Just days ago, Planned Parenthood announced it would back away from the “pro-choice” label and move toward a no-labels approach in advocating its support for abortion rights and family planning. The organization will instead focus on how the full range of reproductive health care is critical for the different situations women can find themselves in.
This is a great move. While no one should expect the term “pro-choice” to go away anytime soon, and it will likely serve as useful shorthand for support of abortion rights and family planning for a long time to come, the language has been limiting to the breadth and depth of advocacy for full human rights, particularly in matters of sexuality, particularly for women. Adding more tools and new terminology to the toolbox is something to applaud.
Personally, when talking about abortion, I have always preferred to say I support abortion rights. “Pro-choice” struck me as the sort of casual conversation mechanism, something that implied the decision to continue or not continue a pregnancy was something best done over a latte and a Sunday crossword. It seems that everyone but the most extreme anti-abortion rights folks grants that’s not the case — that the decision to have an abortion or continue with a pregnancy is not some, oh gee, no big deal, that women aren’t totally and breathtakingly shallow and stupid.
When we’re talking about abortion, it’s okay to say abortion and specifically to make clear we’re talking about rights to have an abortion, or not having rights to have an abortion and forcing pregnant women to die if they happen to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is power in using real language.
For that matter, when we’re talking about contraception, it’s okay to say birth control or contraception. There is power in using real language here, too, especially when mainstream media outlets continue to perpetuate the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ complete and outright lie that no-copay contraception paid for by private insurance companies somehow includes “abortion-inducing drugs.” (Medical fact break: Contraception, including emergency contraception, works prior to pregnancy. Preventing pregnancy and ending pregnancy are two different things, boys.)
“Pro-choice” has been experienced as an economically limiting term, particularly since wanting an abortion and having a legal right to abortion has been prevented by discrimination in health care coverage (both private and public), forcing clinics to close to comply with million-dollar and medically unnecessary regulations, mandatory waiting periods that hit women far from clinics particularly hard, and other laws that make it impossible for many women to afford or otherwise get abortion. When federal and state governments bar coverage for abortion, “choice” is a term that applies only to those who can afford it: There is a lesser set of constitutional rights experienced by those who need abortions but must sell their cars, or go without groceries, or hope a local abortion fund has enough money to help.
Loretta Ross and others have for years pioneered a “reproductive justice” approach that resonates more with me. It is a more holistic, inclusive approach that deals not just with the right to abortion but also the right to parent, the right to adequate prenatal care, the right to respect raising children you may already have, the right to use affordable contraception, the right to dignified childbirth, and more. As an activist, and like many other millennial activists, reproductive justice is a shorthand umbrella term that resonates strongest with me. It most comprehensively encapsulates what my activism is about.
Also as a pregnant woman, I have come to personally confront restrictions on abortion and reproductive health care in a new way. While I am happily pregnant, I am keenly aware of how being in the wrong place at the wrong time could get me into serious trouble. Restrictions aren’t about whether or not I want an abortion, they are not about my choice, they are not about one moment in time when I realized I was pregnant and contemplated what was next, they are about the fact that if I’m having a miscarriage, or really sick, or something else I can’t foresee happens … I could just die in a hospital because that’s what it means to be “pro-life.” Or because the National Right to Life Committee last year declared their “top legislative priority” to ban abortions at 20 weeks for women living in the District of Columbia, and I happen to be 20 weeks three days pregnant. Both of these are things House Republicans have been trying to pass. Further:
New research out from the National Advocates for Pregnant Women shows how anti-abortion rights, anti-birth control, and so-called “personhood” efforts are being used in practice to arrest and force treatment on pregnant women. Restrictions are not just restricting choice. They are restricting human rights, particularly for pregnant women and women who do not wish to become pregnant.
If you want a shorthand term, “pro-choice” is going to continue to work whether or not Planned Parenthood uses it. Chances are good I will continue to use it from time to time. More options are better and a healthy feminist movement of any kind, including a reproductive justice and human rights movement, is stronger with more approaches in the mix.
So that’s my take. How about yours? Do you prefer the term “pro-choice”? If you support reproductive rights, what language do you use?