My 17-year-old friend has just told me she is pregnant and has come to me for advice. Her family is very religious and would shun her if they found out, so she has not told anyone but me (not even the boy who impregnated her). She is scared and does not know what to do. What can I say/do to help the situation?

co-authored by Ryan Croxall

Situations involving unintended pregnancies can be very scary and stressful. In your situation, the first thing you should do is confirm that your friend is actually pregnant. To do this, your friend should immediately seek a health clinic where a urine or blood test can be taken.[1] If confirmed, you should immediately encourage her to speak with a professional, as she may be in shock and may need advice and/or counseling. A family physician would be a good person to seek out. Sexual health centres like those listed here are also able to provide as much information as needed, as well as counseling. Both would work with her to help and support her decision, confidentially. Another person she may want to consider talking with is the potential father. Even if your friend isn’t looking for his opinion in the matter, he still could serve as support for her. Having an accepting companion by her side could provide the positive support needed to make the decision that is right for her.

Good communication in these types of situations should focus on being as supportive as possible. The idea behind supportive communication is to find the best verbal and non-verbal ways to provide psychological and emotional support for your friend.[2] Although every person is different, there are some guiding principles you can follow to help communicate with your friend:

  • focus on your friend’s concern;
  • use positive regard and show personal respect;
  • make sure your friend’s decision is made for her best interests; and
  • make sure you are genuine when speaking to her.[3]

Keep in mind that your friend’s attitude may change throughout your conversation, and you may need to alter your approach. However, if you talk in a sensitive way, your friend should feel more comfortable about the situation. This could ultimately improve her psychological state and help her to make a clear decision that is right for her.

Once you have established an appropriate communication approach, you should explain to your friend the three options she has for her pregnancy. The first option for pregnancy is to care for the fetus with the intention of giving birth and raising the baby. This is the parenting option. With this option comes great responsibility, but it also has the potential to be a very satisfying and positive experience. In choosing this option your friend would be committing to putting in the time and effort to care for the fetus and eventually the child.[4] Parenting will require your friend to make major lifestyle changes, commit much of her time into new responsibilities, increase her expenses, accept the difficulties of employment and school, and will force her to confront her friends and family with this situation.[5] However, parenting also has its advantages that can make this process very satisfying and change her life for the better. These advantages include excitement added into her life, adds another source of love and affection, and gives the option to create a family.[6] Although there is a lot of responsibility and effort put into parenting, the returns have the potential to be extremely rewarding. It must be emphasized that if the parenting option is chosen, your friend should see a physician on a regular basis during pregnancy. This is known as prenatal care, and is extremely important for her health and that of her child.[7]

The second option is adoption. In Canada, the process of adoption varies from province to province but all can be summarized as a legal agreement stating that another family or person will become the baby’s parents instead of the biological parents.[8] This agreement of adoption is done through either public or private agencies.[9] Within these agencies, counselors and adoption professionals would work with your friend to choose the best possible scenario for her and the baby. This process might include picking the adoptive parents, and choosing the openness of the adoption plan, which can range from a fully open adoption to a closed adoption.[10] However, throughout this process the most important thing to do is keep the fetus healthy until birth. For this reason, it is important for the mother carrying the baby to actively follow prenatal care procedures to keep her health stable.[11] Lastly, it is recommended that before a decision is made to pursue adoption, your friend should seek professional advice from an adoption specialist for more detailed information.[12]

The third option for your friend is an induced abortion of the pregnancy. In Canada, the accessibility, and availability of surgical and/or medical abortions varies depending on what province you are in and the location, rural or urban, you reside in.[13] The two different methods offered in Canada to induce abortion are medical (nonsurgical) and surgical. Both are recommended to be performed during the first trimester due to its easier accessibility in Canada.[14] There is no time limit for an abortion in Canada. Currently, surgical abortion is more widely available in Canada than medical abortion.[15] However, with Health Canada’s recent approval of the medical abortion drug Mifegymiso (also known as Mifepristone and RU-486), the availability of this option may increase. A medical abortion uses drugs to induce abortion, and is currently only offered until the 7th or 8th week of pregnancy. The drugs essentially induce a miscarriage at home so the body can pass the uterine contents.[16] Surgical abortion on the other hand is performed by a health care provider. The placental tissue and embryo are surgically removed from the women’s uterus, and in Canada is generally only performed up to about 24 weeks into pregnancy.[17]

