Political Animal


January 17, 2013 3:50 PM If Not Pro-Choice, What?

By Ed Kilgore

There’s been some buzz the last week or so about the announcement by Planned Parenthood that it’s dropping use of the term “pro-choice” to describe its position on abortion and related issues. I don’t know at this point if the leadership of that brave and besieged group shares the long-standing concerns of some advocates of reproductive rights that the term sounds like one better confined to consumer discretion or conservative education proposals—or is simply less powerful than the “pro-life” brand deployed by the anti-reproductive rights coalition. The Anna North Buzzfeed article reporting the change (via interviews with Planned Parenthood leaders) seems to indicate the main problem was that “pro-choice” doesn’t poll very well:

Polling conducted on Planned Parenthood’s behalf appears to show some dissatisfaction with the labels. In one 2012 poll, 35% of voters who identified as pro-life also believed Roe v. Wade should not be overturned (7% of pro-choice voters, meanwhile, thought it should be). And in an online survey of recent voters, 12% said they were both pro-life and pro-choice, and another 12% said they wouldn’t use those terms. When asked for their moral opinions on abortion, 40% of those voters said “it depends on the situation” — far more than called the procedure either acceptable or unacceptable.

At Slate Amanda Marcotte argues that however it polls, “pro-choice” is the most accurate term for the issues dividing supporters and opponents of reproductive rights. Besides, it’s an emblem worth fighting for:

The only real choice you have is to label yourself or let others do it for you, and of those two options, smart folks will pick the former every time.

Also at Slate, Katie Roiphe cheers Planned Parenthood decision to abandon a “bourgeois” term that over-simplifies attitudes towards abortion policy (she prefers “pro-freedom,” though it’s even less precise, and there would be a mighty big fight with the Tea Folk over that one). But even she acknowledges that abandoning “anti-choice” for the opposition would be a shame.

A big part of the problem with Planned Parenthood’s poll-driven approach to this subject is that the group may be missing a big opportunity for educating people about what “choice” means. The “depends on the circumstances” answer that keeps showing up in polls on abortion should be very troubling to reproductive rights advocates, since it implies there are subjective motives (i.e., reasons for abortions that are and aren’t “acceptable”) that if properly identified should govern actual policies backed by state compulsion. Marcotte nails it:

The correct term for people who want abortion to be decided on a case-by-case basis is pro-choice, unless, of course, these focus-group participants imagine a panel to which each woman has to make her case in order to determine if she’s a good enough girl to avoid punishment by forced childbirth.

Yes, public opinion on abortion is often “nuanced.” But the question of who decides really isn’t.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Peter C on January 17, 2013 3:59 PM:


  • c u n d gulag on January 17, 2013 4:03 PM:

    How about, 'Anti-Forced Labor?'

    But "Pro-choice" really is the best description.
    A woman wants that baby, that's her choice.

    Another one else feels, for whatever reason, that this is not the right time, that's her choice.

    And, as we all know, if you look at the whole picture, with the death penalty, and wars, and occupations, and torture, the last thing many of the opponents of abortion are, is "Pro-Life."

  • Dee on January 17, 2013 4:25 PM:

    "Pro Women" pretty much says it all.

  • Yellow Dog on January 17, 2013 4:35 PM:

    Dr. George Tiller nailed it years ago: Trust Women.

  • Mitch on January 17, 2013 5:01 PM:

    Pro-Woman is legit to us; but I imagine that such a change will quickly result in "Pro-Life" becoming "Pro-Child/Infant/Mother" as a result.

    Personally, like Amanda Marcotte, I think Pro-Choice was perfect, since it encapsulates the issue; the right to choose is what matters. Even Pro-Life works for them; since they think that the life of the unborn trumps all rights of the mother(while the term seems kind of stupid when considering that Pro-Lifers tend to also be Pro-War and Pro-Execution).

