Can the MSM call anyone “pro-life”?

When I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I wrote my master’s thesis on the struggle in mainstream newsrooms to improve coverage of religion. A short version of that turned into a 1983 cover essay for Quill.

On the 10th anniversary of that cover piece, I did a Quill update on the same topic — with an emphasis on what I believe are the four biases that most influence work on the Godbeat. That shorter essay opened with an anecdote about — GetReligion readers will not be surprised — the language that journalists use to describe competing camps in a major story. Here it is:

Deadline was three hours away and the Rocky Mountain News was bracing for a new wave of abortion protests. I raised a style question while working on a religion-angle story. Why is it, I asked an assistant city editor, that we call one camp “pro-choice,” its chosen label, while we call the other “anti-abortion,” a term it abhors?

The city editor began listening. We could, I said, try to use more neutral terms. I wasn’t fond of “anti-abortion.” It seemed to fit Jesse Helms and not Mother Teresa. But it was literal. On the other side, I suggested a phrase such as “pro-abortion rights.” This might be wordy, but would help avoid the editorial spin of “pro-choice.”

The assistant editor said “pro-choice” was accurate, because the real issue was choice, not abortion. In that case, I said, we should be even-handed and use “pro-life.”

The city editor stepped in. Minus a few descriptive words, here’s what he said: Look, the pro-choice people are pro-choice. The people who say they are pro-life aren’t really pro-life. They’re nothing but a bunch of hypocritical right-wing religious fanatics and we’ll call them whatever we want to call them.

I’ve been thinking about that issue ever since, especially when covering the work of people who are politically progressive, yet also opposed to abortion on demand. The basic question: Can the MSM call anyone “pro-life”? Do we need some term — other than “anti-abortion” — to describe people whose views are more complex than those of, let’s say, the Rev. Jerry Falwell?

You have probably guessed where I am going with this — the U.S. Supreme Court. Easily the most interesting story during the Week One coverage of John G. Roberts Jr. focused on a fascinating biographical detail about his wife, Jane. The Los Angeles Times had the scoop and reporter Richard A. Serrano set the tone.

The key: Jane Roberts held “antiabortion” views. And she appears to be a devout Catholic.

A Roman Catholic like her husband, Jane Roberts has been deeply involved in the antiabortion movement. She provides her name, money and professional advice to a small Washington organization — Feminists for Life of America — that offers counseling and educational programs. The group has filed legal briefs before the high court challenging the constitutionality of abortion.

A spouse’s views normally are not considered relevant in weighing someone’s job suitability. But abortion is likely to figure prominently in the Senate debate over John Roberts’ nomination. And with his position on the issue unclear, abortion rights supporters expressed concern Wednesday that his wife’s views might suggest he also embraced efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

The obvious question: What does it mean when a highly educated Catholic lawyer is part of a group called Feminists for Life?

What does this group stand for, other than its opposition to abortion on demand? The title implies that this group is not, let’s say, a kissing cousin of Focus on the Family.

The only hint in this groundbreaking story:

Feminists for Life has sponsored a national advertising campaign aimed at ending abortion in America. One of its mission statements proclaims: “Abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women. Women deserve better than abortion.”

Now think back to what my editor said in Denver. The people who call themselves pro-life are not really pro-life. They are the kinds of people who think human rights begin at conception and end at birth. They are pro-unborn child, but anti-woman.

So here is my question for my fellow MSM journalists. What happens if Jane Roberts (and even her husband) holds views that are not easily jammed into a perfect left-right split? What if she was and is some kind of pro-life moderate? Someone who was trying to heed all of the Catholic Church’s teachings? What if she was what some call “consistently pro-life”?

Reporters Lynette Clemetson and Robin Toner of The New York Times chased the original Los Angeles Times story and at least suggested that Jane Roberts might not be a right-wing robot.

Here is a section of that report, which once again included that interesting concept that American society has “failed to meet the needs of women”:

Mrs. Roberts, who declined to be interviewed for this article, was not recruited by Feminists for Life, but sought the group out about a decade ago and offered her services as a lawyer, said its president, Serrin Foster. The group was reorganizing at the time and beginning to focus its work on college campuses. Its mission statement, driven home in advertising in recent years, says: “Abortion is a reflection that our society has failed to meet the needs of women. Women deserve better than abortion.”

Mrs. Roberts served on the board of the organization for four years, and later provided legal services. Ms. Foster said that as an adoptive parent, Mrs. Roberts made contributions that included urging the group to focus more on the needs of biological mothers, and adding a biological mother to the board of directors.

Ms. Foster said Feminists for Life was committed not only to ending abortion, but also to making it “unthinkable” by providing every woman with the assistance she needs. Reversing Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that recognized a constitutional right to abortion, is a goal, she said, “but not enough.”

Read that again — “but not enough.” That might be an interesting concept for further coverage and, might I add, some questions from courageous Democrats. If they ask those questions, people on both sides of the issue will be nervous. That will be good. There is a ghost in there. Trust me.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.newpantagruel.com Dan Knauss

    A “moderate” is hardly a meaninful term or an escape from the left-right paradigm. The Catholic church is anti-abortion. “Consistently pro-life” is anti-abortion. Only a certain kind of waffly “moderate” (i.e. half liberalized) evangelical seems to be upset by that nomenclature because the goal of such people seems to be to be accepted and esteemed by the likes of the “MSM,” which means accepting its general ways of labelling things.

    Let them call us radicals, dominionists, fundamentalists. THey’ve been doing so all along. The only names that matter in the politial arena are “winner” and “loser.”

  • Beacon

    “Read that again — “but not enough.” That might be an interesting concept for further coverage and, might I add, some questions from courageous Democrats. If they ask those questions, people on both sides of the issue will be nervous.”

    Why should opponents of abortion be ‘nervous’ about this? Do you think they will not advocate public money for the care of children of single mothers or for help with adoption?

  • http://idlemendacity.blogspot.com JB

    I think abortion is the number one issue that there is definitely a liberal bias on. I remember Jeff Greenfield was filling in on WABC radio here in NYC a few years ago and he said that it was on hot button social issues like abortion, gay marriage, social security that the media biases are really felt. More and more for instance I’m seeing the phrase “anti-choice” find its way from the op-ed pages to the a paper’s editorial column. How long before that phrase (which is clearly slanted and derogatory) becomes regular media parlance. Meanwhile the term “pro-abortion” seems out of line because we are told over and over again that NO ONE is pro-abortion (despite it being a multi-billion dollar world-wide industry and everything).

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    The people who call themselves “pro-choice” do not support school choice, or choice in any other context. They certainly do not support our choice of whether we want money to be taken from our pockets to pay for abortions. (And I repeatedly wonder how many of them are those who in the 60s plastered NY streets with “Don’t Pay Taxes For An Immoral War!”

  • Harris

    One piece of significant evidence was left off in the NYT citation, viz. that Ms. Roberts coming on board was at the time Feminists for Life was transitioning from the litigation strategy cited by the LAT. (IIRC, the sentence is one or two before your quote begins).

    I think too, that the profile suggests a more complex relationship: Mrs. Roberts was in the first class of women at Holy Cross; she took an advanced degree in mathematics. There is also a feminism at play here, too, that suggests she is no idealogue on the abortion front.

    And fwiw: “consistently pro-life” is a broader, richer term than mere “anti-abortion.” Like choice it is an affirmative term and may include some fuzziness at the edges (as Will indicates, some ‘anti-abortion’ supporters also embrace a choice).

  • Stephen A.

    JB mentioned the line some pro-abortion people are using, “I don’t know anyone who is for abortion” and that howler was used by our friend Howard Dean recently.

    Of course it wasn’t challenged isn’t he media, just as the idea that everyone in the GOP is white wasn’t really contested, and only the angry reaction of the GOP was covered (for a day or so.) This, despite the fact that the last GOP convention featured ‘pro-choice’ speakers and had people of a wide variety of colors, races and religious beliefs in the audience and on the platform.

    All this was ridiculed by the press at the time, since in their view, it couldn’t POSSIBLY be the case that the GOP really is a Big Tent.

    The bottom line is that one side of the abortion debate (like in every other debate) is ridiculed as that city editor did ‘back in the day’ while the other side seems to get its own self-ID and its message gets out without a critical filter.

