I recently read an interesting entry in the pro-life vs. anti-choice semantics debate from an author who identifies specifically as pro-abortion. I highly encourage you to read it, but for those who are too lazy, the brief synopsis is that she argues that pro-choice is a euphemism, and that by using euphemisms, we suggest that abortion is something wrong, shameful, or tragic. She points out that abortion is the the “subject which dare not speak its name,” and that we should use terminology which reflects the nature of the debate.

In doing so, the author inadvertently falls into the trap of assuming that the debate is about abortion. It’s intriguing to see someone opposed to the “pro-life” position taking their bait, which is designed to distract people by creating a polarizing focus. The author stops just short of realizing what the debate is really about, even though she explicitly states it, when she says:

It’s not about the notion of choice philosophically or in all arenas of life – it’s about choice with regards to abortion and other reproductive rights. It’s not about the idea of life – it’s about the life of a parasitic fetus. This debate is about abortion and reproductive rights.

In fact, her pro-abortion position puts the debate squarely into the discussion about abortion, and takes attention away from reproductive rights, which is exactly what the right wants to see happening. It’s much easier to argue an anti-abortion position than it is to argue an anti-choice position, because one is about whether or not a fetus has a right to life, and the other is about whether or not women have control over their own bodies.

Being pro-choice is about supporting full reproductive rights and control over family planning. Family planning is about empowering women to choose the timing and spacing of their children, in addition to choosing whether or not they want to have children. A variety of means can be used in family planning, including abortion, but overall, the goal is to promote total reproductive freedom and control over your body. As someone who is pro-choice, I support the choice to abort, I support the choice to take birth control, I support the choice to use condoms, I support the choice to have a wanted child, I support the choice to adopt.

By identifying as pro-abortion, the author of this piece sadly marginalized the core of the debate, which is not about abortion, but about whether or not women should exercise autonomy over their bodies. Abortion creates a convenient front for the anti-choice movement because it can be used in emotional appeals, but not many people want to openly admit that they are fighting women’s rights as a whole. One of the commenters pointed out that a better phrasing might be a pro/anti-reproductive rights dichotomy, which really does sum up the issue very well, and is perhaps better than pro/anti-choice.

The anti-choice movement isn’t about putting a stop to abortion. It’s about trying to restrict funding for all women’s health services, including family planning services and routine gynecological exams. It’s promoting abstinence-only education, instead of comprehensive sex ed which provides teen girls with valuable information which they can use to make choices about their sexuality. It’s about making birth control harder to access and preventing the American government from providing funding for sex education and family planning services in developing nations. Let me say it again, as I have said a thousand times: It’s not about abortion.

Abortion is the poster child of the anti-choice movement, sure, but simplifying it to “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion” totally ignores the crux of this debate, which is this: are women capable of controlling their own bodies? Should they be allowed to do so?

4 Replies to “Pro-What?”

  1. The pro life or anti choice point of view can be summarized as this: abortion is murder. The choice to murder someone is never given as a right. Therefore, abortion cannot be a right.

    This is why the debate will never be pro or anti choice. For the opposite point of view, the pro choice movement normally phrases it the way you have, but only to the rhetorical effect of being difficult to disagree with. The issue that will never be resolved, the issue that continues to create a debate, is abortion, which cannot be ignored. And, to be frank, when you summarize the debate as you have, you are seriously ignoring the concerns of the other side (which, of course, they do as well in their rhetoric). What can you say to a reasonable person who simply believes that having an abortion is killing what will be a person for your own present convenience? It’s not an irrational or immoral view to have.

  2. Well, Linden, what I am actually arguing is that the “pro-life” and “anti-choice” points of view are actually explicitly not just about abortion, but about more generally restricting reproductive rights and freedoms. I think that abortion is used as the posterchild for the movement because it’s something difficult to argue with; even people in the pro-reproductive rights movement have a lot of moral issues about abortion. Conversely, the pro-reproductive rights movement chooses to focus upon choice as a spectrum, both because they don’t want abortion being brought to the fore because it is a touchy issue, and because they actually care about women’s reproductive freedoms.

    If abortion was the key issue, members of the so-called pro-life movement would be lobbying for anything and everything which would reduce the numbers of abortions, including comprehensive women’s health care and family planning services. They would be supporting sex education, allowing women to make empowered choices about their sexuality, increasing access to birth control, and, yes, working to destigmatize people who choose to remain virgins until they want to have children. But they’re not. They are actively working to make women’s health services more difficult to access around the world. They are promoting abstinence-only education or restrictions on sexual education so severe that some teenage girls are not aware that their urethras are not located in their vaginas because their sex-ed teachers couldn’t provide them with basic medical information about their own anatomy. They are actively removing women themselves from the debate, turning them instead into baby incubators with no autonomy or feelings.

    If life is so sacred, the so-called pro-life movement would be lobbying to protect children from abuse and harm. Promoting funding to ensure that children get health care, access to a good education, nutritious food. They would care about all life, and they would promote reverence for life in their actions. The pro-reproductive rights movement cares passionately about issues like healthcare for women and children, class issues which affect children, reform of the education system, and a wide range of other topics on which the anti-choice movement remains strangely silent.

    The anti-choice movement is not about abortion.

    I don’t think that the belief that abortion is murder is irrational or immoral, and I have never said that. However, I do think that restricting the freedom of other human beings under the guise of caring about the unborn is irrational and immoral, and I do stand by that.

  3. Hi there-

    Thanks for the link.

    You’re missing my point, though:

    For others, this is not about abortion, it’s about autonomy. That’s great. They should use other language, like “pro-reproductive rights” or “pro-abortion rights”.

    For me, it is about abortion. It’s centered around abortion, for me. So I say that I’m pro-abortion. It’s a personal linguistic choice, and while I still think pro-choice is euphemistic, there are other ways to frame it.

    In short: yeah, you’re right. As a blanket statement, my language doesn’t work. It’s right for me, and me specifically.

  4. Thank you so much for your response, which clarifies your post a lot for me. I definitely didn’t want to step on your toes with your claiming of a personal label, but I was concerned that your post seemed to be advocating that we should shift the focus squarely onto abortion, rather than addressing reproductive rights issues as a whole, and that worried me for all of the reasons detailed in my response.

    I also happen to agree with you that “pro-choice” is really euphemistic, and I’ve actually largely switched to using “pro-reproductive rights” as a result of your thought-provoking post for that very reason. (I prefer that to “pro-abortion rights” because it encompasses all reproductive rights, from the right to labor in safe, clean conditions with control over your medical care to getting an abortion.)

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