Opinion: Call yourself ‘pro-choice’ or not, your abortion rights are under attack

With every aspect of the abortion issue controversial these days, why wouldn’t the labels be as well? Apparently some abortion rights advocates are retiring the term “pro-choice” to describe what they do. “I just think the ‘pro-choice’ language doesn’t really resonate, particularly with a lot of young women voters,” Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a New York Times article Tuesday.

Increasingly, I hear (and use in print) the term “reproductive health” rights or issues to describe controversies over abortion access and contraception. I’ve never been particularly fond of the ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ handles. The latter I find verging on offensive. People can’t support abortion rights but also protect life by advocating against the death penalty and for human rights, better conditions in prisons, better healthcare? I prefer to call people abortion rights advocates or activists and abortion rights opponents or antiabortion activists. (So does the news side of the Los Angeles Times.) Those terms are specific and not emotionally loaded. And I think we should identify exactly what people’s causes are.

What’s troubling is hearing that young women don’t get “pro-choice.” This is similar to my problem with young women proclaiming that they are not feminists. (But don’t get me started. That’s another blog post for another day.)


What women — apparently young women in particular — need to be cognizant of is that many of their rights to control their reproductive systems are under attack by antiabortion activists. Most women are familiar with — and probably worried about — the various (successful) attacks on the portion of the Affordable Care Act that mandates employers’ insurance plans cover contraception. But in addition, state legislatures across the country have passed laws eroding access to a woman’s constitutional right to a legal abortion. There are, variously, waiting periods before a woman can have an abortion, requirements that no abortion be performed after a fetal heartbeat is detected (which cuts back the window of time that Roe vs. Wade authorized for a legal abortion), and requirements that abortion providers have hospital admitting privileges. That last one requires something unnecessary from a doctor performing abortions. And in Texas, where it has become law, it has had the effect of closing a number of clinics where abortions were provided.

People can call the movement to protect a woman’s constitutional right to oversee her own body anything they want: pro-choice, pro-women’s health, pro-abortion rights or some other catchall phrase. But people who prefer a more all-encompassing term like women’s health care should not delude themselves into believing that the only thing on the conservative agenda is taking away their right to subsidized contraception. Yes, that’s part of it. And it’s not right. But crippling access to abortion takes away the right to decide if you are giving birth to a child or not. And that’s a profoundly important, constitutionally guaranteed right that women — and men — should not take for granted.

Of course, women have numerous health and economic concerns. We all do. They should all be advocated for. My only worry is that fuzzing up the titles is a way for women’s abortion rights advocates and reproductive rights advocates to attract supporters who say their main issue is not abortion rights — or that they’re not concerned at all about abortion rights. Sure, a woman’s main concern on a day-to-day basis may not be abortion rights. Her main concern may be basic healthcare for herself and her kids, or something else.

But she has the luxury of abortion rights not being her main concern because it’s been an absolute guaranteed right in this country for 40 years. That means every woman in this country under the age of 40 never had to worry about getting an illegal, unsafe abortion. And for those in their 20s and early 30s, chances are their mothers never had to worry about it either. That’s a long time to get lulled into a sense of security that that right is never going away — and therefore we don’t need to make its protection a priority. What pro-choice or abortion rights advocates work hard at is making sure that that right doesn’t go away.

So the advocates can say they’re not calling themselves pro-choice and the young women they poll can say they don’t like calling themselves pro-choice. But no one should think for a second that the advocacy to protect abortion rights is no longer a priority.

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