Jen Jorczak

What would you call it?

Filed By Jen Jorczak | May 21, 2007 6:19 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living, Politics, Politics, Politics, The Movement
Tags: David Morris, Gallup Poll, George Lakoff, pro-choice, pro-life

This morning, Bil sent me a link to a new Gallup Poll on abortion-debate terminology. Their earth-shattering conclusion? 'Public Divided on "Pro-Choice" vs. "Pro-Life" Abortion Labels.'

Tell me something I don't know. Personally, even I'm divided on those labels.

Sure, I consider myself "pro-choice"--as I define it. What I mean when I say "pro-choice" or "pro-life" may or may not be what you mean by those terms. And I can guarantee you it's not what the Fundies think of when they use them--but then, what I assume their definitions are probably aren't how the Fundies would phrase it.

Maybe we need to move past "pro-choice" and "pro-life." Maybe they've outlived their usefulness as societal markers. I think David Morris was right, it's a continuum; and I think George Lakoff was right: you can't not think of an elephant. You can, however, pretty much completely predict the outcome of any survey or poll by determining how the questions are written; everything is about the importance of defining your terms--or not defining them.

You know, like asking "Do you support the troops?" Obviously, there's no one in America who would say no. But if you clarify and ask "Do you support the troops with proper equipment and medical care?" or "Do you support using the troops as pawns in an unnecessary diversion from the real problems facing this country?", suddenly you've got a raging debate on your hands.

In the case of this survey, the questions seem mostly unbiased, yet as someone who's followed the abortion debate pretty closely for quite awhile, I was thrown by one detail of the results. According to this poll, "49% of Americans consider themselves pro-choice and 45% call themselves pro-life," yet:

When it comes to Americans' specific attitudes about the legality of abortion, public opinion is somewhat more conservative than its attachment to these labels would suggest. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans (58%) think abortion should either be limited to only a few circumstances or illegal in all circumstances. Just 4 in 10 (41%) think it should be legal in all or most circumstances.

58% strikes me as high, and a bit out of step with previous polls, which have been fairly uniform. The reason? The pollsters left it to the individual to fill in his/her own set of "circumstances." And that's the crux of the debate: how can we truly judge someone else's circumstances?

Personally, I define "pro-life" as someone who supports human rights and dignity after birth--someone who thinks all kids and adults deserve access to health care, education & job training, a clean environment, and full autonomy and freedom (this is "pro-baby", according to Morris' continuum--either way, it means I don't consider many folks who call themselves "pro-life" to be pro-life.) And I define "pro-choice" as someone who, regardless of what s/he would decide when faced with a pregnancy, could not make that decision for anybody else, and as someone who does not want government or religious bodies to make pregnancy, health care, or educational choices for individuals.

Seems pretty simple, and pretty straightforward, and pretty much solidly lands me in the "legal in all circumstances" category. Except, I have to admit I am bothered by stories of sex-selective abortions going on in India and China. Seriously--there are so many couples in those countries choosing to end a pregnancy because the fetus is female that it's showing up in census data. I gotta say, I consider that pretty messed up.

But back to the crux of the debate: is it right for me to judge people in those (specific cultural) circumstances?

Today, please give us your definition of "pro-choice" and "pro-life", and which do you consider yourself? (Later in the week: how this poll compares to recent polls on attitudes toward LGBT rights.)


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Pro-choice all the way. I am not a woman and therefore can't get pregnant. Therefore, I have no right whatsoever to dictate to any female what she should do with her body. In the same regard, I'd never expect a woman to start demanding that all men be circumcised. My personal views on abortion are irrelevant; I can't have one.

I'm pro choice, and only because it makes the most sense- meaning, there is no one that can come up with every single possible scenario that may or may not warrant an abortion.

So, in order for people to truly be free, it means making decisions for themselves when faced with circumstances that, again, no one can predict.

So, okay, pro choice, but with every hope that abortion be reduced as much as possible, and with the hope that women who make the decision to have an abortion do not ever use it as a f*cking form of birth control. Cause, though the pro lifers would assert otherwise, I do NOT like abortion or the idea of it anymore than they do!

