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Call It Anti-Choice, Not Pro-Life

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April 14, 2015

From Flickr user William Murphy, "infomatique"

I’ve never understood why “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are considered to be opposites. More specifically, I’ve never understood why people are called pro-life when they would be more accurately referred to as anti-abortion or anti-choice.

Why? Because a lot of “pro-life” people aren’t even what I’d consider to be pro-life.

Breaking the label down, pro-life means that you’re in support of, well, life, just as pro-choice means you’re in support of the right to choose. Making “pro-life” the antithetical adjective to “pro-choice” makes it seem like the two are opposite. But I consider myself to be very much pro-choice and also very much in support of life.

By that, I mean that I support the right to live how you should choose to live. The right to a good life. The right to a healthy life. The right to food and a roof over your head. The right to make decisions for yourself.

I’ve found that typically, people who are anti-choice are also anti-things-that-give-people-a-good-quality-of-life. I don’t mean to generalize because I’m sure there are plenty of people who break this rule, but the most vocal anti-choice individuals I know do not support things like food stamps, universal healthcare, universal childcare, maternity/paternity leave, assistance to the homeless, access to contraception, etc.

These are things that actually improve quality of life. Some, like universal healthcare or food stamps, might even save lives. These are also things that would reduce the rate of abortion considering they might provide the means for a person to support a child they could not otherwise support.

So it’s hard for me to grasp why people who call themselves “pro-life” are not pro-things-that-actually-make-up-a-life.

Besides anti-abortion or anti-choice, another label might be pro-birth. It sometimes seem like the only thing that really matters to some individuals is that the fetus is born. They’ll fight tooth and nail for the right of that fetus to be born, but once it is, they’ll ignore its need for help to have a good life.

If we go a step further, people who don’t support legal, safe and easily accessible abortions can’t even be considered pro-life because of the danger of illegal and unsafe abortions. Surgical abortion is one of the safest medical procedures and death rates from abortion are now rare since Roe v. Wade passed.

Returning to a system of back-alley abortions would actually increase the risk of bodily harm and death, and that’s not pro-life at all. Additionally, many anti-choice individuals I’ve spoken to—again, this does not represent all of them—do not support things that would actually reduce the abortion rate, namely comprehensive sex education and access to low-cost or free birth control.

In addition, the term “pro-life” seems like such a positive term that these people sound like they’re in the right. You can’t argue with someone who believes in saving lives

It seems like such a trivial thing to point out, and I often feel nitpicky when I correct someone—“Hey, can you actually say ‘anti-choice’ instead of ‘pro-life’?” But as a Feminspire article, “Why The ‘Pro-Life’ Movement is Not Pro-Life,” says—“The fact that we’ve allowed this movement to label themselves something that is a complete lie is a victory for them. If you’re an activist for reproductive freedom, every time you use “pro-life” you’re hurting your cause.”

The words that we use are important. They give power and meaning to the causes that we fight for and if we allow people to incorrectly label themselves, to refer to themselves as something that they are not, we’re doing the reproductive justice movement a disservice.

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One Response to “Call It Anti-Choice, Not Pro-Life”

  1. Anna

    Hi Robyn. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in this article. I identify as pro-life, so I don’t agree with everything you are saying, but I do completely agree the names “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are less than optimal. I wanted to share two points you didn’t make note of in your article, “Call it Anti-Choice, Not Pro-Life”.

    First, “pro-life” is inaccurate, but no more so than “pro-choice” is inaccurate. I identify as pro-life, but I’m not pro-life about plants, mosquito or bacteria. Surely you are not pro-choice about men choosing to rape women, an individual choosing to bomb an abortion clinic, or choosing to abuse a child? Pro-choice about what, and pro-which lives are the questions that need to be asked.

    Second, you equate being pro-life with being “pro-things-that-actually-make-up-a-life”. Pro-lifers don’t make that equation. Certainly, we do support things that make up a life, such as feeding the hungry, but when we say we are pro-life, we mean that we believe the right to life of the unborn child is the dominant right in the abortion question. How we make this deduction varies from person to person, and how I arrived at this deduction is a whole separate story. I’d be happy to share in another email if you’re interested. Basically, what I’m getting at here, is that as a whole, pro-life people and pro-choice people both support the things that make up a life, we simply disagree on what those “things” are, again for our own individual reasons.

    Finally, I would like to respectfully object to your criticism that “They’ll fight tooth and nail for the right of that fetus to be born, but once it is, they’ll ignore its need for help to have a good life.” Certainly there are hypocrites, on both sides of this issue. But the vast majority of pro-life individuals and pro-life activists are very active in helping former fetuses have amazing lives. I would like to share the lives of a few friends of mine to demonstrate my point.

    Joleigh Little, the WI Teens for Life coordinator is a single mom to her adopted daughter Clara, and is in the process of adopting again. http://wrtl.org/contact-wisconsin-teens-for-life/

    National Guard Maj. Scott Southworth, a committed partner and speaker with WI Right to Life, is a single dad to his son, and is also in the process of adopting again. His amazing story was picked up by large news stations: http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/he-couldnt-leave-him-behind/

    Ryan Bomberger, conceived in rape, is a pro-life activist and adoptive parent, who’s mother of 13 has an incredible story, which is shown in this brief video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzcx9qFEjII

    I could go on indefinitely. I would add that I look forward to adopting in the future.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my message. I would be happy to talk more about this if you’d like, and feel free to email me your thoughts about what I said.