Interesting editorial by one Erik Gable from a small-town newspaper in the States.
Some time ago, I received a letter from a reader asking why The Daily Telegram used the phrase “pro-choice” to describe people who want to keep abortion legal but “anti-abortion,” rather than “pro-life,” to describe people who don’t.
I was a little puzzled, and I actually wondered if the reader was thinking of a different newspaper, because the answer is simple. We don’t.
As a matter of fact, our policy is to avoid the terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” entirely in news stories “” unless they’re part of a quotation or a group’s proper name, such as Lenawee County Right to Life or Lenawee County Pro-Choice.
For the record, a search of the Telegram’s archives for the past several years reveals that those words have occasionally slipped into news stories when they shouldn’t have “” but it actually happened more often with “pro-life” than with “pro-choice.”
But as a general rule, we eschew both phrases in favor of more neutral terms. A recent book titled “Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality,” which was reviewed this week in the online magazine Slate, helps explain why.
Erik goes on to neatly summarise how both sides of the abortion debate use “Unspeak” (author Steven Poole’s term for a particular type of “spin”) to frame an issue by using terms that contain an unspoken political argument, so that obviously anyone opposing the “pro-life” argument is a homicidal monster while obviously anyone opposing the “pro-choice” argument is a totalitarian monster.
Of course, the position lies between the two extremes of monolithic homicide and totalitarianism, and is also more complicated as well than merely Erik’s statement that the crux of the debate is this:
It’s about when life begins. It’s not about whether people have a right to life; it’s about whether an embryo or a fetus counts as a person in the first lace.
He’s got half of it there. However, he’s missed out the whole matter of even if an embryo/foetus is a person, is it right to force another person to give of their blood and body to keep that person alive? We don’t force people with perfect tissue matches to donate their organs to keep another person alive, so by what principle is it determined that pregnant women don’t have the right to refuse to donate their uterus and blood and bone matrix?
Despite Erik’s disapproval of the ‘unspeak’ nature of the term “pro-choice” I do intend to keep framing my arguments using the term, because those unspoken political arguments are important to my position, and it saves time. I don’t claim to be unbiassed on this issue.
Erik is right that journalists attempting to report objectively should avoid such terms, although I notice he doesn’t specify his alleged more neutral terms. I hope he doesn’t view “pro-abortion” as a neutral term, because reproductive rights advocates don’t want more abortions, we want to minimise abortion through universal sex education and comprehensive contraceptive provision, keeping abortion as a safe and legal last resort in family planning.
Those of us who are reproductive freedoms advocates don’t need to eschew the term “pro-choice” when engaged in robust debate, but Erik’s essay has made me remember that it is only a small minority of anti-abortion advocates who really are totalitarian womb-police: the rest of the movement just find abortion icky. Abortion is messy and bloody after all: where we part company is that pro-choice advocates acknowledge that sometimes the icky option is the necessary choice.