The Left Has a Language Problem

“Choice” was a no-no
as one Democratic political consultant explained to Slate: “If you look at it that way choice occurs in common speech… It tends to co-occur with consumer things. So vanilla or chocolate, decaf or coffee. We tend to use the word choice in situations in which we’re making inconsequential decisions without much deliberate thought.” Saying “pro-choice” posits abortion as an individual action, rather than holding up the right to legal abortion as “what a forward-looking country has and does.” The consultant doesn’t offer an alternative to “pro-choice,” but a Planned Parenthood Action blog post that has a slightly different gripe with “choice” favors saying “pro-abortion”:

Well-meaning folks often contrast “pro-choice” with “pro-abortion,” as in, I’m pro-choice, not pro-abortion. But that’s hurtful to people who’ve had abortions. It implies that abortion isn’t a good thing, that legal abortion is important but somehow bad, undesirable. That’s deeply stigmatizing, and contributes to the shame and silence around abortion, making people who’ve had abortions feel isolated and ashamed.

Clearly, influential people within the reproductive rights movement agree more or less with this logic—“choice” is insufficiently progressive. But this conflicts with politicians’ natural desire to not go around chanting that they’re “pro-abortion.” Very few people are willing to go as far as the DC-area band Copstabber, the songsters behind “More Abortions.” So very tuned-in progressives have sort of found a middle ground and landed on “decision,” which is, as far as I can tell, a synonym for “choice.”

This is Style Guide Liberalism: a fixation on terms and language that is well-intentioned, but inevitably creates a murky layer of jargon between speaker and listener, writer and reader. However egalitarian its aims, it inevitably results in an in-group and out-group. By avoiding “choice,” advocates may be pushing the reproductive rights movement in a less individualistic, more equitable direction. Unavoidably, though, when you say “decision” instead, you are also signaling to everyone that you are plugged-in enough to know that we’re not saying “choice” anymore.

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