In January 2013 came news that shocked both sides of the abortion debate: Planned Parenthood had determined the term “pro-choice” was no longer helpful and recommended abandoning it.
This news really was titanic. “Pro-choice” was the abortion movement’s self-chosen descriptive term for over 40 years. To abandon it was to abandon an identity, surely unnerving to activists on the street, who found cover and solace in the euphemism.
And I imagine hundreds of groups with “pro-choice” as part of their moniker - say, for instance, NARAL Pro-Choice America – were livid at Planned Parenthood for announcing this edict regardless of dissent. It had to be embarrassing to read in the news one’s name was passé.
On the pro-life side, the announcement was gratifying. We have fought the term “pro-choice” forever as obvious code for “pro-abortion,” hounding the other side with that question: What exactly is wrong with being pro-abortion? Perhaps we simply wore proponents of “choice” out; they grew tired of always being on the defensive.
On the other hand, I, for one, was also a bit unnerved, waiting for the other shoe to drop. What would be the new and improved euphemism for us to battle? But as of yet “[n]o pithy phrase has replaced pro-choice,” according to a July 28 New York Times piece, “Advocates shun ‘pro-choice’ to expand message.”
But the article did give more insight as to why the abortion industry is deserting the term “pro-choice,” albeit heavily spun:
Yet advocates say that the term pro-choice, which has for so long been closely identified with abortion, does not reflect the range of women’s health and economic issues now being debated.
Reason #1: “Pro-choice” has over the course of 41 years ironically come to mean “pro-abortion.” So the euphemism has become a euphemism.
Nor, they add, does it speak to a new generation of young women, who tell pollsters that they reject political labels….
“The labels we’ve always used about pro-choice and pro-life - they’re outdated and they don’t mean anything,” said Janet Colm, 62, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Central North Carolina…. “I used to be a one-issue voter” - pro-choice – “but I think most younger people today aren’t.”…
Reason #2: There is a pro-abortion intensity gap, particularly among young female voters. A May 2014 Gallup poll agreed, finding “more pro-life voters than pro-choice voters saying they will only back candidates who share their views, 24% vs. 16%.” This translates to a 3-point advantage when the number of voters for both sides is taken into consideration. Thus, the abortion lobby has to broaden its net, lumping abortion with more popular “reproductive justice” issues, like free contraception.
Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America [said] “I just think the ‘pro-choice’ language doesn’t really resonate particularly with a lot of young women voters.”…
But by 2010 some abortion-rights activists began to sense in their outreach to young women, whose support was needed not only for the midterm elections but for the movement’s future as well, that the term pro-choice was virtually meaningless. That was confirmed by postelection polls and focus groups that women’s organizations and Democrats commissioned to understand what went wrong.
Among the findings, according to several people familiar with them: Many young women, when asked whether they were pro-choice or pro-life, said pro-life. Yet they supported the Roe ruling. Explaining the contradiction, Ms. Laguens said these self-described pro-life voters were “talking about their personal decision-making, for themselves, and not about what they want to push on others.”
But such results also showed the weakness of the pro-choice label, advocates and pollsters said.
Reason #3: Quite simply, the pool of young replacement abortion proponents is shrinking. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is attrition.
[Top photo, via New York Times, is of a "Pittsburgh rally in 1974, at a time when abortion-rights groups began favoring the term choice"; bottom photo via walkforlifewc.com]