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October 24, 2005

Re-framing “Pro-Choice” Vs. The WSJ

Recently a good friend of mine, fiction writer Donna Gillespie, wrote an article on the urgent need for the Pro-Choice movement to change its name. On August 18, 2005, it was published in the Open Forum section of her daily newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, under the title, "What's in a Name?" About a month later she realized while doing a Google search of the article that it had come to the attention of Pro-Life extremists at none other than... the Wall Street Journal.

There is something fascinating about the WSJ's response.  Here is what she says about the discovery:

It highlights the usually neatly-camouflaged ruthlessness in the minds of some pro-lifers, (or as I call them, the "Advocates of Forced Birth") while mocking what I wrote in baffling ways, and leapfrogging the vital points the article raised.  For the first 24 hours I was a little queasy at the thought that so august and grand an institution as the Wall Street Journal actually took time from its busy schedule to stomp on me,  a lone Democrat with no affiliations. Then I decided maybe they'd done me a favor; after all, they quoted two paragraphs from my article, and the WSJ's circulation is, what, 50 times that of the SF Chronicle?

After the fold: Donna’s article from the Chronicle, and below that, the WSJ's response.

From: The San Francisco Chronicle
Open Forum
August 18, 2005

What's in a name?
By Donna Gillespie

It's time for the pro-choice movement to change its name. "Pro choice" is not a slogan to conjure a drumbeat summoning people to march for human rights. "Choice" brings up images of entitlement, of having the leisure to choose. You choose ice cream flavors. Or whether to buy the Prada shoes or the Hermes bag when you can't afford them both.

Those who selected this slogan were given the considerable burden of crafting a name that would stand up to the universal appeal of "Pro Life". What sentient creature could be against life? But summing up the reproductive rights moment with the term "Pro Choice" trivializes an issue of profound importance and opens the way to the accusation that pregnancies are terminated because a baby wouldn't fit with a woman's preferred lifestyle. How has this name hurt the abortion-rights movement without us realizing it, in underground ways, because it evokes the wrong images in the subconscious?

I worry every day that the side of justice, the view that embodies true compassion, is not getting as forceful a backing as it deserves because it selected a damaging name for itself. The noted linguist Suzette Haden Elgin, author of "The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense," devotes a chapter to examining the psychology of slogans and how to create one that's useful for unifying people behind a cause. She cites as an example the failure of a 1976 initiative in California aimed at limiting smoking in public places. This proposed law chose as its slogan, "Clean Indoor Air." She holds that, though eminently sensible in intent, this law's case was hurt by a slogan that allowed hidden negative images to sneak in along with the positive, such as: "Hmm - just how clean is the air in my own house?" And: "Who's required to clean that air, anyway? Probably me." Though expected to pass easily, this early anti-smoking initiative was voted down. "When you choose a metaphor," says Elgin, "be sure you know what its presuppositions are." It's time we critically examine the baggage that comes with the slogan "pro-choice."

I propose we choose a name that resonates with our highest values.  "Equal Justice for Women." "Reproductive Rights for all Women".  "Reproductive justice for women." Or perhaps, "Full civil rights for women." Whatever term is settled on, we should be saying it with all the passion with which people once said, "Give me liberty or give me death." Yes, it's that kind of issue. The best answer, when anyone asks you if you're for "abortion on demand", is: "Certainly. I'm also for human rights on demand."

Conversely, those who believe in full human rights for women must stop allowing anti-abortion groups to disguise their intentions behind the label "Pro-Life." I propose that we start calling them what they are - Advocates of Forced Birth.

Let's face it: To force an unwilling woman to give birth is a barbarous act. This is the dark side of the anti-abortion movement that its proponents don't want the public to closely examine. At a recent anti-abortion march here in San Francisco, I saw a baffling placard proclaiming: "Women deserve better than abortion." What, exactly, would that "better" be? For the woman whose birth control has failed her to be put under house arrest for the first six months of her pregnancy, to assure that others' will is done and not hers? We should condemn this with the same righteous fury with which we condemn spousal abuse and rape.

Words are powerful shapers of thought. Over the years, the name "Pro Choice" has slowly eroded how the abortion rights movement is perceived.  More and more I hear its supporters explaining themselves, or even apologizing for their position, when they would not dream of apologizing for resisting a mugger or a housebreaker. The name we choose should evoke everyone's right to equality and freedom from tyranny. It would be a shame to lose the good fight over a name.

Please, it's time for those who believe in freedom and justice for women to rename themselves.

And the Wall Street Journal's take:

From: The Wall Street Journal
Opinion Page
August 18, 2005
James Taranto

No Justice, No Fetus

Regular readers know that abortion euphemisms are one of our pet peeves. So we got a laugh out of this piece by one Donna Gillespie in today's San Francisco Chronicle, proposing that those who oppose restrictions on the destruction of live human fetuses, conditional only on the consent of the mother, abandon the euphemism "pro-choice" in favor of a new one:

"Summing up the reproductive-rights movement with the term "pro-choice" trivializes an issue of profound importance and opens the way to the accusation that pregnancies are terminated because a baby wouldn't fit with a woman's preferred lifestyle. . . .

"I propose that we choose a name that resonates with our highest values: "Equal justice for women." "Reproductive rights for all women." "Reproductive justice for women." Or perhaps "full civil rights for women." Whatever term is settled on, it should be something that carries a moral force. We should be saying it with all the passion with which people once said, "Give me liberty or give me death." Yes, it's that kind of issue. The best answer, when anyone asks you if you're for "abortion on demand" is: 'Certainly. I'm also for human rights on demand.'"

(The Pro Choice Movement) would have to be out of their minds to follow this advice, for let's face it: Much support for legal abortion rests precisely on a crass appeal to self-interest. Which do you think resonates more with the average American: "Certainly. I'm also for human rights on demand"? Or, "If you (your girlfriend, your daughter) got pregnant, wouldn't you want (her) to 'get rid of it'?"

Donna’s response to the WSJ: 

Speaking of euphemisms...is there any euphemism in use by either side more egregious than "Pro Life"?  And I thought this part particularly stunning: "Much support for legal abortion rests precisely on a crass appeal to self-interest." Stunning, and scary. The mind that can twist a woman's natural desire to possess this most fundamental human right into a lapse into "self interest" could probably convince itself of anything that suits its desire. And considering that this accusation is coming from the most entitled group of individuals on earth - wealthy white American male Republicans - it felt a little like hearing King Louis the 14th telling the peasants to tighten their belts.

She would love to hear your comments!

Posted by Lynn Allen on October 24, 2005 at 11:08 AM in Media | Permalink

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Comments

It is hard to trump the other side's name when they have chosen Pro-Life. Who isn't in favor of living?

What is lacking from the Pro-Life side is respect for the gray areas of life. In an ideal world, only two people who truly love each other could conceive. Unfortunately, life is a little more complicated than that.

The big L, Life, is a black and white issue. A person is either alive or dead. So long as the heart is beating and the lungs are breathing a person has Life. A person on a respirator with no brain activity has Life.

But the little l, life is a gray issue. One can have Life or one can be "fully alive". Being fully alive involves freedom, choices, power, awareness, etc.

Americans value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Life alone is not enough.

So what trumps having Life? Life with freedom. In the words of Patric Henry, "Give me liberty, or give me death."

The concept of Choice is really Freedom of Choice. The freedom to pursue happiness, the freedom to make decisions, the freedom, even, to make mistakes. No person or government should have the power to dictate another.

Don't mess with a good thing, Pro-Choice, works fine for me.

Posted by: Anne G | Jul 11, 2006 5:33:36 AM

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