“Nobody is pro-abortion,” says a pro-choice activist trying to find common ground between herself and a pro-lifer who just called her a “pro-abortion, pro-death, baby killer”. From the old “safe, legal, and rare” mantra to the “nobody is pro-abortion” line, activists on both sides of the abortion debates have subtly and not so subtly expressed their discomfort about the medical procedure of abortion.
In this political battlefield over abortion, there has been much discussion recently regarding the nomenclature used for the opposing positions in the abortion debates. The tradition framework is this: pro-life vs. pro-choice. Pro-choice people traditionally believe that when faced with a pregnancy, a woman should be able to choose for herself based on her personal situation whether she wants to continue the pregnancy, give birth, and parent; continue the pregnancy, give birth, and place the baby for adoption; or terminate the pregnancy through abortion. Pro-life people believe that abortion should never be an option for women making decisions about a pregnancy; the choices become limited to parenting or adoption.
We see a pattern here: both groups technically advocate making a choice. Pro-lifers simply remove one of those choices based on their beliefs about personhood and when life begins. They also believe that when you become pregnant, you better stay pregnant. There is no weaseling your way out of that.
If both groups are technically pro-choices, the terms that we have been using to describe positions on the abortion debate are fundamentally inaccurate. The point of contention here is abortion. Groups should define their position with terminology that accurately represents what they actually mean.
Pro-life people are not pro-life. We see this in their inability to grasp the facts about women who die from unsafe and illegal abortion, their frequent support of the death penalty, and their lack of interest in supporting born persons through social welfare programs and universal healthcare. Pro-life is not a universal philosophy or ideology about human life; it is an upbeat and positive name for the movement against abortion. So, let’s call them what they are: anti-abortion.
If pro-lifers are anti-abortion, not anti-choice, then their opponents should be pro-abortion, not pro-choice! It is not choice we are fighting about. It is abortion. I argue that the pro-choice movement needs to embrace the pro-abortion label in order to resist the mounting political attacks against abortion access and Roe vs. Wade. Firmly standing in the pro-abortion camp is the only way to hold our ground and move forward as a society with reproductive justice. We cannot play nice anymore. We cannot try to reason with people whose only mission is to get rid of safe and legal abortion completely.
Claiming the pro-abortion label does not mean that we believe that abortion is always good, positive, or necessary. It does mean, however, that it can be. That abortion is an option for someone facing a pregnancy, and that it is an option that is just as valid as the choice to parent or pursue adoption. Abortion can be an empowering experience. When you are pregnant and you don’t want to be, the ability to take control over your life, your future, and your body can be positive. Claiming the pro-abortion label reflects these diversities of women’s lived experiences and accurately reflects what we are fighting for.
I’d love to hear opinions on this in the comments. Do you think that pro-abortion is a term that can be used in politics? Where do you fall in the abortion debate and what term would you use to describe your position?