“Pro-Choice” Passé? Much more than that behind PPFA’s shift in language

By Dave Andrusko

Cecile Richards

Cecile Richards

Another face off between Old Guard versus Young Turks? Hard to say, but Planned Parenthood’s unexpected decision to suddenly toss “pro-choice” in the rhetorical dustbin raises a number of intriguing questions.

By way of background we’ve written about the clash between the Abortion Establishment and younger pro-abortion feminists on multiple occasions. I’ve mentioned in passing that the label de jour for the up-and-comers replacing “pro-choice” is “reproductive justice,” which is intended to corral a host of issues in one holding bin.

Lo and behold on Wednesday, Planned Parenthood—citing the results of focus groups—says its “newest messaging will be moving away from the language of choice,” according to Anna North at buzzfeed.com.

“Reproductive Justice,” perhaps? Nope. She explains

“Rather than selecting a new term to replace ‘pro-choice,’ Planned Parenthood hopes to move beyond such terms entirely and present abortion as something too complicated to be divided into two sides. A soon-to-be-released Planned Parenthood video takes this new approach, casting labels like pro-life and pro-choice as limiting and abortion as a complex and personal decision. ‘We just don’t know a woman’s specific situation,’ says the ad (not yet online). ‘We’re not in her shoes.’”

Wait a minute, isn’t PPFA part of the pro-abortion (“pro-choice”) consortium that claimed it carried President Obama over the finish line? That the public, more than ever, is on the side of “choice”? But if everything is hunky dory, why lob “pro-choice” overboard two months after gaining seats in the Senate and re-electing the most pro-abortion President in our history?

Probably because, for all the pro-abortion complaints about the latest TIME magazine cover story notwithstanding, they grasp that their wins in the Senate and for the presidency were a function not of a sudden embrace of the abortion cause but a reflection of endless amounts of money, a wholly-in-the-tank mainstream media, and hugely insensitive comments made by two pro-life senatorial candidates which fundamentally altered the trajectory of the 2012 elections.

Much of the attention paid to Kate Pickert’s “What Choice? Abortion-rights activists won an epic victory in Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing every since” dealt with the in-house battles in the pro-abortion community over its direction. But what was more important (and indirectly conceded by PPFA’s attempted facelift) is that they are losing the battle in the states.

Pickert enumerated many examples, including

· “There are fewer doctors willing to perform the procedure and fewer abortion clinics open for business.”

· “Pro-choice activists have been outflanked by their prolife counterparts, who have successfully lobbied for state-based regulations that limit access.”

· “Scores of states now require women to undergo counseling, waiting periods or ultrasounds prior to obtaining abortions.”

· “Minors across the country must often get permission from their parents if they want to terminate pregnancies.”

· “And pro-life state legislators are passing laws that require clinics to comply with arcane requirements—such as a hallway having to be more than five feet wide— that make it difficult for them to stay open.”

Most important of all, “Part of the reason is the public is siding more and more with their [pro-abortionists’] opponents,” North writes. “Although three-quarters of Americans believe abortion should be legal in some or all cases, most support state laws regulating the procedure and fewer and fewer are identifying themselves as ‘pro-choice’ in public opinion surveys.”

A much clearer and more honest explanation of almost all recent polling data is that a majority of Americans oppose the reasons that over 90% of all abortions are performed. Which is why PPFA is retreating from fuzziness—“pro-choice—to total obscurity.

What do I mean? Based on North’s story (spoon fed to her and selected journalists by PPFA), people are “conflicted” over abortion. Not exactly “hold the presses” news. Here’s the two-step argument. According to North in her lead paragraph

“’I’m neither pro-choice nor pro-life,’ said one woman in a focus group commissioned by Planned Parenthood. ‘I’m pro-whatever-the-situation is.’  Said another, ‘there should be three: pro-life, pro-choice and something in the middle that helps people understand circumstances […] It’s not just back or white, there’s grey.’ A recent research push by the organization found that large numbers of Americans feel this way — uncomfortable with both the pro-life and pro-choice labels. And so Planned Parenthood’s newest messaging will be moving away from the language of choice.”

But it’s worse than that: it’s all the baggage that is associated with the label “pro-choice.” Again, from North:

“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.’”

In this sense, PPFA is acknowledging one strain of argument from younger pro-abortion feminists: for goodness sake, stop calling us victims!

This is 2013, not 1013.

The interesting part will be how this plays out not just with other high-profile pro-abortion organizations such as NARAL Pro-Choice America but with younger feminists who are sick up and fed with the Old Guard.

Writing at Slate.com, Amanda Marcotte is less than happy. She concludes

“I can see why Planned Parenthood might want to shed the term in order to get these conflicted people to realize they are on Planned Parenthood’s side. But I’m afraid that the desire to go label-free is doomed to fail. I’m not going to start writing pieces where I describe pro-choice organizations as pro-whatever-the-situation-is organizations or help-people-understand-the-circumstances organizations. Labels are simply part of language, and shorthand rhetoric is part of the political debate. As long as abortion is a contested issue, there’s no opting out of that.

“The only real choice you have is to label yourself or let others do it for you, and of those two options, smart folks will pick the former every time. Pro-choice has its drawbacks, but at least it’s accurate.”

There is a reason pro-abortionists hate the fact that we’ve become more and more successful at convincing the media to describe us as what we are– pro-life. They complain, “Who isn’t ‘pro-life’?” and angrily add if we were REALLY pro-life we’d also be against [fill in the blank].

But that’s the genius of our Movement. We have not become the counterpart of the “reproductive justice” crowd with abortion being just one issue among many. And it is that narrow focus—and laser-like intensity–that brings together people who might not (and often do not) agree on anything else.

PPFA is a powerful foe. And along with NARAL Pro-Choice America, it is largely the face of the Abortion Establishment.

It will be immensely interesting to see whether the junior partners fall into line or go rogue.