Words Do Matter, Especially When You Are Smearing Pro-Lifers

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. My family is on vacation. While we are gone I’ll be running articles from the past 12 months that you’ve indicated you liked. Dave

You didn’t need a weatherman last week to figure out which way the wind was blowing at NPR (National Public Radio). Its Ombudsman, Alicia Shepard, announced that the network was revisiting “the terminology NPR uses to describe people who support or oppose abortion.” Under the headline, “In the Abortion Debate, Words Matter,” we were told, “Since 2005, it has been NPR’s policy to use the term pro-choice to identify anyone who advocates on behalf of abortion rights and pro-life for anyone who advocates in opposition to abortion.” Well, okay, fair enough. Abortion’s in the news a lot so….

As we shall see, there are ironies galore in the new policy announced today by David Sweeney, Managing editor. It reads,

“NPR News is revising the terms we use to describe people and groups involved in the abortion debate. This updated policy is aimed at ensuring the words we speak and write are as clear, consistent and neutral as possible. This is important given that written text is such an integral part of our work. On the air, we should use “abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)” and “abortion rights opponent(s)” or derivations thereof (for example: “advocates of abortion rights”). It is acceptable to use the phrase “anti-abortion”, but do not use the term “pro-abortion rights”.

Four quick thoughts. First, by NPR’s own account, the reader can only conclude that NPR seemed to have been the lone holdout. None of the other outlets Shepard queried (the usual suspects) employed NPR’s language.

Whoops, they forget to ask the Washington Times, as the Times’ Julie Duin wrote in a different discussion of NPR’s initial Ombudsman column. That paper also uses “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

Second, all the people Shepard quoted in her March 18 column criticizing the terminology seemed clearly to be pro-abortion (sorry, abortion rights supporters). Use of “Pro-life” gave pro-lifers (sorry abortion rights opponents) the high moral ground.

My favorite quote came from a linguistics professor who said, “These labels set up particular frames. It doesn’t seem like a good thing to be anti-choice. But it’s worse to be anti-life. So there’s an inequality in the frames when you say pro-life and pro-choice. Being the opposite of pro-choice is not as bad as being the opposite of pro-life.”

But what does it say about CBS News’s choice language for us: “Anti-abortion rights”? Its “frame” framed us as almost un-American–against “rights.”

Third, in her first column Shepard unabashedly lobbied for a change. “NPR should stick to more neutral terms — such as anti-abortion and abortion rights — rather than continue to use the loaded language embedded in pro-choice and pro-life,” she wrote.

But how is it “neutral” to give pro-abortionists the right to be in favor of “rights” while reducing us to nothing more than against them? Seems to me THAT is loaded.

Four, in all this talk about rights and rights-opponents there is an unspoken assumption: when a woman is in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, the outcome must be zero sum– one “wins,” one loses. We disagree.

We are not only against abortion but also eager to help pregnant women in troubled circumstances find a life-affirming answer. That preserves both her life and her baby’s life–a win-win solution. Which is why it is not only tiresomely polemic to reduce us to “abortion rights opponents,” but also inaccurate.

There is also another unspoken assumption–that a woman who aborts is “freed” of a “burden” and essentially goes on with her life, even if her baby doesn’t. But this simply is not true, as we have written about for decades.

There are (at least) two victims in every abortion.

Having said all this, there will be occasions when most of the media WILL tag us as “pro-life.” Really? Yes.

Anytime they want to smear us, or accuse of hypocrisy, or shoehorn us into some galactically broad “conspiracy.” Then, when the term fits their ideological needs, we will be labeled (as one announcer dismissively said last night) “PRO-life.”

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