When polling is done on the number of Americans who identify as “pro-life” versus “pro-choice,” I’m bothered by the phrasing of the question. After all, pro-life and anti-choice are not synonyms, and pro-life and anti-choice are not mutually exclusive. People often identify as both “pro-life,” but state they don’t think women should be stripped of the legal right to have an abortion, so then they admit secondarily to being “pro-choice.”
In an article for Slate magazine, Jessica Grose explains that, despite Gallup polling that shows 47% of Americans identify as “pro-life,” this isn’t quite the victory for their side that anti-choicers believe it to be. While the number of self-identified pro-lifers has gone up, according to Pew polling, fewer people believe abortion is morally wrong in all circumstances compared to 2005, and only 18% of people believe abortion should be illegal in all cases. According to a poll from CBS News/New York Times, 58% of respondents still consider Roe v. Wade to be a good thing.
One concern about the increasing attachment to the pro-life label voiced by Amanda Marcotte on RH Reality Check is that, even if the term doesn’t necessarily demonstrate opposition to abortion being legal, it does frame reproductive rights in people minds as something negative, “anti-life.” And then there’s the simple concern that, in using a vague term like “pro-life,” which apparently can mean many different things, including supporting abortion rights, discussion simply becomes unintelligible. “Pro-life” is more of a feel-good term than an actual statement of political beliefs.
We use “anti-choice” on this blog to be clear that the issue at stake is opposition to women’s choice to have an abortion, though it is also about women’s human rights and the right to control one’s own body, so pro- and anti-choice perhaps understate the issue. Anyway, in dealing with the topic going forward, unless pro-life carries a single real meaning, it should be removed from the discussion in favor of more accurate terms, including wordier phrases such as “opponent of legal abortion,” that put us all on the same page, and that, ahem, “anti-choicers” shouldn’t be able to criticize as a biased term that make them sound bad. Somehow, I don’t think they’re going to want to give up claiming the support of all “pro-lifers,” however.
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