to social media to discuss the impact the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization might have on their dating prospects and relationships.
Some have shared stories of post-Dobbs breakups; others have solicited advice on how to coexist with a partner with a different opinion. And some single people say the recent ruling has led them to ask potential partners where they stand on abortion access earlier on in the dating process than they would have otherwise.
Relationship experts say that in the post-Roe era, it’s crucial to confront differing views of abortion head-on — whether it’s in an established relationship or early in the dating process. That’s particularly true if each person has strongly held views and if one or more people in the relationship could get pregnant, experts added.
“It’s a little bit different than having different candidates that you’re voting for — this is a real-life scenario where there’s no compromise, there’s no agree to disagree,” said Sarah Schewitz, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Couples Learn, an online couples therapy platform.
A majority of Americans support abortion access, but that support often falls along partisan lines: Eighty percent of Democrats say abortion should be legal in all or most cases compared with 38 percent of Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center. That partisan divide indicates that differences of opinion on abortion are often a proxy for differences in underlying values, according to Schewitz and Amanda E. White, a therapist and founder of Therapy for Women in Philadelphia.
And shared values, the therapists said, are crucial to a successful relationship: Schewitz and White pointed to research conducted by the Gottman Institute, a relationship-focused research center, that shows that 69 percent of conflict in relationships is about “unresolvable, perpetual problems.”
In one Reddit thread posted Sunday, a user wrote: “I’ve had a massive argument with my girlfriend. … She’s pro choice and is disgusted that I’m pro life. … What do I do? I don’t want to leave her.” Other users responded with encouragement to stick by their beliefs: “If shes going to leave you over this, it was never going to work. I know you love her, and it will be tough, but you will find someone who can accept and support your moral positions,” one responded.
Given that the recent Supreme Court ruling will lead to the curtailing of abortion access in some states, White said, antiabortion sentiment in a relationship can feel especially personal for someone who could get pregnant and who supports abortion access.
Spain can relate: “It’s hurtful to have someone tell you — someone that’s supposed to love you unconditionally — that they will not support you and your human rights,” she said.
Spain said she has long known she doesn’t want kids — and wants to be sterilized when she turns 21. Steven, on the other hand, is open to kids and opposed to long-lasting forms of birth control such as sterilization or a vasectomy.
If Spain unexpectedly got pregnant, Steven imagines he’d drop out of college, get a full-time job and “help support and have a family with her,” he said.
“I know that’s not what Sydney would want to do, but I think that’s the right thing to do,” he added.
In an attempt to work through their differences, Spain and Steven have been having what he describes as “tough conversations” — about their views on abortion, their feelings and how they would each handle a hypothetical unplanned pregnancy.
In the wake of the Dobbs decision, others are having those conversations earlier in the dating process than they used to.
Rachel Chaggaris, a 25-year-old structural engineer in Denver, matched with a few men on the dating app Hinge soon after the decision was handed down on Friday. They all asked a version of the same question: What was she up to that weekend?
She gave them all a similar response, she said: She was going to a protest for abortion rights and then to a Pride event. Doing so, Chaggaris said, was a “convenient” way to gauge their reactions. Two men didn’t reply, she said, and one replied enthusiastically about those plans.
“I need to date someone who views me as a human that’s equal to them,” Chaggaris said.
Though she has always aimed to date liberal men, “it’s definitely just become far more important since Roe being overturned,” she said. And if abortion doesn’t come up in her dating app chats, “by the second or third date, I’m definitely going to try to bring it up somehow,” she added.
Faith Pennick is taking a similar approach. Pennick, an advertising copywriter who lives in Chicago, has long cared about abortion access: Back in 2007, she made a documentary, “Silent Choices,” about abortion’s effects on Black women.
Now, she’s considering screening her dating app matches for their stances on abortion — “sort of like, ‘Do you smoke? I don’t date smokers,’ ” she said.
Pennick — who describes her politics as liberal — routinely gets “likes” from men on Bumble who identify as conservatives, she said. Now, she’s thinking about how she can keep them away: “Maybe putting ‘pro-choice’ [in my bio] will keep them from liking my profile.”
The dating app OkCupid made that easier last fall: After Texas’s abortion law took effect, the app introduced a “pro-choice” badge users could add to their profiles. More than 450,000 app users within the United States have added the badge to their profiles, according to a spokesperson, who added that this month there was an 80 percent increase in OkCupid users who mentioned being “pro choice” in their profiles compared with April.
But as open about their abortion beliefs as some people might seem, people have a tendency to hide conflicting views from a potential partner, according to Jill Hasday, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and author of “Intimate Lies and the Law.”
“Anything people care about, some people will sometimes deceive their intimates about,” she said. “If people are asking [about someone’s views on abortion], then of course there’s going to be deception.”
Hasday recommends people “not only ask one way or one time” what someone they’re dating thinks about abortion. And it’s important to “be alert to self-contradictions,” such as social media posts that contradict what they’ve said their values are, she added.
Couples who realize that their different views on abortion are getting in the way of a relationship they want to maintain should “strive to understand why your partner’s point of view makes sense from their perspective, based on their worldview, on how they grew up and the influences they have as children and as adults and the education that they have,” Schewitz said.
A key part of those conversations should also include sharing and studying facts about abortion to ensure both partners have the same understanding of it, including how abortion can sometimes be required to save the life of a pregnant person who has an ectopic pregnancy, incomplete miscarriage or cancer, White said.
“In my experience, what I’ve been seeing with couples is a lot of individuals are not educated about this issue, and about how layered and nuanced it is,” she added.
Reproductive rights advocates say it’s also crucial for people dating or in relationships to be aware of the signs of reproductive coercion, a form of abuse in which someone pressures someone to get pregnant, carry a pregnancy that they don’t want to term, or terminate a pregnancy when they don’t want to.
If people are experiencing signs of reproductive coercion from a partner, Sara C. Flowers, vice president of education and training at the health care and sex education nonprofit Planned Parenthood Federation of America, suggests they seek out resources offered by LoveIsRespect.org, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Spain and Steven said they are hoping to find a way to remain together despite their different views.
“We’re fighting to make this work,” Spain said.
But, she added, she keeps coming back to one thought: “I don’t know if you can be with someone who wouldn’t support your choice.”