They caved to the left on “woman” and “mother,” and now Democrats are prepared to abandon a time-honored triumph of political branding: the word “choice” as a euphemism for “abortion.”
Delivering the blow was no less an authority than the House Pro-Choice Caucus. In talking points posted last week by Politico, the caucus warned members that “choice” is now considered “harmful language” and should be replaced with “decision,” which is “helpful language.”
The switch is already underway. House Democrats chanted “my body, my decision” as they crossed over Wednesday to the Senate for the failed vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act. Activists’ traditional chant was “my body, my choice.”
The reboot prompted plenty of jokes on social media, given that “choice” is still part of the caucus’ name. It also raised serious questions about the political wisdom of revamping the messaging as the party seeks to whip up its base over the threat to Roe v. Wade.
“If this debate devolves into [the] policing of terms like ‘pro choice’ ‘pro life’ and ‘safe legal and rare’ — we will absolutely lose it,” tweeted Democratic strategist Lis Smith. “We cannot purify ourselves into oblivion on a majority issue like this but it seems like our side is doing everything to make that a reality.”
Matthew Yglesias, a senior fellow at the liberal-libertarian Niskanen Center, tweeted, “I’ve got to say that I find this logic puzzling on the merits and as a political strategy it’s just wildly unequal to the peril of the present moment.”
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The caucus also urged members to stop using “safe, legal and rare,” the phrase coined during the Clinton administration, in favor of “safe, legal and accessible,” and “unexpected pregnancy” instead of “unwanted pregnancy.”
Even so, Democrats stopped short of embracing what Planned Parenthood and other groups have sought for years, which is to just say “abortion.”
“It’s time to retire the terms ‘women’s health care’ and ‘a woman’s right to choose.’ Neither one is a reasonable substitute for the word ‘abortion,’” Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts said in a June 2021 post. “Why? First, they cover up the word ‘abortion’ through euphemism — a function of abortion stigma, which encourages people to believe that ‘abortion’ is a bad word and needs to be concealed.”
The group advised replacing “pro-choice” with terms such as “pro-abortion rights” and even “pro-abortion,” the very phrase that advocates sought 50 years ago to avoid by adopting “choice.”
Democrats are already ditching female-specific terms such as “woman,” “pregnant woman” and “mother” and inserting gender-neutral substitutes such as “parent” and “birthing people” in a much-mocked bow to the gender identity movement.
The risk is that substituting well-known terms for language that is “wholly foreign to the general public makes them appear out of touch,” Commentary Associate Editor Noah Rothman said in a Friday op-ed.
“The progressive left has been wildly successful at popularizing their preferred speech codes. And yet, they are simultaneously losing the policy debates those codes are designed to advance,” he said.
Getting rid of “choice” would also require significant rebranding, starting with the name of the Pro-Choice Caucus. Then there’s NARAL Pro-Choice America, which changed its title in 2003 from the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws.
The Washington Times has reached out to the Pro-Choice Caucus and NARAL Pro-Choice America for comment.
‘Say the word abortion’
Of course, language changes. Steering clear of the A-word “implies that abortion isn’t a good thing, that legal abortion is important but somehow bad, undesirable,” said the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts.
“That’s deeply stigmatizing, and contributes to the shame and silence around abortion, making people who’ve had abortions feel isolated and ashamed,” the group said in a June 2021 statement titled “Just Say Abortion.”
In January, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California launched its “Say Abortion” campaign, urging those who have had abortions or assisted others in procuring them to talk about their experiences.
“We encourage everyone to say the word ‘abortion’ when talking about the constitutional right currently on-the-line before the Supreme Court,” PPAC President Jodi Hicks said in a Jan. 22 statement. “We know that one of the best ways to fight stigma around abortion is to talk about it, to say the word abortion.”
Pro-life advocates have long accused the abortion rights movement of hiding behind the term “choice,” which they have countered with slogans such as “a child, not a choice.”
Kristi Stone Hamrick, Students for Life of America spokeswoman, said the pro-choice side has problems that rebranding won’t fix.
“They keep acting as though the issue is ‘messaging’ instead of the inhumane nature of their entire enterprise,” Ms. Hamrick said. “If your ‘health care’ kills people on purpose, you’re doing it wrong. And if your ‘decision’ is to build a billion-dollar business selling the deaths of children to women in a moment of crisis, your callous barbarism will not be camouflaged by a word change.”
Another problem with “choice” is that it suggests women seeking to terminate pregnancies always have that option, even though “if you don’t have access to an abortion, you don’t have a ‘choice,’” Samuel Lau, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said last week.
The Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts blamed “barriers that are often compounded by racist and classist policies.”
“Not everyone can get an abortion when they want one,” the group said in a February 2021 post. “Black feminists and feminists of color have pointed out that this isn’t the case: the legal right to choose to have an abortion does not always mean someone can actually get an abortion. ‘Choice’ ignores the lived realities of people, especially Black people and people of color.”
Black people represent 13% of the U.S. population, but Black women undergo a disproportionate share of abortions. About 38% of abortions reported in 2019 were obtained by Black women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pro-life groups have accused Planned Parenthood of targeting minority neighborhoods, but Planned Parenthood says its clinics provide health care in “medically underserved areas.”
Democrats pushed the abortion debate to the forefront in the past two weeks after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion indicated that a majority of the justices favored striking down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a constitutional right to abortion.
When it comes to “pro-choice,” however, old habits die hard. References to “choice” abounded at mass pro-Roe protests Saturday and surfaced at the House’s “Protect Roe” press conference Friday on the U.S. Capitol steps.
“Everybody in this country has to mobilize today, tomorrow, next week and in November to make sure we keep a pro-choice majority in the House, that we have a pro-choice majority in the Senate, and that we protect everybody’s right to health care,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, who co-chairs the House Pro-Choice Caucus.
Her campaign sent out a campaign fundraiser Saturday with the subject line “Our country needs pro-choice leaders like Diana.”