Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Pro-choice" or pro-abortion?

Those who support the continued availability of legal abortion often object to being labeled "pro-abortion" and insist on calling their opponents "anti-choice." In the early years of the political debate over abortion, the sides were often simply referred to as "pro-abortion" and "anti-abortion." That has always seemed to me the least euphemistic way to describe the positions. But the supporters of Roe v Wade felt that "pro-abortion" put them at a rhetorical disadvantage and argued that they didn't favor the act - they merely wanted it to be an available legal choice for mothers and their doctors. Carl Olson at Insight Scoop answers a correspondent who accuses him of being "overly simplistic" in equating "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion" in "'Pro-choice' vs. 'Pro-abortion'? Or, 'Pro-choice' = 'Pro-abortion'?" Part of his argument uses as an analogy the issue of slavery:
...[W]hich of the following could reasonably be considered "pro-slavery"?:
  • Believing that slavery should be enforced on a certain group of people. (Yes, obviously.)
  • Supporting the right of others to be able to have slaves if they choose so. (I would say so.)
  • Insisting that the decision to have slaves is a matter for the potential slave owner to decide for himself and that such a decision should be protected by law. (Again, I would say so.)
  • Demanding that the government should not be involved in keeping people from having slaves if they so choose, and supporting legislation to that end. (Yes, without a doubt)
These actions and stances are all "pro-slavery"—that is, they each, in various ways, are in favor of the practice and reality of slavery even though not all of them are based on the belief that everyone in a certain group or class of society should have slaves. Put another way, the merely complacent position of believing that slavery is alright for some people can be fairly construed as being "pro-slavery," even if the person with that perspective never acts upon it. But if they do act upon it and work actively for the right to own slaves, etc., there can be no doubt that they support slavery and are thus "pro-slavery." .... ...[R]eturning to the analogy of slavery: imagine that someone who described themselves as "pro-choice" when it came to slavery supported legislation with the following language:
A man's decision to buy, trade for, own, and control a slave is a personal choice. As such, decisions regarding slavery are best made by certain men, in consultation with other slave owners or trusted associates, without governmental interference. A government may not— (1) deny or interfere with a man's right to choose—
(A) to buy and own a slave;
(B) to sell a slave for financial gain or
(C) to terminate a slave where termination is necessary to protect the physical life or financial health of the slave owner and his family
He may call himself "pro-choice" when it comes to slavery. I may call him "pro-slavery." Regardless, this much would be clear: the white man/slave owner would enjoy rights, protection, and moral status, while the slave would not. The slave, in fact, would be legally considered either non-human or sub-human, and that legal status would mean a life of subjection, denied the basic rights due every person. .... Those who call themselves "pro-choice" do so because they support the right to choose death for unborn children. They are "pro-abortion." .... (more)
Insight Scoop | The Ignatius Press Blog: "Pro-choice" vs. "Pro-abortion"? Or, "Pro-choice" = "Pro-abortion"?


  1. Kind of convoluted and suffers from reading too much into an anology. Slavery is not abortion even if you think both are wrong.

    How would you address the following position(s):

    Person A: Supports a flat $5,000 bounty paid to any woman who gives birth. His motivation is that while he feels abortion should be a legal option such a policy would greatly reduce the number of actual abortions in a society by 30-40%.

    Person B: Supports China's 'one baby' policy and would love to see America's welfare rolls trimmed by applying a policy of mandatory abortion for any woman on welfare who becomes pregnant.

    Person B is certainly pro-abortion. To describe person A as pro-abortion, though, seems to miss something. (I know I chided your analogy usage but it's interesting that by your analysis there were two pro-slavery candidates running in the election of 1860).

  2. Not my analogy - of course - but I think it holds up. And it seems not the least bit convoluted to me. Analogies are not equations - but the point Olson makes seems valid to me.

    "Those who call themselves 'pro-choice' do so because they support the right to choose death for unborn children. They are 'pro-abortion.'"

    They don't advocate "choice" for thieves, murderers, and rapists - who undoutedly do injury to others, but they do for those who abort the unborn.

    Most abolitionists in 1860 did think Lincoln's position was insufficient - and expressed their frustration with him in the Presidency, even after the Emancipation Proclamation.

  3. Most abolitionists in 1860 did think Lincoln's position was insufficient - and expressed their frustration with him in the Presidency, even after the Emancipation Proclamation.

    True but also by your usage both candidates in 1860 would be considered pro-slavery. But that language would hide the fact that one candidate was really a very real threat to slavery while the other was a very real supporter of it.

  4. Ah, yes. True enough. So, today one candidate favors a legal status which would allow states to outlaw abortion, and the other doesn't. Isn't the latter, then, the Douglas of our time?

  5. Perhaps, too bad though that your proposed language rules would not say so. But, and we might be stretching the analogy too far...if one said Federick Douglas was anti-slavery, Steven Douglas was pro-slavery and Lincoln was pro-containment on slavery (pro-choice would make it sound like he wanted the states to decide) language would be able to make the distinctions that exist in real life.

    If you have time would you mind adding your thoughts to my Person A vs Person B hypothetical?


  6. I think the safest way to answer this question is to base it upon a generic principle: Decide upon a standard and then insert the terms. For instance, consider how a person decides in relation to an act, we'll call it X. X can be anything--for instance, public smoking, owning a gun, and, of course, having an abortion. Here are the options:

    1. The person is opposed to X but believes that others SHOULD have the right to do X.
    2. The person is opposed to X and believes that others SHOULD NOT have the right to do X.
    3. The person is in favor of X and believes that others SHOULD have the right to do X.

    And in each case, the question is whether the person is pro-X, anti-X, or pro-choice to do X. Let's consider public smoking with #1 above:

    The person couldn't be called "pro-smoking." Why? Because he's against smoking. He couldn't be called "anti-smoking." Why? Because he's in favor of the right of others to smoke. There's only one other option: "Pro-choice for others do smoke."

    Pro-choicers probably like that reasoning. But then consider an act that most people consider to be abhorrent: marital rape, which is legal is Jordan. Using the above reasoning, a man who's opposed to marital rape but believes that it should be legal is "pro-choice for other men to commit marital rape."

    To those who respond with something like, "No, he's pro-violence," well, he's both. BUT since the question is about marital rape, that term needs to be in the description. And there's no way to get around the "pro-choice" term here without also erasing it in context of abortion, and abortion rights advocates WILL NEVER agree to that.


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