It’s official. Planned Parenthood is saying farewell to the iconic label “pro-choice.” The decision came about not because of an idealogical change but because the controversial organization recognized a need for better PR tactics. The word choice just doesn’t hold the same psychological power as the word life. Pollsters have found that even people who are pro-abortion in their beliefs will describe themselves as pro-life, presumably because of the term’s attractiveness.1 When you defend something as sacred as life you immediately seize the moral high ground and so to say that one is pro-choice rather than pro-life goes against people’s instincts.
But as the pro-abortion Katie Roiphe points out, the term is also an oversimplification of the issue that has lost its former persuasive power. Planned Parenthood’s position has been that there is no destruction of life in the abortion procedure, that is a mere lifestyle choice that affects the woman receiving the abortion and her alone. But it is becoming more and more difficult to convince people of this.
But behind this question of words lies the more arduous question of concepts and philosophy. The idea that “life begins at birth” is also outdated, too easy. It is useful politically, but as many have pointed out, in the age of sonograms, of cloudy little hands and feet coming into focus at nine weeks, how many people actually believe it?
Our language betrays our desire. A cluster of cells that is wanted is a “baby,” and one that is unwanted is a “fetus.” One never hears excited parents-to-be referring to the “fetus”; the leap of imagination from fetus to baby is so ordinary, so automatic, so universal that we cannot pretend, even in the realm of political expediency, that it is not so. We can’t try to argue that some clusters of cells are not “life” if we are, say, busy calling our own cluster of cells a baby.2
Planned Parenthood’s claims that the unborn child is not alive are coming back to haunt them it seems. Naomi Wolf, feminist activist and author, wrote an article back in 1995 arguing that this is so. “Clinging to a rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death,” she said, “we entangle our beliefs in a series of self-delusions, fibs and evasions. And we risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life.”3
After all these years, Planned Parenthood is beginning to acknowledge that the fetus is indeed alive. I do not know how long it will be before this starts to trickle down into the beliefs of the pro-choice laity, but I am curious and excited to see what effects it will have upon them. Once the fetus has been acknowledged as a living being the only task left for the pro-life apologist is to convince his or her opponent that life has value.
The truth is a dangerous thing for Planned Parenthood to have to deal with and this policy change has great potential to harm rather than help it.
Further reading: “Our Bodies, Our Souls: Naomi Wolf Evaluates ‘Pro-Choice’ Strategy”
1. “Abortion.” Gallup. 2013. 28 Jan. 2013. <http://www.gallup.com/poll/1576/abortion.aspx>
2. Roiphe, Katie. “Good Riddance, ‘Pro-Choice.'” Slate. 2013. 28 Jan. 2013. <http://tinyurl.com/9wnulvp>
3. “Our Bodies, Our Souls: Naomi Wolf Evaluates ‘Pro-Choice’ Strategy.” Wolf, Naomi. Priests for Life. 1995. 28 Jan. 2013. <http://www.priestsforlife.org/prochoice/ourbodiesoursouls.htm>