Abortion rights/ pro-choice, what's in a name?

Words matter. When the folks who seek to deny a woman’s right to control her own body co-opted that “pro-life” phrase, a disingenuous but highly successful sound bite was born. You support reproductive rights? You’re anti-life. Pro-death. It was a brilliant PR move, if not entirely accurate. “Pro-lifers” choose to ignore the millions of women who will suffer if abortion restrictions force them into unsafe, often life-threatening choices. You’re pro-choice? You want to save those lives.

Now, perhaps, a new clarification of terms by NPR Managing Director David Sweeney may nudge us toward more honest dialogue:

Last week, I wrote a post about how NPR identifies people who support or oppose abortion. It engendered a lively debate inside and outside NPR. Today, some top editors got together to review the 2005 policy and decided to no longer use “pro-choice” or “pro-life.”

Here’s the memo that was just distributed to all NPR staff:

“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”.

Digital News will continue to use the AP style book for online content, which mirrors the revised NPR policy.

Do not use “pro-life” and “pro-choice” in copy except when used in the name of a group. Of course, when the terms are used in an actuality they should remain.” [An actuality is a clip of tape of someone talking. So if a source uses those terms, NPR will not edit them out.]

It’s a small step in the right direction, and this space would like to offer three cheers to NPR. Thanks for acknowledging my right to be fiercely in support of women’s rights and reproductive rights — while I am also, equally, pro-life.

NPR Changes Abortion Language – NPR Ombudsman Blog : NPR.


  1. Women make many choices in their lives; when to have sex and with whom, when to marry and to whom…why shouldn’t the word “choice” be used to illustrate the obvious? When a woman finds out she is pregnant, she has a choice; continue the pregnancy or terminate it.

    By whittling it down to pro- or anti-abortion, NPR is minimizing the fact that this is just one in a series of choices women make about their lives, and their bodies, every day.

  2. I will call your attention, first, to Glenn Greenwald’s widely publicized previous confrontation with NPR ombudsman at at http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn … /06/22/npr last summer when NPR “decided” that the word “torture” would NOT be used to call “torture,” “torture,” specifically when the US did the torturing – (it can and will be used by NPR, however, when describing the same actions of “torture” enacted by those “other” countries). If you are unfamiliar with this incident, please inquire into this.

    The latest “language policing” sounds creepy to me and like more of the same: the Orwellian NPrivatizedpubicR “Ministry of Truth” deciding what “words” and “terms” will be banned and and which ones approved for use by the Fourth Estate.

    Don’t get me wrong, I position myself on the side of the Pro-Choice movement – which involves access to and knowledge about MANY available choices to women, access to a safe and legal abortion being one of them.

    Similarly, I am reminded of the deceptiveness of the Pro-Life movement that too often cares little about the life, after birth, and overlaps with a pro-war agenda.

    There are complexities we need to examine behind these movements and what they entail; I’m not sure how NPrivatizedpublicR’s further “word-policing” can help us to uncover those.

    Note: 1984/Brave New World

    1. I think what the author is trying to say is that the negativity behind the terminology referring to the abortion issue gets in the way of the central point of the abortion debate. People are being suckered into a “pro-life” movement because the words invoke passionate debates and feelings without getting the “pro-choice” side of it. Some people cannot get past the surface of the argument because, let’s face it, people just go with what sounds good sometimes, and you know it. It is unfair to imply that people who support abortion rights are anti-life, as the pro-life campaign suggests. Yes, word policing is not the best way to get around that, but what do you suggest?

  3. Thanks for correcting my spelling — I do hate bad spelling — and for your comments, David. I respect your convictions. My own are admittedly colored by my experiences in the days pre- Roe v Wade, and by having known women who died because they had no access to safe, legal abortion. So I’m not anxious to return to those days.

  4. Boy is Fran weak in logic. I’m embarrassed for her.

    1) Learn to spell “disingenuous” right.

    2) “When the folks who seek to deny a woman’s right to control her own body co-opted that “pro-life” phrase, a disingenuous but highly successful sound bite was born”

    Um, it is insulting to ASSUME that people who support a right to life don’t really support life but hold their position for other reasons.

    3) “Pro-lifers” choose to ignore the millions of women who will suffer if abortion restrictions force them into unsafe, often life-threatening choices.

    — Abortions are to kill unwanted children. To say they are to “often life-threatening choices” is disingenuous because as Kansas stats just released showed, in over 9,000 abortions in that state last year, not ONE was to save the life of a mother.

    The solution to unsafe killing of children isn’t to kill children safely but to stop killing children.

    4) You’re pro-choice? You want to save those lives.
    –No you oppose the right of life of children…how can that be saving live.

    I can’t believe somebody actually publishes this lady.

    1. If I remember correctly, a local radio station in my city was discussing how teenage girls were taking pills that were prescribed for farm animals to abort babies when they undoubtedly got pregnant because someone didn’t teach them how to use a condom or tried to moronically teach hormonal teenagers that sex is wrong. These pills were so strong that they made the girls extremely sick, endangering their lives. Now, what would you say to their parents? If those girls had had access to safe, legal abortions, they would not have taken those drugs and endangered their own lives. Teenagers will do stupid things, so don’t sit there and tell me that they deserve to ruin their lives over a stupid mistake. The courts will forgive children of murdering someone by giving them a lighter sentence, but heaven forbid they have sex!

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