What’s in a name?

31 Jan

By Zoe Coyle

We live in a world where political labels are given the utmost importance.  Especially as a college kid in DC, it is nearly impossible to maintain a political discussion with someone without labeling yourself as a democrat or republican, liberal or conservative.  That is why Planned Parenthood’s recent decision to drop the term “pro-choice” from its lexicon (while still remaining pro-choice in action and values) can be both a disheartening as well as a puzzling decision. As a ‘pro-choice’ ‘feminist’, these labels are a valuable part of my political identity, and are inextricable from my personal and moral views as a whole. It’s sad to see a cherished organization shy away from a term that I am proud to hold on to.

However, as a student on a Catholic University, where topics like abortion can be the third-rail in many political debates, I also understand why Planned Parenthood would want to back away from a term that can provoke hostility. While more Americans are pro-life than pro-choice,  six in ten Americans do not want to see Roe v Wade overturned. As Gail Collins argues in her most recent column entitled “The Woes of Roe”, people support abortion rights a lot more when they themselves are not asked to make a legal decision about it; these findings show how labels don’t accurately reflect people’s political views in practice.

There is the fear of course, that a quiet burial of the term “pro-choice” is little more than newspeak in order to make reproductive issues seem more palatable. I am a member of the pro-choice group on my campus, Hoyas for Choice, and we have recently begun to debate whether or not we should remove the term “choice” from our name as well. For our group, the term “choice” can inaccurately describe the work that we do as a group – an umbrella term such as “reproductive justice” or “reproductive health” might not be as catchy, but it is a broader catch-all for students who might be uneasy about abortion but definitely support access to contraceptives on college campuses.  The term pro-choice does not always accurately describe the wide range of reproductive health and justice issues that organizations and activists work towards. A binary label system can very easily restrict and isolate people who can be both intimidated and unsure of how the two labels apply to them.  Furthermore, this division forces people to ‘choose’ a side on issues that are often not seen in black and white. Regardless of labels, an American citizenry that remains loyal to Roe v Wade is certainly something to celebrate.


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