It has always bothered me that the pro-life crowd chooses pro-life, fully implying that the opposing viewpoint is anti-life. That is particularly disturbing when the same crowd usually opposes stem cell research and supports the death penalty.

I have no idea what I would do if I became pregnant. I have no idea what I would do if my partner became pregnant. I do know that if circumstances were such that either of us were in danger of dying if we carried the child to term, I want the option of terminating the pregnancy to save the life of the mother.

I don't necessarily agree with abortion as a birth control method. I don't necessarily agree with selective sex abortions. However, I don't have to live with those decisions. That's up to the person who *does* make them.

Having said all that, I suppose some would think I should be more concrete in my position. I really don't think this problem deserves a monochrome solution.

I honestly never liked the phrase "pro-choice". It sounds way too libertarian, as if choice is always intrinsically good. And no one really believes that - some choices are better than others. And sometimes the people have to use the government as a tool to limit the choices of others, like generally agreed upon criminal activity, but also economic and environmental regulation. Lots of libertarians like to frame the minimum wage debate or climate change as "choice" issues, when really they just want to leave those choices up to a non-democratically elected, small group of powerful people. Some choices are stupid or detrimental and rightly should be banned.

So what about "pro-women"? I think that gets to the heart of the debate. Or how about "pro-autonomy"? That's similar to choice, but takes into account the simple truth that some people's choices limit the choices of others and the question is much more complex than an expansion or limitation of government power.

Zach Adamson | May 22, 2007 7:53 AM

Personally I'm "pro life", politically I vote pro choice. Its not up to me how someone else lives their life.
But I do think in many cases being pro choice IS being pro life. So I dont like the names at all. There are way too many circumstances to think that everyone falls into a choice view or a life view.
I have yet to meet a woman who took the option of abortion lightly, and did not anguish over the dilemma.
What bothers me is these people who label themselves "Pro Life" rarely show the kind of protest at an execution. Some do but most do not. I do not see them working to get prenatal care for all mothers or seeing that these children once born are living in loving and caring homes.
I never see them work to EMPTY the orphanages, they only seem to want to fill them. They shout about adoption being a equitable option, but here we sit with overflowing orphanages. All the while, a majority of them refuse to entertain the idea gays and lesbians would make good parents, despite the evidence that shows very positive results. They never work to see that the school systems are producing educated children. All these things are PRO LIFE. They are not concerned with any of these things.. So a much more accurate label would be PRO BIRTH. Because after the child is born, they no longer care.
But the biggest contradiction that these nut jobs do is oppose Proper and Accurate Sex Education for every Child. And that includes education on contraception.
(My apologies, I thought I could give a short and sweet answer and not get upset, but the more I went on the more ticked off I got.)

Jen Jorczak | May 22, 2007 8:59 AM

I find it extremely interesting that so many of us here are using different terms to describe what sounds like the same ideas: that women should be allowed to make their own decisions, that access to birth control and sex education is a good thing, that calling yourself "pro-life" should mean a whole lot more than it currently does.

To Alex: I love the term "pro-autonomy", especially since it can cover so much more than women's rights.

To Zach: Your comment 'Personally I'm "pro life", politically I vote pro choice. Its not up to me how someone else lives their life.' is kinda what I was getting at with my personal definition of "pro-choice". I've met so many people who say that they personally couldn't choose abortion, but they also couldn't make the choice for someone else. They seem to think that the former statement makes them exclusively "pro-life," but I'd call them pro-choice.

But really, I don't mind what people call themselves, so long as they're not writing checks to Right to Life or other groups who are perfectly okay with making everyone else's choices for them.

The reality of it is that when most members of the "pro-life" movement say "pro-life" what they really mean is "forced birth" - meaning the mother is always required to give birth, even if she can't afford it, if she'll die because of it, if she was raped, molested, or the victim of incest, even if the child could never survive, or simply shouldn't.

Most of "forced birth" advocates have truly distorted ideas about what the lives of women who get abortions are really like - they don't look at the data available about women's real-world circumstances to understand what leads women to make this choice, and how they could, if they were truly "pro-life" help make those circumstances better to give women additional choices that are better than abortion.