Planned Parenthood is abandoning the “pro-choice” label after forty long years. According to Jezebel, “after exhaustive research, Planned Parenthood is abandoning the limiting and confusing terms ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ in hopes of reaching more women who don’t identify as ‘pro-choice’ but still support and need their services.” The decades long war of language—pro-choice? Pro-abortion? Pro-life? Anti-abortion?—is coming to a fork in the road.
It’s not a particularly surprising decision considering polling numbers that indicate clearly that Americans find the “pro-choice” label far too tainted—largely, as I pointed out recently, because of the increasingly rigid extremism shown by the abortion crowd. However, I’m interested to see how the media will react to this in their coverage of abortion-related stories, since they rarely waver from their line that pro-life activists are angry celibate octogenarians who specifically and loudly hate rape victims. In fact, when Juleanna Glover, a Republican political strategist, called herself “pro-life” on MSNBC earlier this week, the host actually corrected her: “Well, I would call [it] anti-abortion.”
While the unblushing bias is hilarious, I don’t particularly disagree with her. The term “pro-life” is also outgrowing its usefulness for a number of reasons—and in many cases, I think “anti-abortion” describes our position more concisely and accurately.
For starters, the term “pro-life” is a bit fluffy. It doesn’t do a very good job of conveying opposition to a horrifying medical procedure that completely shreds a tiny human being. We’re not just pro-alive-and-healthy-fetuses, we’re also very specifically anti-suctioning-them-to-death. Our opponents often crow that they, too, are pro-life (albeit selectively) and constantly bring up a myriad of other “life issues” while demanding that pro-lifers respond to all of them, or be damned as hypocrites (as if activists cannot specialize in combatting specific human rights violations.) If we call ourselves anti-abortion, we make it more difficult for them to distract from the issue—and of course, we all know that “reproductive justice activists” want to avoid the term “abortion” at all costs, since the conversation might wander over to who, exactly, is being targeted by this procedure and what it actually entails.
The specificity of the moniker “anti-abortion” is helpful in a lot of ways. People often want to be seen as supporting something, not opposing something—but I’ve discovered that if the conversation we’re having is focusing on abortion specifically, it’s generally not a hard argument to win. The vast majority of people have no idea (either intentionally or by default) how grotesque abortion actually is, so when they are confronted with that reality, rhetoric like “choice” or “reproductive health” falls flat very quickly. The abolitionists didn’t refer to themselves as “pro-freedom,” they referred to themselves as “anti-slavery” and they did so proudly—because slavery was so repulsive, they embraced their opposition to it.
The pro-choice movement and their supporters in the media have long insisted on referring to us as anti-abortion. I say we should give them the argument they want. Yes, we are anti-abortion, and for very good reason too. Imagine an exchange on a TV station that would go something like this:
Guest: Well, I’m strongly pro-life…
Host: You mean anti-abortion.
Guest: Well, yes. I think that using a suction machine or forceps to dismember a living human being in the womb is something I should oppose. Do you?
Pro-lifers should embrace the title: Yes, I’m anti-abortion, and I’ll tell you why. That, I think, is an argument we will win.