If your friend is considering abortion as an option, it is highly recommended that she contact Action Canada’s Access Line (1-888-642-2725). Here she will be able to get a referral to the nearest point of service, as well as get accurate information if she has any more questions. It is also recommended that if abortion is being considered, to make a decision soon. Although there is no legal time limit for an abortion in Canada, first trimester abortions are more easily accessed in Canada and are a much simpler process.

The last thing you can do to help out the situation is to make sure she is the one making the decision that is right for her. Whether you or anyone else may agree with her decision or not, you need to stay unbiased and must not pressure her into anything. Some common questions she should ask herself before making a decision include:[18]

  • What are my own thoughts and feelings about each option?
  • What stage of my life am I at right now?
  • Am I responsible enough and have the ability to care for another’s needs?
  • Am I financially ready and able to care for another’s needs?
  • Is anyone pressuring me into making a decision? This is my decision.
  • Do I have support around me?

Hopefully, these questions and your support will help her make the decision that is right for her.


[1] Moss, D., Snyder, M., & Lin, L. (2015). Options for women with unintended pregnancy. American Family Physician, 91(8), 544-549.

[2] Berger, C.R. (2014). Interpersonal communication. In S.M. Jones & G.D. Bodie (Ed), Supportive Communication (pp. 371-394). Berlin/Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH.

[3] Priebe, S., Dimic, S., Wildgrube, C., Jankovic, J., Cushing, A., & McCabe, R. (2011). Good communication in psychiatry – a conceptual review. European Psychiatry, 26, 403-407.

[4] Holden, G. (2010). Parenting: A dynamic perspective. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

[5] Holden, G. (2010). Parenting: A dynamic perspective. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

[6] Holden, G. (2010). Parenting: A dynamic perspective. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, Inc.

[7] (2012), Unplanned pregnancy: What should I do?. Journal of Midwifery &     Women’s Health, 57: 543–544. doi: 10.1111/j.1542-2011.2012.00216.x

[8] (2012), Unplanned pregnancy: What should I do?. Journal of Midwifery &     Women’s Health, 57: 543–544. doi: 10.1111/j.1542-2011.2012.00216.x

[9] Moss, D., Snyder, M., & Lin, L. (2015). Options for women with unintended pregnancy. American Family Physician, 91(8), 544-549.

[10] Sobol, M., & Daly, K. (1995). Adoption practice in Canada: Emerging trends and challenges. Child Welfare, 74(3), p.655.

[11] (2012), Unplanned pregnancy: What should I do?. Journal of Midwifery &     Women’s Health, 57: 543–544. doi: 10.1111/j.1542-2011.2012.00216.x

[12] (2012), Unplanned pregnancy: What should I do?. Journal of Midwifery &     Women’s Health, 57: 543–544. doi: 10.1111/j.1542-2011.2012.00216.x

[13] Vogel, L. (2015). Abortion access grim in English Canada. Journal of Canadian Medical Association, 187(1), 17-17.

[14] Moss, D., Snyder, M., & Lin, L. (2015). Options for women with unintended pregnancy. American Family Physician, 91(8), 544-549.

[15] Vogel, L. (2015). Abortion access grim in English Canada. Journal of Canadian Medical Association, 187(1), 17-17.

[16] Dunn, S., & Cook, R. (2014). Medical abortion in Canada: Behind the times. Journal of Canadian Medical Association, 186(1), 13-14.

[17] Flett, G., & Templeton, A. (2002). Surgical abortion. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 16(2), 247-261.

[18] (2012), Unplanned pregnancy: What should I do?. Journal of Midwifery &     Women’s Health, 57: 543–544. doi: 10.1111/j.1542-2011.2012.00216.x