“Pro-life” and “pro-choice” are both manipulative euphemisms, because life and choice each sound unequivocally good, whereas the realities of both abortion and abortion bans bother most normal people. That’s why, for four or five decades, my side of this fight has insisted on being called “pro-choice,” not “pro-abortion.” Not anymore, though. The House Pro-Choice Caucus this week clarified it is against the word “choice.” No, really. The group put out a document that included “choice” under the heading “harmful language,” suggesting “decision” instead as “helpful language.” A caucus policy staffer linked to a document called “What’s Wrong With Choice” on the website of Planned Parenthood. I know this sounds like a joke. The reasoning is the stenchiest of BS:
“‘Choice’ assumes that everyone can get an abortion, and someone just has to choose whether or not they want one. Not everyone can get an abortion when they want one. Black feminists and feminists of color have pointed out that this isn’t the case: the legal right to choose to have an abortion does not always mean someone can actually get an abortion.”
But it just … doesn’t assume that. That’s not how the words work. Being pro-choice means favoring that people should be able to choose to get one if they want. And how does the direct synonym “decision” even help if you play this made-up, self-defeating word game against your own brand? You could just plug and play the exact same problem, mutatis mutandis, as in “‘decision’ assumes that everyone can.”
So now, abortion advocates are doing exactly what their enemies would wish them to do. Planned Parenthood even explicitly advocates using “pro-abortion.”
It gets dumber. In Slate, Mary Harris interviews Democratic political consultant Anat Shenker-Osorio, an architect of this idea, asking, “Why no choice?” Shenker-Osorio says: “If you look at the way that choice occurs in common speech, both within the United States and in Ireland, it tends to co-occur with consumer things. So vanilla or chocolate, decaf or caf. We tend to use the word choice in situations in which we’re making inconsequential decisions without much deliberate thought.”
Again, this is just not true. Maybe you saw the winner of the 1983 best adapted screenplay Oscar about a highly morally charged maternal dilemma, which was notably not called Sophie’s Decision. People talk all the time about life-changing choices, profound choices, or what have you. They talk about the choice to go to war or to, you know, keep the baby. Who gave these people the mystical belief in the power of words to construct all reality alongside a total incuriosity about studying what words actually mean or how they operate?
But also, deep breath, this really isn’t the most important thing about the politics of abortion. The most important thing is people’s underlying bioethical intuitions about whether mercy lives in letting pregnant women avail themselves of abortions or whether mercy lives in making sure we stop what some think is the legal mass slaughter of the most vulnerable humans alive. I know my view, and it’s the same no matter what synonym you use. Do words affect these things on the margins? Yeah, a bit. But it’s not really about that.