Pro-lifers have always disdained the term “pro-choice,” because it is intentionally ambiguous. It lets abortion supporters off the hook.
Now, apparently even “pro-choice” has become radioactive.
On January 9, with carefully controlled fanfare (no press release, hand-picked reporters), Planned Parenthood announced it was abandoning the term “pro-choice.” From Buzz Feed:
“Pro-choice” isn’t as misleading, but it doesn’t have the same strong ring to it as “pro-life,” either. Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens spoke about the problematic use of “choice” at a press briefing Wednesday, explaining how women once had way fewer choices than they do today. Now, she said, maybe “‘choice’ as word sounds frivolous.”
“Pro-choice” has certainly been taking more and more of a beating in polls. This year a record low 41% of Americans said they considered themselves “pro-choice” in Gallup’s annual survey.
This is not necessarily because people are abandoning abortion support, says PP. It is because people are confused about the terminology. Explains Jezebel:
When Planned Parenthood polled Americans to figure out how they felt about the labels, the results were confusing, because people found the labels confusing: for example, in one 2012 poll, 35% of voters who identified as pro-life also said they didn’t think Roe v. Wade should be overturned. In another, 12% of online survey takers said they were both pro-life and pro-choice, while another 12% didn’t want to use those terms, and 40% said “it depends on the situation” when asked about their moral opinions on abortion.
Actually, some pro-lifers have been drawing a similar conclusion, as I’ve mentioned before.
To clarify terms and also keep abortion in the spotlight, “we are moving away from using ‘pro-life’ to ‘anti-abortion’ or ‘abortion abolitionist,’” wrote Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, to me in an email.
“They don’t want the word abortion to be used, and we want to keep putting it in their face,” added Hawkins. “Anti-drunk driving groups aren’t pro-sober driver groups. Anti-smoking groups are pro-clean air groups.” (Also read this new manifesto by Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger.)
But as elements of the pro-life movement aim for more specificity, PP will aim for even less, trying to reshift an already shifty debate away from its prized morally relativist term, which, thanks to pro-life efforts is no longer relativist but negative, to morally relativist dialogue.
“And so Planned Parenthood’s newest messaging will be moving away from the language of choice,” announced Buzz Feed, adding:
Rather than selecting a new term to replace “pro-choice,” Planned Parenthood hopes to move beyond such terms entirely and present abortion as something too complicated to be divided into two sides. A soon-to-be-released Planned Parenthood video takes this new approach, casting labels like pro-life and pro-choice as limiting and abortion as a complex and personal decision. “We just don’t know a woman’s specific situation,” says the ad (not yet online). “We’re not in her shoes.”
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