“Prochoice,” not “Pro-abortion” and “Pro-life,” not “Anti-abortion”

As the American election heats up with the naming of Senator Harris as Mr. Biden’s running mate, we will help each other by following the wise counsel of Master Kung (whom we Westerners know as “Confucius”). The first task of philosophy, he said, is to “rectify the names”–which is to say, call things by their proper terms.

In particular, “pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion” need to be dropped from our political vocabulary.

No one but a bloodthirsty maniac is “pro-abortion.” But lots of otherwise decent people are…pro-choice.

Indeed, in Senator Harris’s telling examination of judicial nominee Brian Buescher, she chides him for belonging to the Knights of Columbus because that organization, in her characterization of it, “opposed a woman’s right to choose.”

Notice that she doesn’t say “a woman’s right to choose what to do with the fetus within her.” She stops at the much more general phrasing, as do so many prochoicers: “a woman’s right to choose.”

Well, let’s take her at her word. This terminology is telling because it cuts to the heart of the matter of abortion for those who are prochoice: they are proCHOICE. They are committed to the autonomy of the individual in general and particularly on a woman’s governance of her (own) body. They are against anyone else telling her what she must do with her body. Those are the typical terms in which this side frames its view, and it is both discourteous and simply incorrect to re-name this view “pro-abortion.”

There is a lot more to say about all this, of course, not least the questionable idea of personal autonomy. (The law currently tells me lots of things I must or must not do with my body, from when my body is driving a car to when my body wants to smack you.) But at least let’s get the terms straight.

That’s why we anti-abortion types prefer the term “pro-life.” If abortion didn’t kill someone, it would be what prochoice people very much prefer to call it: a surgical procedure, a mere matter of healthcare. But because we think it does indeed terminate a human life, we’re against abortion because we are pro-life…and particularly the life of the most vulnerable person in the situation, which is not the mom–compassionate as we must be for so many moms considering abortion–but the baby.

Okay? Prochoice. Prolife. They aren’t just spin: they accurately get at the crucial difference in this argument.

Let’s all watch our language, then, particularly if we have any serious hope of communicating usefully with those who disagree with us…


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