What’s in a name? Pro-choice v. pro-life and the abortion debate
Labels have, up until this point, played a pretty sizeable role in the abortion debate. Are you pro-choice? Pro-life? Anti-choice? Pro-abortion? Sometimes it felt like what you called yourself mattered more than what you said.
Abortion discussions also frequently cite Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. But a recent study, conducted by Pew Research Center in honor of Roe v. Wade’s monumental 40th anniversary, found that only 40% of those younger than 30 even know what the case was all about.
It’s no wonder some are intimidated by abortion debates, especially when people on both sides of the issue are so passionate about their views. But it’s a conversation that needs to happen, and it needs to move beyond the hard-edged pro-life/pro-choice sides.
At least that’s the stance Planned Parenthood has taken. The “pro-choice” organization recently announced it would remove the word “choice” from its language as part of its latest campaign, Not In Her Shoes. According to the short video they released, Planned Parenthood has said it hopes that moving beyond labels will help foster more meaningful conversations surrounding the issue.
“For many people, [abortion is] not a black and white issue,” the video says. “So why do people try to label it like it is? Pro-choice? Pro-life? The truth is these labels limit the conversation and simply don’t reflect how people actually feel about abortion.”
According to polling done on behalf of Planned Parenthood, the numbers support this idea. A 2012 poll showed that 35% of those who identified as pro-life did not want Roe v. Wade overturned. Further complicating the issue, a whopping 12% said they were both pro-choice AND pro-life, while another 12% argued they wouldn’t identify as either. (For the full polling results, visit NotInHerShoes.org.)
So are the pro-choice/pro-life monikers really working?
At a press briefing, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said, “It’s a complicated topic and one in which labels don’t reflect the complexity.”
Feminist and women’s rights outlets have also weighed in on the issue. Amanda Marcotte wrote a great piece about it for Slate.
“I can see why Planned Parenthood might want to shed the term in order to get these conflicted people to realize they are on Planned Parenthood’s side. But I’m afraid that the desire to go label-free is doomed to fail,” Marcotte wrote. “Labels are simply part of language, and shorthand rhetoric is part of the political debate. As long as abortion is a contested issue, there’s no opting out of that.”
Over at RH Reality Check (which also has a fantastic article about Roe v. Wade) Tracy Weitz tackled the issue, too. She wrote, “Pro-choice is a political label and has nothing to do with the real stories and lives of women who have abortions.” However, Weitz also brought up the point that simply backing away from polarizing labels isn’t enough. “What’s next?” she asked.
It’s a brilliant question, and hopefully one that reproductive rights panels – like the one CWEALF attended on Jan. 17 – can delve into further. At that panel, Lt. Governor, AG George Jepsen, SOTS Denise Merrill, and Treasurer Denise Nappier all spoke candidly about what Roe v. Wade has meant not only for them personally, but for women’s rights as a whole. On Jan. 30, Planned Parenthood and CWEALF will host another discussion about abortion at Hartford’s Charter Oak Cultural Center, 5:30 p.m.
Whether you support Planned Parenthood’s decision or not, we likely can all agree that its announcement, coupled with the chatter surrounding Roe v. Wade’s anniversary, has sparked a crucial discussion. Now it’s up to us to keep the conversation going.
Written by Crystal Maldonado. Crystal is a content developer and professional blogger by day, and a dog-mom and super-feminist by night. Follow her @crysmaldonado.