When Vanessa Brangi, a 37-year-old in New Jersey, visited her mom to celebrate her 65th birthday over the last weekend in June, she didn’t hide that she was in a bad mood.
“I walked in the house, and she’s like, ‘How are you?’ ” Brangi remembered. “I flat-out said, ‘I guess I’m not a free person anymore.’ ”
Brangi was bemoaning the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule Roe v. Wade in the days prior. Politics have frequently been a source of strife between her and her right-leaning mother, but this time, her mother surprised her.
“When she said, ‘I agree. I think women need to be the one to make this choice,’ I was honestly shocked,” Brangi said. “I thought she was pretty far gone.”
Brangi is one of many twenty- and thirtysomethings around the country who have seen a different side of their mothers in the days since the Supreme Court struck down Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion. More used to avoidance and disagreement about politics, some liberal adult kids are finding that their conservative mothers are actually in agreement with them when it comes to abortion—in some cases so staunchly that they’re reconsidering how they’re voting.
Take it from Chad, a 23-year-old in Arkansas who didn’t want to use his last name. “Two weeks ago, we had a conversation about—I think it was the Jan. 6 commission,” he said of his mom, who is 58. “She threw out the comment of, ‘Not all Republicans are bad.’ And now two weeks later, she’s telling me she’s probably never going to vote for another Republican, even in our state.”
“My whole family’s never really been political or outspoken in any way,” Chad said. But the day the Dobbs ruling came down, “once the topic came up, she kind of went all in on being upset at these justices and Asa Hutchinson and all these folks who are running right now in Arkansas,” he said, referring to the state’s governor. “She’s upset about abortion but also what it could mean for the future. She has two daughters, both of my sisters, so I think she’s upset about just what it means for other women.”
Brangi’s mom, too, was thinking of younger generations: “My older sister has three daughters,” she said. “They’re from ages 6 to 12. She actually legitimately seems mad that her granddaughters could enter adulthood not being able to make these choices for themselves.”
Marlene Gerber Fried, a recently retired philosophy professor and longtime abortion access advocate, told me that abortion has a unique ability to prompt these sorts of conversations. “There’s so many other ways in which the country appears to be absolutely divided along ideological lines,” she said. “This is really one that has an impact on women of all races, all classes, all ages, married, unmarried … all of them have abortions. There’s almost nothing else quite like that that might be a bridge for intergenerational and cross-political conversation.”
“The surprise is coming from the extent to which people who had abortions back in the day, and not even illegal ones, have been reluctant to talk, have been too ashamed to talk, too stigmatized to talk, have wanted to move on,” she said. Women from those generations who didn’t go through the experience themselves but support abortion access may only have felt comfortable doing so quietly.
Caylie Smith, a 29-year-old in Los Angeles, always knew her mother, 57, supported abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, and gun control. But her parents have also always voted for Republicans despite those things, mostly because they thought Republicans were better on the economy. Not anymore, Smith told me.
“This is the thing that got her to change her mind,” she said. “Once this happened, I saw the change in her. She was like, ‘OK, enough is enough. This has gone way too far.’ ”
Smith said that she thinks part of what pushed her mother in this direction is seeing how upset she and her siblings are. In a text to her, her mom wrote, “I want you to know we love you and are totally on your side and if we need to march in the streets with you we will.
“I didn’t really see that happening,” Smith said. “This is the first time I’ve really seen her this passionate.”
Not all these conversations are going quite that far. When Brangi’s mother told her she was upset about Roe being struck down, “I told her, ‘I’m really glad you feel that way. But you voted for Trump, you keep voting for the Republicans,’ ” Brangi said. “She’s like, ‘I think women will come together and do something about this.’ ” Still, Brangi said she expects her mom will support Republicans when she votes this fall.
Yev Pusin, a 35-year-old in San Francisco, had a similarly hopeful-yet-frustrating conversation with his mother in the days after the decision. While visiting his family in Iowa, which may soon see further restrictions to abortion, he and his parents encountered a protest, and Pusin explained to the two, who emigrated from the Soviet Union when he was a child, that it was in response to the abortion ruling. The idea of banning abortion didn’t make sense to his 60-year-old mother.* “My mom was like, ‘In the Soviet Union, it was illegal. A lot of people died. It was unsafe,’ ” he recalled.
The issue had never really come up before. His parents always vote Republican. But Pusin thought he might have an opening: “My first thought was like, ‘Can I use this to push them over into a more central line of thinking? Can I use this as a wedge issue to get them to come more towards center?’
“We sort of have a political détente in our household where we don’t really talk about it too much, so it was nice to be on the same side of something, where we were both like ‘Yeah, this sucks,’ and she was like ‘Yeah, this is terrible. People are probably going to die,’ ” he said.
“I do think that more of these conversations are happening amongst families,” Pusin said, but in his case, “I don’t think it will be a galvanizing event.”
Fried said she saw more promise in stories like this. “There’s a whole range of things people can do now, some of them much more quiet, that don’t involve suddenly you have to go against your whole community,” she said. Even just talking to younger family members—and starting fights at holiday dinners—can have surprising ripple effects. After all, if these kids were surprised at their moms’ stances, wait till the uncles hear them.
Correction, July 7, 2022: This piece originally misstated Yev Pusin’s mother’s age as 59. She is 60.