  • http://republicofheaven.blogspot.com Mrs. Coulter

    Good lord. As if there wasn’t a significant bias to the term “pro-life”. The problem isn’t that some so-called pro-lifers lose interest in the health and welfare of the fetus as soon as it exits the mother’s vagina. It’s the implication that people who thing that women should have control over their bodies are “anti-life”. I’m in favor of life and living; I just think that I should have control over my own reproductive organs, which are part of *my* body.

    The truth is that on the issue of abortion, people who are against it are “anti-abortion” or “anti-choice” (the opinions of whether anti-choice or pro-choice people are for or against choice elsewhere in the universe is irrelevant, since the issue at hand is abortion; otherwise, “pro-life” *is* subject to the criticism that many anti-abortion folks are pro-death penalty and against free prenatal care for the women carrying those unborn children whose lives they are so concerned about). I suppose it doesn’t poll as well as “pro-life” since it just puts the facts right out there.

    If you think abortion is a bad moral choice, I fully support your choice not to have one.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com Dr.Dawg

    “Pro-life” – implies that opponents are “anti-life,” which is fatuous.

    “Pro-abortion” – suggests that those on the other side are in favour of abortion per se. If so, why are they actively promoting contraception? And why do they support choice when the woman wants to keep the pregnancy and is under pressure to terminate it?

    “Pro-choice” – it’s succinct, but it needs to be more specific: “pro-choice on abortion.”

    Try this exercise on a couple of other issues. Capital punishment: are supporters of that penalty “pro-death?” Divorce: are those who favour relaxed divorce laws “pro-divorce?”

    I would prefer “pro-choice on abortion” and “anti-choice on abortion,” but for the life of me I don’t understand the objection to “anti-abortion.” Aren’t you?

  • http://idlemendacity.blogspot.com JB

    Dr. Dawg, how would you fit someone like the late Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul in your categories? Certainly they were more than “anti-abortion”, Mother T. cared for all the babies that were given to her and found them homes (so she couldn’t be said to only care about a child while’s its a fetus – an argument some pro-choicers use) while Pope John Paul was perhaps the world’s most outspoken critic of both the death penalty and euthanasia in addition to abortion. Could you just qualify people like that to whom ALL LIFE is worth saving with the line “anti-choice on abortion”? I don’t think so and those that do are being intellectually dishonest. There are some people for whom abortion is just part of a bigger culture of death.

  • http://www.newpantagruel.com Dan Knauss

    Mrs. Coulter wrote: “It’s the implication that people who thing that women should have control over their bodies are “anti-life”. I’m in favor of life and living; I just think that I should have control over my own reproductive organs, which are part of *my* body.”

    How is this any different than any number of other libertarian positions, such as on the right to buy and own any kind of gun? Or the right to put any kind of drugs I want in my body? Yes, the clear implication of a consistently “pro-life” position is that “choices” likes these are not pro-life. “Freedom of choice” comes ahead of individual and social welfare–except for liberal eugnicist types and others who think it helps society for “unwanted” life to be ended. (If pro-lifers are not all consistently pro-life or pro-life in the same way is another issue.) This is not a bias but an argued standpoint that cannot be denied in favor of the “pro-choice” standpoint in the media without creating an entrenched bias backed by particular powers and interests that consistently deny what they are doing.

    It’s more important on this isue what is done rather than what is said by the pro-choice contingent.

    I can’t remember if this was posted here or somewhere else:
    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/232776_focus17.html
    “The abortion debate that wasn’t: Under the radar, pregnancies increasingly are being terminated when fetuses are prenatally diagnosed with disabilities”

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    As I linked several posts back, the Wash. Post covered this same story the day after, from a very different direction. This article which was more focused on a personal profile and didn’t discuss FFL very much, but towards the very end there was a discussion of the issues of the Roberts’ personal childbearing issues– surely of greater interest to those look for hypocrisy.

  • http://www.xanga.com/FzxGkJssFrk Matthew M.

    There is a more fundamental problem with Mrs. Coulter’s position. No one denies that one should have control over one’s body. But the fetus is clearly *not* a reproductive organ, even though it is housed within its mother’s reproductive organs temporarily. The scientific fact is that the fetus is genetically distinct from the mother from conception. So, from a scientific standpoint, the so-called “get your laws off my body” argument, recycled here by Mrs. Coulter, is specious. The anti-abortion-rights rejoinder might read something like “get your scalpels off that unborn person’s body”.

    The overreach implied in “anti-life” does not differ much from the overreach in the presently used term “pro-choice”, and I think I would favor the terms pro- or anti-abortion-rights as proposed by tmatt. The reason the “pro-” vs. “anti-” language argument is important is not that anti-abortion-rights folks care what the MSM think of them; it is that the MSM consistently use positive prefixes for their positions, in order to paint the other side as negative and reactionary. It is no accident that the MSM uses the term “gun control” instead of “gun rights”; instead of being “anti-gun-rights”, people are said to be “pro-gun-control”. Imagine for a moment that we exchanged the current usage for “pro-abortion-control” and “anti-abortion-control”.

  • djr

    Great point, Matthew M. I’d actually reverse the terminology completely. I’m against abortion because I’m pro-choice: I believe that the baby should be allowed to live until he or she can make the choice of whether to live or not, because no one is allowed to make that choice for anyone else.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com Dr.Dawg

    “There are some people for whom abortion is just part of a bigger culture of death.”

    And there are some people for whom abortion is one issue of many with respect to fertility, autonomy and rights.

    So?

    On the abortion issue, which is supposedly the one under discussion, do we have to trot out our entire world-views? Why don’t we proceed topic by topic?

    No one is suggesting that “pro-choice on abortion” extends to everything besides abortion. Nor do I suggest that anti-abortion describes anything more than a position on abortion. Of course the Pope is more than simply anti-abortion. And there’s a lot more to my own Weltanschauung than supporting a woman’s right to choose.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    The best style rule IMHO is “pro-life” and “pro-choice” for one very simple reason — that’s each group’s prefrred moniker and self-description. Any attempt on the part of a jourmalism outlet to “accurately” describe the issue inevitably “frames” the matter, to the disapproval of one or both sides, and results in the sort of intellectual flatulence produced “back in tmatt’s day” and by Mrs. Coulter now.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com Dr.Dawg

    “The best style rule IMHO is “pro-life” and “pro-choice” for one very simple reason — that’s each group’s preferred moniker and self-description.”

    Sorry, that won’t do. “Pro-life,” from that term’s very inception, contains an implicit and very wrong description of its opposition. If you are “pro-life” and I happen to disagree with you, then I must be “pro-death” or “anti-life,” right?

    It’s the same nonsense as “pro-family.” What, because I support families other than the traditional one, I’m “anti-family?”

    This stuff is just code. Here’s a reductio: I form a group that opposes Blacks moving into the neighbourhood. I call my group, of course, “pro-neighbourhood.” See where that leads?

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com Dr.Dawg

    Whoops: just read the rules of posting. I’m a little new, but, for the record, “Dr.Dawg” is the nom-de-plume of John B. Fair enough, eds.?

  • BillyHW

    If a group of people started lobbying to legalize the dismemberment of 3-year olds, would we call them “pro-choice”?

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com Dr.Dawg

    “If a group of people started lobbying to legalize the dismemberment of 3-year olds, would we call them “pro-choice”?”

    Nope. Same problem: too generic. “Pro-choice on dismembering three-year-olds” would be more precise. We are discussing linguistic issues here, aren’t we?

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    Sorry, that won’t do. “Pro-life,” from that term’s very inception, contains an implicit and very wrong description of its opposition.

    Only in the sense that the “opposition” you mention gets to define its own self-description. (A power you are not granting to the other side, of course.) In which case, of course, yes, but the double standard stinks to high heaven. Why should Side X gets its map of self-promotion declared dispositive for the purpose of defining Side Y?

    Further, as long as the opposing terms “anti-life” or “pro-death” are not being used, the use of “pro-life” is not an general accession to the pro-life side’s map of self-promotion. As long as both sides get the same right (i.e., my defining the best rule as specifically yoked to the use of the two terms) this is nothing more than applying a neutral rule of self-description.

    Only if the pro-choice side is determined a priori to be objectively correct (by some “natural law” theory no doubt) do you have an argument here. Your view is common among ideologues who cannot see past their own worldview — the “you have a bias; I merely tell the truth” school of epistemology.