    To a degree, I am concerned about an Arms Race. Our "side" will come up with a more focus-group-friendly name, and the Right will retaliate by making a name that pushes even more buttons than Pro-Life. I can easily see them calling themselves "Pro-Baby" (as if our side hates infants).

    So, in my POV, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Pro-Choice works. I think it would be smarter for us to try and co-opt "Pro-Life" ... after all, we care more about the Life of the mother than our conservatives friends (not to mention the lives of everyone else). I certainly love life, and try to love all that live—and I certainly love babies. That does not stop me from knowing that legalized abortion is a more intelligent way of doing things.

  • Kathryn on January 17, 2013 5:02 PM:

    All good, like trust women quite a bit. No government monitoring of my pregnancy might be too long, but that point needs to be made. How about no government bureaucrats in women's health care?

  • Valerie Curl on January 17, 2013 5:58 PM:

    how about just pro-privacy?

  • golack on January 17, 2013 6:14 PM:

    Pro-choice also means the woman may have the child-to-be. And Planned Parenthood provides a lot of health care for women, including pre-natal and post-natal care.

    Not to mention contraceptive services which lower the number of abortions. Oh wait, redefine contraception to equal abortion....

  • N.Wells on January 17, 2013 6:40 PM:

    Just to throw a spanner into the works, how about relabeling as "pro-capitalism", in support of the doctor's right to sell (and the women's right to buy) any medical procedure that the doctor cares to sell and the customer wishes to buy? Then relabel the anti-abortion Republicans as the anti-capitalists in favor of intrusive big government.

  • John Herbison on January 17, 2013 8:23 PM:

    How about labeling the issue simply as abortion rights, and the opponents as anti-abortion?

    Both the "pro-choice" label and the horrid, Orwellian "reproductive rights" shtick are euphemisms used by those too squeamish to call abortion what it is. Since the self-induced demise by attrition of the Shakers, no serious person has questioned the right to reproduce. The kerfluffle, as to both abortion and contraception, is over the right to avoid reproducing.

    For purposes of comparison, is crime prevention the same thing as crime? Is tax avoidance the same as paying taxes?

  • Briinhild on January 18, 2013 10:06 AM:

    I've never liked the term "pro-choice," because to me it sounds like a euphemism, and so, by extension it means "pro-something-bad-or shameful." I have never told anyone that I was "pro-choice," though I will answer in the affirmative when asked if am. I also don't use the term "pro-life" -- I won't cede that moral high ground to them; I use "anti-abortion" to describe those people; though I wish I could come up with something that describes the real agenda of most of then-- to control women's bodies, not only by criminalizing abortion, but also by denying access to contraception.

    I actually tell anyone who asks that I am "pro-abortion," even though I realize it could be interpreted to mean that I think all fetuses should be aborted!

    Maybe I'll take John Herbison's good suggestion and start saying that I am "pro-abortion-rights."

  • smartalek on January 18, 2013 12:19 PM:

    "Government-forced childbirth" and "government-mandated pregnancy" (mix-n-match at will) are perfect terms for representing the reality behind the massively mendacious euphemism of "pro-life"... not least because they make clear and undeniable the utter hypocrisy of people who claim to favor "small government" and "freedom."
    Why even waste time, effort, breath, bandwidth, or pixels on a focus-grouped term for *our* side, when it's so much more effective to use accurate terms to emphasise the reality behind the *oppo's* lies?
    I like to think I'm not utterly clueless politically, but until I 1st encountered the term at Marcotte's Pandagon blog, I had never consciously noticed that it's a literal truth that denying access to abortion (let alone contraception!) constitutes literal "gummint-forced childbearing."
    That observation alone makes it quite clear who the real "tyrants" are in this land.

  • Patricia Shannon on January 18, 2013 7:28 PM:

    Yes it's nuanced. There is a difference between it being illegal to abort something that doesn't have a mind, and aborting a baby during normal labor. There are some people who would say the latter is ok, but I don't believe most people would.

  • Lee on January 18, 2013 10:05 PM: