“Not in Her Shoes”: Old wine in New wineskins

By Dave Andrusko

PPFA President Cecile Richards

PPFA President Cecile Richards

Over the past six months, of all the hundreds of stories we’ve written, the post that received the second most responses was our informed speculation why Planned Parenthood was backing off its long-time use of the term “pro-choice.” [“Pro-Choice” Passé? Much more than that behind PPFA’s shift in language.]

While we weren’t invited, we could tease out part of what’s going on by what was being reported  by the handpicked outlets who uncritically accepted PPFA’s for-the-record explanation; and by the unhappy critiques the rhetorical makeover elicited from others in the pro-abortion community.

The official line is that the public is unsatisfied with “pro-choice” and  “pro-life” because that formulation doesn’t get at the nuances. That is, people’s opinions depend [duh] on the circumstances.

Put another [and more candid] way, the public has always rejected abortion on demand—the legacy of Roe v. Wade—and consistently opposed the reasons for which almost all abortions are performed. So, in a backhanded way, PPFA is admitting what we’ve contended for four decades.

The other [to us] self-evident reason is that “choice” is, on many levels, not only content-free but insulting to younger feminists. Their older sisters embrace victimhood; they don’t. As Buzzfeed.com reported in its story

“Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said the word “choice” itself might be causing problems. “When ‘choice’ got assigned,” she explained, “women didn’t have as many choices” in any area of their lives. Now that women have more rights and freedoms, she said, maybe “‘choice’ as word sounds frivolous.”

Planned Parenthood believes that what we have long called the “mushy middle” of public opinion will come its way. How? Not by discussing or even thinking about abortion, but by rebranding the ideas that undergird the argument for “choice” and by recycling some of the old clichés.

PPFA will have a “conversation” in which it will figuratively put its arm around the viewer. Message? You don’t want to be “labeled”; abortion is too complicated for that. So what’s the alternative?

They actually circle back to favorite image that pro-abortionists have long loved: “Who decides?” Let’s take a moment to think about that formulation  which is so old it practically creaks!

At last week’s press conference when PPFA announced its linguistic overhaul, it promised a video. Sure enough, feministing.org has since written about PPFA’s “Not in Her Shoes” (you can watch at www.ppaction.org/site/PageServer?pagename=pp_ppol_notinhershoes#.UPbanh2Ytbw) and provides a transcript (at http://feministing.com/2013/01/15/new-planned-parenthood-campaign-not-in-her-shoes-seeks-to-go-beyond-pro-life-and-pro-choice-labels-video).

Naturally the “who decides” moniker no more engages the complexity of abortion than “pro-choice” does, even while pretending that this is exactly what it IS doing. In that sense it is diabolically clever.

The video folds the decision to abort into the larger narrative of (guess what?) choice: whether to opt for adoption, to abort, or to raise the child. When it comes to making this decision, “who decides,” the video asks. (Not “politicians,” that’s for sure.)

No, whichever the decision is, it “must be left to a woman, her family, and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor or health care provider.” How many gazillion times have we heard THAT?

Talk about back to the future!

Not to Feministing.org, however, which gushes that the video “utilizes this new ‘post-label’ strategy and better mimics ways in which the organization believes that Americans — especially young people — think and talk about abortion today.”

This is not only silly, it’s preposterous, another example of the malarkey that all too often comes out of focus groups.

“Not in Her Shoes” is neither innovative nor cutting edge. It is old wine in new wineskins.