  • Fred

    “Pro-life” and “Pro-choice” are window dressing, positive spins. The debate has come down to emotional battering, merely advertising. Pro-lifers are the latecomers but excellent students of the Pro-choicers political and media models. However I believe that “Pro-choice” is becoming an unfortunate term, smacking of selfishness, especially as a foil to the increasingly conservative mindset of a nation seeing itself willing to sacrifice in the face of increasing world callousness and brutality. Pro-choicers are going to have quite an image problem. If they could project themselves as charitable instead of self-protective they would have an easier time.
    Pro-choicers have become repetitive and predictable, Pro-lifers more creative and savvy.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    [QUOTE]Further, as long as the opposing terms “anti-life” or “pro-death” are not being used, the use of “pro-life” is not an general accession to the pro-life side’s map of self-promotion. As long as both sides get the same right (i.e., my defining the best rule as specifically yoked to the use of the two terms) this is nothing more than applying a neutral rule of self-description.[/QUOTE]

    It’s disingenuous. Frankly, I would describe myself as “pro-life.” And “pro-choice,” too. Who on earth isn’t “pro-life?” The appropriation of this term as code for “anti-abortion” is simply dishonest. It’s defining a territory that in fact most of us live in, and restricting it only to those who oppose abortion.

    You might make the same argument about “pro-choice’ if we were running around claiming that we believed that everything should be subject to choice–but of course, we don’t. It’s not mis-appropriation, it’s shorthand. We’re “pro-choice on abortion.”

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Part of the difficulty in the labels is that, if “pro-abortion” isn’t acceptable, one is left with labels that talk past each other. The labels don’t mean anything outside of the context of abortion; they represent different rationales for the two positions, but they don’t actually name them as being in opposition to each other. When it comes down to it, one side is for forbidding abortion, the other for permitting it; ideal labels should reflect this.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “When it comes down to it, one side is for forbidding abortion, the other for permitting it; ideal labels should reflect this.”

    Bravo! I agree completely. I used to object strenuously to the label “pro-abortion” that we got stuck with, courtesy of the media, for reasons I’ve already explained here. “Pro-choice,” in context, focussed upon a woman’s right to choose–for or against having an abortion. It’s a lot more accurate, again within context.

    What I still don’t get is the objection to “anti-abortion” to describe the other side. They are, aren’t they? Doesn’t it describe their position on the issue? But if they don’t like the directness of that, what about “anti-choice?” :)

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    the label “pro-abortion” that we got stuck with, courtesy of the media, for reasons I’ve already explained here.

    Why bother with this discussion? Nobody who follows MSM coverage could possibly think the term “pro-abortion” has any currency or usage whatsoever. Nobody. Possibly. If you’ve gottn “stuck with” the label, it’s not because of anything the media did.

    Dude, I’m calling you on this. Where, precisely (and yes, I want cites) in nonpartisan, nonopinion journalism outlets (thus excluding Ms., National Review, Crossfire, editorial pages — places that declare and designate themselves as “opinion”) is the term “pro-abortion” ever used. This is “the sky is orange” wrong.

    And yes, I for one would quite willingly accept the label “anti-abortion” if the other side would “pro-abortion.” But they insist that their issue framing is objectively correct, scuttling that “choice” of paired descriptors.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    Who on earth isn’t “pro-life?”

    Who on earth isn’t pro-choice?

    The appropriation of this term as code for “anti-abortion” is simply dishonest.

    Only if the pro-choice argument is true.

    You might make the same argument about “pro-choice’ if we were running around claiming that we believed that everything should be subject to choice

    By citing in the public sphere the argument that “choice” is a value decoupled from any consideration of the objective act (“who decides, you or them”; “who are you to impose your morality”; “keep your rosaries off my ovaries”; the pathetic efforts to label the other side as “anti-choice”; saying “I have a right to choose” when that infinitive never ever never ever has a grammatical object), then, yes, that is exactly what you’re arguing.

    The fact you’re not, as a phenomenal matter, pro-choice on everything is an inconsistency of yours. It says nothing about the actual arguments being made. One might call it “hiding the misappropriation by declaring that it’s mere shorthand.

    We’re “pro-choice on abortion.”

    Yes, but only those who are pro-choice on abortion ever get called “pro-choice” simply, which implies that there’s some other thought process going on. Those who are pro-choice on gun ownership never get called that, either simply, or with the “on guns” elaboration.

    Further, as a simply matter of daily journalism, no phrase as clunky as “pro-choice on abortion” will ever be accepted. It’s extra words.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “Dude, I’m calling you on this. Where, precisely (and yes, I want cites) in nonpartisan, nonopinion journalism outlets (thus excluding Ms., National Review, Crossfire, editorial pages — places that declare and designate themselves as “opinion”) is the term “pro-abortion” ever used.”

    It was common currency in Canadian media during the seventies. Yours truly played a role in getting the word replaced with the more accurate “pro-choice.”

    Citations? I’d have to go pretty far back with the mainstream media. Certainly in the seventies us organized pro-choice folk spent a lot of time phoning media outlets and complaining about the term, and, maybe to some degree because of this, the practice has all but stopped.

    I’m not arguing that the term is in current use much in those outlets, so I’m not sure what I’m responding to here–but it is very much in evidence in the “pro-life” camp:

    http://www.rtl.org/html/rlm_news/AprilMay2001/presmessage.html

    As for “anti-abortion,” that’s accurate, no? I mean, you’re against abortion. Right? But the pro-choice folk don’t promote abortion as some kind of social good–in fact, we tend to talk about contraception a lot, and we would defend a woman’s right to choose carrying a pregnancy to term if that is her choice. So “pro-abortion: doesn’t express what we believe–it’s just an epithet, confined now, thank goodness, to screechy partisans of the other side.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “The fact you’re not, as a phenomenal matter, pro-choice on everything is an inconsistency of yours. It says nothing about the actual arguments being made. One might call it “hiding the misappropriation by declaring that it’s mere shorthand.”

    This is hard to follow. No one is “pro-choice” on everything, but there’s no logical inconsistency there. I’m pro-choice on food options at a restaurant, but “anti-choice” on running an expressway through my local park. I’m only inconsistent if I reduce my entire philosophy to simple choice. I assure you that I don’t.

    “We’re “pro-choice on abortion.”
    Yes, but only those who are pro-choice on abortion ever get called “pro-choice” simply, which implies that there’s some other thought process going on. Those who are pro-choice on gun ownership never get called that, either simply, or with the “on guns” elaboration.”

    Bad analogy. “Choice on gun ownership” is misleading, for example, as a characterization of the NRA position. They don’t run around defending the right of people not to own guns, or suggest ways of preventing the need for guns.

    “Further, as a simply matter of daily journalism, no phrase as clunky as “pro-choice on abortion” will ever be accepted. It’s extra words.”

    On that, I agree. “Pro-choice” will have to do, with an emphasis on context implied.

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    …. which is where we came in on this self-naming. “Pro-choice” isn’t about choice; it’s about a particular choice– or rather, it’s about the right to exercise that choice. “Pro-life” isn’t so much about life as it is about the unborn’s right to life trumping the exercise of that choice to abort it.

    I wonder myself how the media got sucked away from the more accurate terminology of talking about abortion rights (affirming or denying them) and into the current terms. And I wonder what coverage would look like if the media abjured the use of these shorthand labels and actually had to talk specifically about what the two sides are saying and how their views actually conflict.

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  • http://republicofheaven.blogspot.com Mrs. Coulter

    The fetus parasitically makes use of my reproductive organs while it is housed in them. I feel that I should be able to choose whether to house the parasite (for those of you who are wondering, yes I have chosen to host a fetal parasite and am very pleased with the results). Furthermore, carrying pregnancy to term does still have health risks (even in the modern age) and can make significant, permanent changes to your body (and I’m not talking about stretch marks).

    In any case, this debate is not about the morality or immorality of abortion (I must apologize for taking it that route, but it’s hard to talk about the framing without doing so). I am actually perfectly happy to allow pro-lifers to call themselves “pro-life”, since, as Victor points out, that is there chosen moniker, as long as they are willing to accept that I call myself pro-choice. But any term you choose on a politically hot-button issue is going to have an editorial spin to it, and it is just as disingenuous to complain that pro-choice is editorializing while pro-life is the “accurate” term, as is the reverse that was being originally complained about. We could also be talking about who wants to criminalize abortion or who wants to preserve legal access to abortion with equal accuracy, but there is still spin involved.

    Frankly, the whole notion that “pro-life” is inaccurate because pro-lifers aren’t interested in babies, just fetuses, is also just a bad argument. The point isn’t about who cares more about babies; its about individual autonomy and a judgment about the weighing the comparative rights accorded to the vessel vs. the rights accorded to the contents.

    In the case of Jane Roberts, it is certainly admirable that she has been active in an organization that seeks to make it easier for women to choose not to have an abortion. I suppose I find it a little weird that their campus outreach is all focused on people who are glad they weren’t aborted (I’m glad I wasn’t aborted either, but if I had been I wouldn’t be here to worry about it, would I?), rather than on the mission to improve women’s economic and social position. It certainly seems that the “end legal access to abortion” aspect (which is what overturning RvW would do) is much more front and center; it would seem to me to be accurate to describe them as a group that is both anti-abortion and favors improved access to health for women, etc. That may not fit neatly into left-right caricatures, but very little in life fits neatly into anything. But it also seems pretty clear that the primary mission of the group is ending legal access to abortion, and that the rest of it is just means to that end.

    And one more question about “anti-abortion”: perhaps this is unfair, but I noticed in the recent press coverage that clinic bomber Eric Rudolph was referred to as “anti-abortion”. Would it be more accurate to call him “pro-life”? I certainly wouldn’t think so. Although I’ve seen quite a few wacky theories about how he was really a pot-addict (the idea of a heavy pot user having the motivation, desire, and coordination to bomb anything is really quite laughable), an anti-government type, or just mad at the pharmaceutical industry, he framed *himself* as an activist fighting to end access to abortion.

  • mark

    It is my understanding that N.O.W. has no problem with China’s one child policy (forced abortion). If that’s the case, can they really be called Pro-choice?

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    The best thing about this thread so far is that it has pretty much avoided the abortion debate per se, a debate that is virtually fossilized, and concentrated on what are serious issues of language instead.

    I had to admit that I chuckled a little when I read this:

    “I noticed in the recent press coverage that clinic bomber Eric Rudolph was referred to as ‘anti-abortion’. Would it be more accurate to call him “pro-life”?” Excellent point.

  • http://www.xanga.com/FzxGkJssFrk Matthew M.

    http://science.education.nih.gov/supplements/nih1/diseases/other/glossary/act1-gloss4.htm

    See the above for the NIH definition of a parasite. And don’t be fooled; it is important to note that “The relationship benefits the parasite and harms the host.” And, BTW, Mrs. Coulter, you have just unwittingly given the game away, by admitting that abortion is the killing of a unique living being (parasite or not) – in this case a human being. That’s murder, period.

    In addition, apart from cases of rape and incest (which deserve separate consideration), there are *many* other ways to choose not to “house a parasite” (and I hope your child knows you thought of him/her that way). Among these are Not Having Sex(!), or subscribing to the many nonviolent methods of birth control available.

  • http://catholiclight.stblogs.org RC

    “Pro-choice”, when it’s not qualified, is a dodge: after all, we’re talking about abortions. Most advocates of legalized abortion are not consistent Libertarians who would legalize the sale of all sorts of things: unapproved meds, illegal drugs, kiddie pr0n, and probably even freon.

    I live in Boston; I’m pro-choice on traffic lights.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “It is my understanding that N.O.W. has no problem with China’s one child policy (forced abortion). If that’s the case, can they really be called Pro-choice?”

    Do you have a reference for that? I would be surprised if NOW supports forced abortion. In fact, very surprised indeed.

  • Stephen A.

    Gettting back to the labels themselves, and not the issue –

    I decided to look in the Reporter’s Holy Book, by which of course I mean the AP Stylebook, to see what those gods of style have to say.

    The entry for abortion reads: “Use *anti-abortion* instead of pro-life and *abortion rights* instead of *pro-abortion* or *pro-choice*.”

    I guess only one side gets to choose their name. Not fair. Not balanced.

    Maybe that’s a fluke, so I looked up another hot issue, and they were inconsistent here:

    “Gay”: Acceptable as popular synonym for both male and female homosexuals” although it also says, “Avoid references to gay, homosexual or alternative ‘lifestyles.’” (Because that would be BIASED after all, right?)

    One more: “Mormon Church: Acceptable in all references for *Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Well, wrong again. The lds.org site says “it is not an authorized title, and the Church discourages its use.”

    Alas, there are numerous other errors in the AP Bible. It is not infallible.

    So, what have we learned? That a better rule of thumb would be that each group should get to choose its own titles and descriptors. That works better than the AP Styleguide or whatever guide the LA Times is using these days.

  • http://pewlady.blogspot.com/ Kelly Clark

    I’ve learned that “Mrs. Coulter” might consider a penis part of *her* body. Quote:

    I’m in favor of life and living; I just think that I should have control over my own reproductive organs, which are part of *my* body.

    I’ve also learned that similarly to RC’s stance (I’m in Boston, too) that I’m pro-choice on cross-walks.

  • Louis E.

    Hmmm…I am pro-abortion-rights,I don’t have a problem with calling that “pro-choice”,or “pro-abortion-rights”.I don’t think “pro-life” is a good way of describing anti-abortionism;there are other life-or-death issues that people need not all be in lockstep on.(I am totally opposed to capital punishment and to euthanasia/assisted suicide).There is certainly nothing fun or pretty about abortion,but I believe that frustrating a woman’s decision whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term is the moral equivalent of rape and I don’t want a government doing it.I do NOT believe that the combination of a live human sperm and a live human egg into a live human zygote should be treated as creating a person with distinct rights;until birth the possession of rights by the embryo is an assault on the rights of the woman.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    John B. wrote:

    [The term pro-abortion] was common currency in Canadian media during the seventies. Yours truly played a role in getting the word replaced with the more accurate “pro-choice.”

    Does one laugh or cry?

    You cite a custom from 30 years ago that you acknowledge is no longer the case and even brag about your own role in bringing about this latter state of affairs.

    Then, in response to a request for the term “pro-abortion” that explicitly excluded partisan outlets and specified only outlets that claim “objectivity” in the journalistic sense, you cited … is a right-to-life group’s newsletter.

    so I’m not sure what I’m responding to here

    Um … the rebuttal to the statement in your 249pm post that …”the label ‘pro-abortion’ that we got stuck with, courtesy of the media” (which is a pile of hooey).

    But the pro-choice folk don’t promote abortion as some kind of social good-in fact, we tend to talk about contraception a lot and we would defend a woman’s right to choose carrying a pregnancy to term if that is her choice.

    Straw men that I can’t rebut without going into the particulars of the abortion debate proper, which we’re trying to avoid. Suffice to refer back to my statement that this is simply the pro-choice movement’s map of self-promotion not “sky is blue” objective reality.

    I’m only inconsistent if I reduce my entire philosophy to simple choice. I assure you that I don’t.

    No, you are consistent if you reduce your entire philosophy to simple choice (which of course, you don’t, but that’s my point … “pro-choice” is a stupid and infantile argument for anybody but an anarchist). The pro-choice movement constantly argues from that “Choice is God” template and in general refuses to provide a free-standing moral defense of the action chosen, saying it’s beside the point (example slogans already provided and unrebutted).

    As for “anti-abortion,” that’s accurate, no? I mean, you’re against abortion. Right? … So “pro-abortion” doesn’t express what we believe

    Right on the first part, but it is a double standard that you’re not seeing to define Group X by what they’re “anti” and Group Y by what they’re “pro.” Or to define Group X by a stance on the substance of the issue (abortion), while defining Group Y by the value in the name of which they take the stance they do (choice). Or to accept Group Y’s map of self-promotion and issue-framings, but not Group X’s.

    Bad analogy. “Choice on gun ownership” is misleading, for example, as a characterization of the NRA position. They don’t run around defending the right of people not to own guns

    Huh? I can think of one case in 30 years where a town made firearm ownership mandatory (and I actually don’t know what stance the NRA took). But the live political debate in both cases is on whether and to what extent the state can limit a right or freedom in the name of some other good (at least the phrase, “keep and bear arms,” unlike “privacy” is actually IN the US Constitution). Even some of the marginal debates on abortion and guns are EXACTLY the same — waiting periods, safety-based and licensing regulations that the pro-choice side claims are really efforts to curtail abortion/guns as such.

    or suggest ways of preventing the need for guns.

    Dude, do you actually anything about the NRA beyond your PC stereotypes? They lobby for tougher sentencing laws, more police all the frickin’ time, and it even actually started as an ownership club providing things like firearm-use lessons and safety training.

  • http://grannytiger.blogspot.com Mona

    Nice bit of insight into the AP stylebook, Stephen. I had wondered why the “anti” label seemed to be replacing “pro-life” everywhere in the MSM lately.

    As one who came of age as Roe v. Wade was becoming the law of the land, and watched all the labeling begin, I can tell you that abortion rights activists designed their label first — staking claim to the positive “pro” and welded it to the equally positive “choice” (if memory serves, the fledgling Ms. Magazine had much to do with quickly getting it into popular usage).

    Masterful PR move, that. The other side could then be described as anti-everything: anti-women, anti-choice, anti-equality, anti-you-name-it. Negatives don’t usually go over well with the public. Hence, with the opposition already on the defensive, “pro-life” came into usage.
    I agree it’s not exactly perfect, but a pro is better than an anti any day.

    If the MSM is now prodding pro-life groups back into the “anti” corner, it’s up to them to keep their preferred term front and center in their own press releases and such, and keep insisting that they be called by it.

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    re the AP stylebook:

    Actually, I think their guidance in all three cases is sound. “Lifestyle” is a vague word anyway and while one wants to respect the C of JC of LDS’s wishes, the remainder of their guidance is impossible to live with, especially when they say

    When a shortened reference is needed, the terms “the Church” or “the Church of Jesus Christ” are encouraged.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    In the specific case of “Mormon,” there are some regional usage variations, primarily based on expected local familiarity.

    For example (and this isn’t the AP Stylebook, but the general point is made), I saw on CSPAN a 1994 Senate-race debate between Orrin Hatch and Democrat sacrificial lamb Patrick Shea. Both candidates and all three panel journalists used the term “LDS Church” as quickly, easily and offhandedly as I would “Mormons” (Shea is a Catholic and that came up during the debate). It took me some time and several references to realize that was what meant by that to-me-then unknown term.

    But that’s Utah. I think “LDS Church” would probably not be understood in most of the country, so even if one were to argue that it’s “better” in some abstract sense, it’s less intelligible because the conventional term is “Mormon” whether or not the LDS Church likes it. This is the problem with attempting to use style guides as proof texts, and with all rationalistic arguments about usage (including … ahem … some made by myself). Namely that usage is entirely conventional and has no necessary rational basis.

  • http://www.renewamerica.us/columns/abbott Matt C. Abbott

    Perhaps we should say that defenders of abortion are “pro-choice-to-kill-a-preborn-child.” Then again, I think it’s easier just to say such people are “pro-abortion.”

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Well, I don’t agree that the labels are entirely “conventional” and don’t have a “rational basis”. That’s too deconstructionist. After all, the point behind all of this is that the participants do care about which labels get used. Indeed, the tension between the AP preferences and the use of the terms they discourage gives hints as to what it’s all about. In the LDS/Mormon example, there’s that word “authorized”, which seems to indicate that the real issue seems to be control. And that seems to be an issue with abortion. To some degree the parties to the debate have to be relieved of some of their control of the terms of discussion in order to further clear reporting.

  • Tom Breen

    The AP style book actually seems very clear-headed about this. I don’t think it’s a case of one side getting to choose their title while the other side has a title foisted on them. Most defenders of abortion don’t like being called “pro-abortion rights” and prefer the term “pro-choice,” which the AP recommends avoiding. Sounds perfectly fair, now that you mention it.

    Letting each group define how it’s described in the press is a recipe for disaster. Jeffrey Weiss had a fascinating column not long ago about the problems of how to report on the activities of Messianic Jews, which is a label that the vast majority of Jewish people totally reject.

    The purpose of news coverage isn’t to cowtow to the easily-hurt feelings of every organization or group on the planet; it’s to accurately describe the world. In my view, “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion rights” are perfectly accurate, much more so than the deliberately misleading “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    Victor Morton writes:

    “Then, in response to a request for the term “pro-abortion” that explicitly excluded partisan outlets and specified only outlets that claim “objectivity” in the journalistic sense, you cited … is a right-to-life group’s newsletter.

    Um … the rebuttal to the statement in your 249pm post that …”the label ‘pro-abortion’ that we got stuck with, courtesy of the media” (which is a pile of hooey).”

    I was referring to the history of the term–if you go back and read what I actually wrote you would see that. I’ve been involved with the pro-choice movement since 1974. I thought we were talking about labels and terms here, and I was referring to a long history of such discussion. It did not begin on this thread. I’ve personally been on the front lines in that respect for over three decades.

    If you can point out anywhere that I claimed that media were using the term “pro-abortion” NOW, then I’ll confess error. But such was not my intent; nor did I state otherwise.

    Here is what I actually said:

    “I used to object strenuously to the label ‘pro-abortion’ that we got stuck with, courtesy of the media, for reasons I’ve already explained here.”

    All in the past: we were definitely stuck with the label “pro-abortion” by the media–then. I don’t know why you’re making such heavy weather of this.

    ” (John.B.)But the pro-choice folk don’t promote abortion as some kind of social good-in fact, we tend to talk about contraception a lot and we would defend a woman’s right to choose carrying a pregnancy to term if that is her choice.

    “(Victor Morton) Straw men that I can’t rebut without going into the particulars of the abortion debate proper, which we’re trying to avoid. Suffice to refer back to my statement that this is simply the pro-choice movement’s map of self-promotion not “sky is blue” objective reality.”

    Perhaps you should look up the phrase “straw men.”

    Since, unlike you, I have no grasp of this “objective reality” of yours, I can only repeat what it is that the pro-choice movement stands for, from the vantage-point of being one of its leaders in Canada back in the 1970s and 1980s.

    “(John B.)I’m only inconsistent if I reduce my entire philosophy to simple choice. I assure you that I don’t.

    “(Victor Morton)No, you are consistent if you reduce your entire philosophy to simple choice (which of course, you don’t, but that’s my point … “pro-choice” is a stupid and infantile argument for anybody but an anarchist). The pro-choice movement constantly argues from that “Choice is God” template and in general refuses to provide a free-standing moral defense of the action chosen, saying it’s beside the point (example slogans already provided and unrebutted).”

    I don’t follow. If I reduce my entire philosophy to Choice is God, then I am certainly being inconsistent when I don’t support freedom of choice for, say, building expressways or kicking my dog. But I don’t, and I’m not. Choice is right, in my view, on the issue of abortion; wrong in many other instances.

    If I believe that a woman should be free to choose between abortion or having the child when she becomes pregnant, then “pro-choice” sums that up rather well–within context. And in the abortion debates, that context is always heavily present.

    “(John B.)As for “anti-abortion,” that’s accurate, no? I mean, you’re against abortion. Right? … So “pro-abortion” doesn’t express what we believe

    “(Victor Morton)Right on the first part, but it is a double standard that you’re not seeing to define Group X by what they’re “anti” and Group Y by what they’re “pro.” Or to define Group X by a stance on the substance of the issue (abortion), while defining Group Y by the value in the name of which they take the stance they do (choice). Or to accept Group Y’s map of self-promotion and issue-framings, but not Group X’s.”

    One could term the opposition, again in context, as “anti-choice.” In fact, we have been known to do just that, and it’s accurate as far as it goes. But the issue, as we have been saying for years, is not abortion per se, but the right to choose for or against abortion.

    The issue, in other words, is: should women have the freedom to choose between abortion or full-term delivery? One faction says no; the other says yes.

    If you’re with me so far, then consider that, in a situation calling for a yes or a no, it’s difficult to turn both into yesses–not that the “no” side doesn’t strenuously try. (“We’re against X because we’re pro-Y.”) But that’s what the debate is for, to draw that sort of thing out. Trying to obfuscate your position beforehand (“pro-life”) is dirty pool. Are people anti-abortion or not? Anti-choice on abortion, therefore, or not? Why not come out and say it plainly?

    “(John B.)Bad analogy. “Choice on gun ownership” is misleading, for example, as a characterization of the NRA position. They don’t run around defending the right of people not to own guns

    “(Victor Morton) Huh? I can think of one case in 30 years where a town made firearm ownership mandatory (and I actually don’t know what stance the NRA took). But the live political debate in both cases is on whether and to what extent the state can limit a right or freedom in the name of some other good (at least the phrase, “keep and bear arms,” unlike “privacy” is actually IN the US Constitution). Even some of the marginal debates on abortion and guns are EXACTLY the same — waiting periods, safety-based and licensing regulations that the pro-choice side claims are really efforts to curtail abortion/guns as such.”

    You miss my point. There are specifics to the abortion issue that nullify the “pro-abortion” claim (by partisans), notably the fact that pro-choice advocates spend a lot of time pushing contraception. The latter obviously doesn’t serve any (nonexistent) “pro-abortion” cause. The rhetoric of the gun lobby doesn’t map, therefore. Your analogy was flawed, and I just pointed that out.

    “(John B., or “Dude,” as he is becoming known) or suggest ways of preventing the need for guns.

    “(Victor Morton) Dude, do you actually anything about the NRA beyond your PC stereotypes? They lobby for tougher sentencing laws, more police all the frickin’ time, and it even actually started as an ownership club providing things like firearm-use lessons and safety training.”

    None of which addresses my point at all. You can’t compare the lobbying of the NRA to that of the pro-choice-on-abortion movement. I gave a good example of why not, but you insist on bringing in irrelevancies. When the NRA pushes for measures that will discourage firearm ownership and use, then I’ll come around to your point of view. But nothing you have said so far indicates that they are doing any such thing.

  • http://www.xanga.com/FzxGkJssFrk Matthew M.

    John B. – If “pro-choice on abortion” can be reasonably shortened to “pro-choice” (since “everyone understands” that we are referring to the narrow topic of abortion), then by the same logic “pro-life on abortion” may be conveniently shortened to “pro-life”.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    Matthew M. writes:

    “If ‘pro-choice on abortion’ can be reasonably shortened to ‘pro-choice’ (since “everyone understands” that we are referring to the narrow topic of abortion), then by the same logic ‘pro-life on abortion’ may be conveniently shortened to ‘pro-life’.”

    That’s a nice piece of logic, but I have difficulty even with “pro-life on abortion.” For those who regard the pregnant woman as alive, the phrase would ring rather hollow. What’s more, a lot of “pro-lifers” would find that phrase rather narrow, would they not?

    Understand that most of us are striving here to avoid falling into the old debates, and I’m doing my best, as are you, but “pro-life on abortion” doesn’t have any easily-identifiable meaning. Whose life are we talking about? If there are two, does one have precedence? Can one be “pro-life on abortion” and still accept it under some circumstances? If so, which? Can a pregnant woman, confronted with a decision that is never easy, be held to be “pro-life on abortion” if she regrets her choice but sees it, nevertheless, as the better of two alternatives in her specific circumstances?

    On the other hand, “pro-choice on abortion” is really easy to understand. “Choice” is not an ambiguous term, fraught with philosophical ambiguities and vagueness, a subject of debate in itself. “Life,” however, is very much so, as indicated–even when restricted to the abortion debate.

  • http://www.wrandomwramblings.blogspot.com Scott Roche

    “For those who regard the pregnant woman as alive, the phrase would ring rather hollow.”

    Why’s that? I view both the fetus and the mother as being alive. (Pro-life btw). I am pro-both of their lives. How many abortions occur because the mother’s life is in imminent danger?

    And choice is a bit ambiguous in my mind. I mean does the mother have the right to chose to abort right up until delivery? Can the mother choose to abort during a c-section? Can she abort if just the head (or bum if it’s breech) is out? When does her “right to choose” end (and where is this right found)?

    OTOH the definition of life is pretty straightforward and scientific. We can say if someone is alive or dead legally and scientifically and that’s all that should really matter.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    Scott:

    We’re getting a bit close to the abortion debate itself. I’ll try to navigate this minefield:

    “I view both the fetus and the mother as being alive. (Pro-life btw). I am pro-both of their lives. How many abortions occur because the mother’s life is in imminent danger?”

    The problem is the word “life.” Do we mean “human-being life” or simply alive, in which case killing skin tissue would be contrary to a “pro-life” stance? I’m not trying to be arch or frivolous: I’m pointing out that “life” and indeed “human” confusingly refer both to attributes of a human being and also to the human being him or herself. A person has life, as do parts of that person (eg, ova); a person also existentially lives a life.

    So, in answer to the above, it’s not just when the mother’s life is in danger that the one, or the two, lives come into question; it could be when the mother feels, for any number of reasons, that delivering a baby will have a negative effect on her life. She may also see the right to choose as an essential part of what life is, in this context–the exercise of autonomous free will.

    “And choice is a bit ambiguous in my mind. I mean does the mother have the right to chose to abort right up until delivery? Can the mother choose to abort during a c-section? Can she abort if just the head (or bum if it’s breech) is out? When does her “right to choose” end (and where is this right found)?”

    These are all excellent questions. But note that they do not bear upon the word “choice,” only upon when that choice could or should (or should not) be exercised. The word itself remains unambiguous.

    “OTOH the definition of life is pretty straightforward and scientific. We can say if someone is alive or dead legally and scientifically and that’s all that should really matter.”

    See above.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    John B. wrote:

    “The issue, in other words, is …”

    BZZZZZZT. Stop right there. Everything that follows is irrelevant. It’s your map of self-promotion and issue-framing, nothing more, and the fact you’ve talked yourself into “anti-choice” a few sentences later ought to tell you that.

    And it indicates what I suggested billions of 1′s and 0′s ago … that you cannot see this issue outside your own view of it, and therefore have nothing to say matters of neutral language and labels.

    Over and out.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    Victor writes:

    “And it indicates what I suggested billions of 1’s and 0’s ago … that you cannot see this issue outside your own view of it, and therefore have nothing to say matters of neutral language and labels.”

    If that is the case, tu quoque.

    But let me take this opportunity to reply further to a less woolly-headed individual, Scott Roche. In fact, my response to him, while I stand by it, missed a fundamental point: “life” and “choice” are not binary opposites. I’m afriad I “conceded” the opposite when I responded the last time.

    “Pro-choice on abortion” means that one would as fiercely defend a woman’s right to carry tthe pregnancy to full term as her right to make the other choice. Hence, the outcome of such a position is that some women will have abortions, and others will have babies.

    “Pro-life on abortion” is not logically equal and opposite. The outcome of that position, if it prevailed, would be that all of the women have the babies.

    In each case, some women will have babies consistent with either view.

    So…if choice prevails, and some women freely choose the baby option, are such decisions, within that context, on the part of those women, a manifestation of the “pro-choice” view? Or the “pro-life” one?

  • http://www.wrandomwramblings.blogspot.com Scott Roche

    “Do we mean “human-being life” or simply alive, in which case killing skin tissue would be contrary to a “pro-life” stance?”

    I was pretty sure that it was understood that we were discussing human life and not skin tissue. I see that a fetus is not part of a person in the same way that an ovum is. You apparently do not see that.

    “it could be when the mother feels, for any number of reasons, that delivering a baby will have a negative effect on her life. She may also see the right to choose as an essential part of what life is, in this context–the exercise of autonomous free will.”

    I could decide that the jerk in fron of me in the traffic jam is having a negative effect on my life, but unless he is about to kill me (imminently) I have no right to take his. That’s all I’m saying. Pretty unambiguous, legally speaking.

    “These are all excellent questions. But note that they do not bear upon the word “choice,” only upon when that choice could or should (or should not) be exercised. The word itself remains unambiguous.”

    Good point.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “I was pretty sure that it was understood that we were discussing human life and not skin tissue. I see that a fetus is not part of a person in the same way that an ovum is. You apparently do not see that.”

    What I see is possible semantic confusion, maybe not on your part.

    “Human life.” If we are here talking about the entire living human being, then the debate shifts back to that other one. Not: Is a foetus alive? because it clearly is. Not, Is a foetus human? because it clearly is. But: is a foetus a human being? the crux.

    “Part of a person.” Is an ovum really “part of a person,” like a hand or eye? It’s expelled as part of a natural process. It has half as many chromosomes as a regular cell.

    But this is a diversion. Is the dependent foetus “part of a person?” Again, the crux–but it’s back to that other debate, and I have nothing original to offer on it.

    We were originally discussing terms to adequately, if not perfectly, define each side in the debate. Some favour, not abortion, but the right to choose it as an alternative, thus putting the matter into the hands of the autonomous individual woman. Others do not want abortion to be an alternative,
    with the state in effect doing the deciding for women, by eliminating one and enforcing the other alternative.

    (Funny to frame it that way, because it sounds almost anti-statist conservative, doesn’t it?)

    So the two sides are distinguished by where the matter is dealt with. “Pro-choice on abortion” means that women get to choose either way, that is, exercise their free will. It seems accurate, if clunky. If you want a “pro” word to describe your side, then what about “pro-foetus?”

  • http://www.wrandomwramblings.blogspot.com Scott Roche

    I am distictly “pro-everyone coming out of this whole pregnancy thing alive” even clunkier but accurate. And here’s a question, isn’t the idea that there are two sides to this issue a bit silly?

    I mean I know that there are people who are “pro-fetus” to the point where they could care less about Mummy. I myself have made my “side” known. I see no reason to kill the unborn (then again I’ve never been a scared 16 year old unwed mother or a tired mother of six who forgot to take her pill that one time or a mom who just found out that the child she’s carrying likely has Down’s). And each one of those women would probably be pro choice on some level.

    If one had to paint with a broad enough brush to get everyone in my “camp” but not so broad as to cause the massive confusion that the word life apparently generates then I suppose we could go with “pro-fetal rights”.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    It really isn’t an insult to be called “woolly-headed” and the Latin term for “so’s yo mama” by an individual whose idea of non-wolly-headedness apparently includes stuff like this.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    Scott Roche writes:

    “If one had to paint with a broad enough brush to get everyone in my “camp” but not so broad as to cause the massive confusion that the word life apparently generates then I suppose we could go with “pro-fetal rights”.”

    That’s not bad. Then “pro-pregnant-woman’s rights” might be the logical opposite. What we have is a conflict of rights (if you believe in the personhood of the fetus) or not (if you take a dim view of the concept of “foetal rights”).

    But we both know that the media aren’t going to pick up on any of our suggestions. :)

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “It really isn’t an insult to be called “woolly-headed” and the Latin term for “so’s yo mama” by an individual whose idea of non-wolly-headedness [sic] apparently includes stuff like this.”

    Well, let’s be accurate here, Victor. “Tu quoque” means in this case that, if I am guilty of lack of neutrality on the issue (I concede that immediately), then you have shown yourself to be as well in your comments here.

    “Neutral language,” forsooth. On the abortion issue?

    Nevertheless, some of us have been striving here, as elsewhere, to find media-acceptable language that generally defines what the two movements are in terms that don’t make mini-polemical points against each other in the guise of being “neutral” descriptors.

    Back to square one, then. “Pro-choice on abortion” pretty well sums up what I believe in wrt the abortion issue. “Pro-life” contains too many implicit assumptions to be of much value, although I can see why the anti-abortion folks like it. “Pro-foetal rights” isn’t a bad suggestion, though: far more on point.

    As for what’s on my own blog, thanks for the traffic. Surely you’ve noticed this obvious similarity before?

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    “Pro-choice on abortion” pretty well sums up what I believe in wrt the abortion issue. “Pro-life” contains too many implicit assumptions to be of much value, although I can see why the anti-abortion folks like it.

    In the first sentence “pretty well sums up what I believe” is taken to be dispositive.

    In the second sentence, pretty well sums up what they believe (a paraphrase yes, but a fair one I think, since you note that those on the other side ‘like it’) … is problematized.

    You see no problem or double standard or inability to see beyond yourself here?

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    And let’s not fail to note this tourist attraction:

    “Neutral language,” forsooth. On the abortion issue?
    Nevertheless, some of us have been striving here, as elsewhere, to find media-acceptable language that generally defines what the two movements are in terms that don’t make mini-polemical points against each other …

    If “neutral language” is such a shibboleth, then what can “terms that don’t make mini-polemical points” possibly mean.

    And you’re on crack if you don’t think “pro-choice” makes a mini-polemical point (by framing the issue), even if it accurately describes your stance. (Because said stance is always already polemical, right, as neutrality is a shibboleth. Thus accuracy and neutrality are impossible on these terms.)

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    Victor:

    It is difficult to imagine much ambiguity in the phrase “pro-choice on abortion.” What else could it possibly mean but what it says? Even an opponent would have to concede that the phrase sums up what we stand for, and is far more accurate than the polemical “pro-abortion” used by foetal-rights partisans.

    But you’re darned right that I problematize “pro-life,” for all the reasons that I’ve stated previously. It’s a fuzzy term, loaded with ambiguity and implicit assumptions.

    The above, and my previous comments, have been analytical, not polemical. I’m assuming that there are two (broadly speaking) “sides,” suspending judgement about which one is right, and looking for succinct language that would convey, to the public, where adherents on both sides of the divide actually stand.

    Do I think there is such a thing as “neutral language?” Of course not. No language is free of connotations, cultural assumptions, ideology. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that, conversely, all language must needs be polemical. The opposite of “neutral” isn’t “polemical.”

    Any descriptor of a side in a controversy will frame the issue, and will carry connotations. “Pro-choice” enlists values of freedom and autonomy on behalf of a specific cause. But why are you suggesting this is dirty pool?

    I continue to find your points obscure, but I apologize for the “woolly-headed” remark. I just wish you’d say succinctly what you mean–all this talk of mapping and framing needs to be anchored to specifics. And perhaps we can avoid divagations into the gun control issue, too.

    For starters, perhaps you would put on the table what your own “neutral” terms would be.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “For starters, perhaps you would put on the table what your own “neutral” terms would be.”

    That is, do you still hold to what you said earlier: that “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are sufficiently unambiguous and, if not neutral, at least helpful to an unschooled public reading about the controversy in the papers?

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    Yes

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    I guess the only way we could solve this disagreement is to poll the readers, selecting for people who are not involved, and ask what those terms convey to them.

    As for me, I’m “pro-life.” Also “pro-choice.”

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    You’re only “pro-life” according to a private understanding that, in the specific context of abortion, would be misleading to others and contrary to the conventions of usage.

    In other words, language is conventional and so someone who says he’s pro-choice can’t claims as well to be pro-life, no matter how much he protesteth.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “In other words, language is conventional and so someone who says he’s pro-choice can’t claims as well to be pro-life, no matter how much he protesteth.”

    Sorry, not true. I’m pro-choice–but enough about that. However I’m also pro-life. I prefer contraception to abortion. I oppose the death penalty. I’m not a member of PETA, but I support a concept of animal rights. I’m anti-war. I enjoy nature and oppose clear-cutting and strip-mining. All of these things qualify me as “pro-life.”

    Just because the foetal rights folks have tried to appropriate this label and, worse, apply it only to themselves to the exclusion of everyone else, doesn’t make it a “convention of usage.” It was a brave attempt, but it failed, probably because of objections similar to the ones I have been deploying here. Indeed, the fact that the opposite is true in the media these days is the very subject of this thread, is it not?

    Anyway, by way of analogy, look at the divorce issue. Say I favour easy access to divorce. But I don’t favour divorce per se, because that would depend upon the unique circumstances of each couple, to which I am not privy. Sometimes it might be right; other times, not. That makes me pro-choice on divorce, not pro-divorce. But I could logically be pro-marriage at the same time.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    Even an opponent would have to concede that the phrase sums up what we stand for…

    No, we don’t. And I won’t explain why because that would require me to go into all these side bars like China and parental-consent and public-funding and the details of the issue itself that we’re trying to avoid. (And I’ll only agree not to bring up guns if you agree not to bring up contraception.)

    Any descriptor of a side in a controversy will frame the issue, and will carry connotations. “Pro-choice” enlists values of freedom and autonomy on behalf of a specific cause. But why are you suggesting this is dirty pool?

    In itself, it is not. Despite the FACT that I would not agree with this framing of the issue, I’m willing to let this stand as a self-description.

    What is dirty pool on your part is that after having defined your side, according to its own best lights (don’t see why “map of self-promotion” is so difficult to understand), you won’t give the other side that right. Instead you proudly brag (“you’re darned right”) about critiquing on the merits … “fuzzy … loaded with ambiguity and implicit assumptions.” It’s as if our self-description has to pass your muster (much of which is about bringing in extraneous issues, BTW), but not the reverse.

    Why is my objection to this so hard for you to understand? It’s as plain a double standard as exists.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    However I’m also pro-life.

    Only by a private definition that misleads what anybody hearing that phrase in the context of abortion would think.

    And there is no private language, merely conventions. It’s really that simple.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “And there is no private language, merely conventions. It’s really that simple.”

