What should we call the position that the woman who is pregnant should decide whether she keeps the pregnancy or ends it? My column on Planned Parenthood’s semi-retirement of the word “pro-choice” got a lot of responses. Pro-rights, pro-woman, pro-freedom, pro-liberty, plus some thumbs-up for pro-choice—after all, we already know what it means.
Here’s a selection of e-mail responses and comments I received when I sent my column out to my usual list, but forgot to use bcc, sparking a lively discussion (and a few irate demands to be left in peace).
Lindsay Beyerstein, lead writer, Sidney Hillman Foundation
I’m a pragmatist. I think we need to use whatever rhetoric works best. If focus groups are telling us that “choice” isn’t working, then we’ve got to think of something else.
Rhetorically, “pro-choice” has a lot to recommend it, though. First off, “choice” is one syllable. Second, it’s part of a neat binary: “pro-choice” vs. “pro-life.” The media love a good binary.
It’s fashionable to pine for nuance in abortion discourse, but our movement should be happy that we’re easily identifiable in rhetorical space as the sworn enemies of the “pro-life” crowd. It saves a lot of explaining.
None of the various alternatives to “pro-choice” are as clear or informative or as easy to use as the existing term. For example, does the average person know that “reproductive justice” means pro-choice rather than pro-life? The pro-lifers are arguing for their own vision of reproductive justice, after all. “Reproductive rights” is a little clearer, but it’s an unwieldy noun that can’t easily be made into a punchy adjective, or a noun to describe someone who holds those views. “Repro rightser” doesn’t roll off the tongue the way “pro-choicer” and “pro-lifer” do.
Whatever the PR folks say, I’m always going to think of myself as “pro-choice” because it’s the most accurate term for my attitude towards abortion. I’m not pro-abortion, or anti-abortion. As long as every woman has access, I don’t care if the abortion rate goes up or down. (Except insofar as it declines because of a reduction in unintended pregnancy.)
Frances Kissling, scholar, writer, former director, Catholics for Choice
I think too much of the emphasis on what Planned Parenthood said has been placed on the word “pro-choice.” To an extent they made a mistake in leading with what they won’t do—use a certain word—and did not get enough traction on what they have learned and about the extent to which people are of two or five minds about abortion. There are many grays.
“Choice” abstracted from abortion is a very popular word. Think of school choice, or the ability to choose your own doctor. Those concepts imply deep commitments to what is best for our children and to the right to control our bodies in healthcare. It may well be that it is less popular on abortion because of the one-on-one trade-off against life—or because we have so pushed choice to the limit so that it is seen the only thing we value in a weighing of a decision about procreating.