    Too simple. There are conflicting discourses, not one conventional language. And even if the latter existed, the locution “pro-life” seems to be falling off the conventional map.

    Did you know that we used to refer to ourselves as “pro-abortion” many, many moons ago? Until some of us reflected and realized that we weren’t?

    On the other hand, the “pro-life” bit arose from the strategic attempt to situate abortion within some allegedly loving context, heavily underpinned by theology of the Catholic variety, so as to make essentially three polemical points: 1) “We’re for life and you aren’t,” 2) “Abortion is murder,” and 3) “Women are supposed to have babies. That’s their role.”

    Which leads me to a kind of confession: underlying all this is the greater cultural war– feminism vs.women’s traditional role. Abortion is only one wearisome front. Pro-choice implies a wider support of the goals of feminism, just as the code-phrase “pro-life” encompasses God, family and Kinder Kirke Kuche. By saying that I am pro-choice on abortion, it is possible to discern, grosso modo, what my politics are likely to be, or at least my values. You won’t always be correct, but in my case you would be.

    What I find odd in all this, as I mentioned before, is that my position could be seen almost as classical conservative, and yours as statist. That tells me that the reaction to feminism is trumping those older conservative values of individual autonomy and free choice. Not necessarily the state, but the state if necessary.

    In any event, you don’t like framing the issue as choice vs. no choice, but that’s entirely what it boils down to if you restrict the debate solely to abortion. I think women should be able to exercise choice in the matter. You don’t, and want the state to stop it. Case closed.

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    There are conflicting discourses, not one conventional language.

    First of all, every discourse’s language would still be conventional with respect to itself (meaning that rationalistic debates about usage are still essentially retarded).

    Second, this concedes that the only fair rule is to define each side according to its own discourse. Every attempt to “rationalize” it is always already trapped in this incompatibility and incommensurability of language.

    the locution “pro-life” seems to be falling off the conventional map.

    Hardly. And you’d certainly not be the person I’d trust to know.

    Did you know that we used to refer to ourselves as “pro-abortion” many, many moons ago? Until some of us reflected and realized that we weren’t?

    I think you misspelled “and found out it was a political loser” at the end there. (Hey … I don’t blame you for trying to change labels, but pretending this was “reflection” and “realization” more than focus groups and electoral results, or at least that such “reflection” and “realization” was unprompted by focus groups and electoral results is … well, laughable. And all the while maintaining of course that ‘pro-life’ was chosen for nefarious ends … do you realize how self-righteous and unself-critical you sound.

    In any event, you don’t like framing the issue as life vs. death, but that’s entirely what it boils down to if you restrict the debate solely to abortion. I think babies should be legally protected from murder in utero. You don’t, and even want the state to subsidize it. Case closed.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    I agree that a can of worms is opened when we begin to talk about discourse theory. Of course a discourse or set of discourses has accepted usages, or conventions, that would render some types of rationalistic analysis irrelevant. It makes little sense to counter “How’s it going” with, “What’s the antecedent?” But we were talking about journalistic discourse, were we not? Terms in journalistic accounts that might capture, in the public mind, where the two camps actually stood, concretely?

    I don’t really care about either pro-choice accounts or “pro-life” accounts in this instance because those accounts are not what is being debated. Please check out the title of this thread again.

    Re: “pro-abortion”. I’m just telling you what happened, from experience. You can fantasize about our motives all you want, but some of us actually got into these backroom philosophical chats, and came to conclusions because of them. I would agree that “pro-choice” has more immediate political appeal: but it’s also more accurate.

    “(JB)the locution “pro-life” seems to be falling off the conventional map.”

    “(VM)Hardly. And you’d certainly not be the person I’d trust to know.”

    So, how about the originator of this thread, then?

  • http://cinecon.blogspot.com Victor Morton

    John B. wrote:

    You can fantasize about our motives all you want …

    right after saying …

    On the other hand, the “pro-life” bit arose from the strategic attempt to situate abortion within some allegedly loving context, heavily underpinned by theology of the Catholic variety

    The unselfconsciousness is breathtaking.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    On reflection, we are both entitled to our fantasies.

    I was trying to analyze where the whole “pro-life” thing came from. Admittedly, though, it could be taken as “fantasizing about motives.”

    So, Victor, I take it you’ve been around the issue for a while: am I wrong?

  • Kevin G. McDonald

    I wrote an op/ed for a local newspaper against abortion but the copy editor changed every one of my usages of “pro-life” and “pro-lifers” to his own term: “anti-abortion(ists).

    I threatened to take their newspaper to the regional newspaper council and the chief editor promised me that from now on their paper would allow pro-life groups to self-describe as such.

    But that is only a limited victory and only came after much writing, calling and finally a threat to bring their bullying tactics to the attention of their professional peers. Many Canadian newspapers will still let journalists and editors automatically label pro-lifers as mere “anti-abortionists”. This is intellectual dishonesty and pure bias. It must be challenged and exposed wherever it occurs.

    I encourage everyone to see if the newspaper they submit to belongs to a professional standards association. If so, then if you don’t get satisfaction, bring it to the ombuds of that organization or to the attention of other media and that paper’s publisher and board of directors.

    Anti-abortion is a negative sounding term. We may be technically anti-killing, but we propose so many more solutions to women’s and men’s real challenges.

    Movements which propose such life affirming options for women are so much more than just anti-something – even if that something be the most important moral evil we must end today.

  • Barry F.

    I don’t know where john b. lives or has been living, but his pathetic claim that, in Canada, at ANY time, the pro abortionists were actually and accurately called pro-abortion, or merely in the ’70′s is complete fiction. Canadian media have always been sickening pro-abortion, and it has been reflected in the coverage of the issue from day one. I remember (and probably still have) the edition of chatelain (sp) that had its fraudulant ‘what our readers think about abortion’ poll: If you were not pro abortion, you couldn’t answer the questions. The most vicious and hate filled appeals to bigotry in Canadian history, came from pro-abortionists like morgentaler, an individual who has been fawned over and protected by the media, again from day one. People who are dishonest enough to use the phrase ‘pro-choice’ are not merely pro-abortion, they are also hypocrites.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    http://archives.cbc.ca/294p.asp?ActProf=423&IDLan=1&Nav=AvPr

    (By way of example–there are many more, but let Barry do his own homework, if he has time between rants.)

    The usage is more casual, these days, but still around:

    “In April 2004, a top Vatican official, Cardinal Francis Arinze, said without mentioning Kerry’s name that politicians who are pro-abortion are “not fit” to receive communion, and “should not be given” it.”

    http://www.cbc.ca/canadavotes/analysiscommentary/religionpolitics.html

  • jen

    So call us anti-abortion, but then we get to call you POOR-choice.

    That would be a far more accurate term, and it will even have the same negative spin that is inherent in the prefix “anti.”

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “So call us anti-abortion, but then we get to call you POOR-choice.”

    Lol. We needed some levity about now.

    But remember, please, that we defend the right to make the other choice as well.

    We used to refer to the foetal-rights folks as supporting “compulsory pregnancy.” But we grew up.

  • jen

    “30 to 60 percent of women having abortions feel pressured to do so by other persons.”

    “A homeless woman was denied shelter until she submitted to an unwanted abortion . . . a teen was ridiculed by a school counselor and bussed to the abortion clinic . . . a daughter was pushed into an abortion clinic at gunpoint by her mother . . . a girlfriend was injected with an abortifacient outside a parking garage . . . a 13-year-old was returned to her molester after her abortion . . . three sisters were raped repeatedly by their father and forced into abortions for nearly a decade . . . a wife miscarried after her husband jumped on her stomach to force an abortion . . . a waitress was fired after refusing to have an abortion.

    The headlines above represent just a few of the many women who were offered only one choice–abortion. They are just a few of the hundreds of appalling stories of abuse, violence and manipulation that are found in the Elliot Institute’s 21-page special report, “Forced Abortion in America.” http://www.afterabortion.info/petition/Forced_Abortions.pdf

    “Forced Abortion Legal in America
    Woman awakes in a closet after coerced abortion”

    http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2004/mar/04030910.html

    “we defend the right to make the other choice as well.”

    WOW. I’m convinced.

  • http://drdawgsblawg.blogspot.com John B.

    “WOW. I’m convinced.”

    And so you should be. No pro-choicer I know would be other than appalled at this abuse.

    Your point? Surely you aren’t arguing that the pro-choce movement was behind this stuff?


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