Friday 19 August 2011

It’s only words

Today’s blog was inspired by an accusation levelled at EFC claiming that although we present ourselves as being a ‘pro-choice’ organisation we are in fact ‘pro-abortion’. I wanted to unpick this claim and look at the language that we, and others use to frame our position on sexual and reproductive health.

Abortion is an emotive subject. The strong feelings people have about it are often reflected in the language they use. Recent debate in the U.S has seen ambiguous terms like ‘pro-family’ or ‘pro-life’ being used to describe those presidential candidates who are opposed to unrestricted access to abortion. ‘The other side’, that is to say, those who support abortion rights, are labelled ‘pro-choice’, ‘pro-abortion’ and when the heat’s really on, ‘pro-death’ and ‘baby-killers’. (Actually, those last two are from recent UK blogs describing EFC). The complexities of getting this language right are evidenced in this long-winded blog by U.S National Public Radio.

Most abortion rights supporters choose not to use the term ‘pro-life’ to describe those who oppose abortion, largely because they resent being positioned as the ‘opposite’ to this, as being somehow ‘anti-life’. In fact, many of those who support a woman’s right to choose would consider themselves to be ‘pro-life’ and even ‘pro-family’ in terms of respecting people’s right to make decisions about their own family, having children when they are in a position to care for them and so on. Some make the point that in fact those declaring themselves to be ‘pro-life’ with respect to the abortion debate do not always adhere to the label when it comes to discussing the death penalty.

One commonly used alternative to ‘pro-life’ is ‘anti-choice’. It acknowledges that what is generally proposed by an individual who is ‘against abortion’ is a desire to restrict legal or practical access to abortion. Therefore somebody who wouldn’t choose to end a pregnancy themselves, or who has religious or moral objections to the procedure but would nevertheless support another’s right to choose would not be contained within this category. One sexual health professional suggested to me recently that he feels the term ‘anti-choice’ is too vague. That when describing groups such as SPUC or Life we should make clear that they are ‘organisations opposed to abortion in every situation’. To make evident the extreme position this entails – that whether a woman becomes pregnant through incest or rape, whether the pregnancy endangers her health, these organisations would not support her legal right to choose abortion in any circumstance.

Coming back to EFC and our self-positioning as ‘pro-choice’, we stand by this. By ‘pro-choice’ we mean simply that we support a woman’s right to choose whichever pregnancy option she feels is best for her. Our work focuses on abortion as this is the option many people have the least information about, or where political agendas can cloud real life issues. Approximately half of young women who become pregnant will make this choice and we believe that they are entitled to factual information about their health and wellbeing should they do so. Yes we believe abortion is a valid option for someone facing a pregnancy they can’t or don’t want to continue. But this is not the same as being ‘pro-abortion’. You would be very hard pushed to find an organisation which believes abortion is always the right option for everyone who becomes pregnant!  A great portion of our work is about motivating young people to use contraception consistently or delay sex in order to avoid unwanted pregnancy in the first place. But we acknowledge the reality that abortion does happen and that young people need the facts so that they can make their own informed decisions about it.


  1. Yes yes all interesting, isn't the whole two entrenched camps thing all a bit last season?

    The prolifers say things like 'what choice does a young pregnant woman who presents herself at an abortion clinic have? what options do they have on the menu?

    In fact they (the pro-lifers) are the ones offering the alternatives so rightly describe themselves as pro-choice.

    Thanks for the link to LIFE which you posted on the sex ed blog. Also on their website is this

    'LIFE is opposed to abortion on principle in all circumstances because it ends the life of a unique unborn child. This extends even to what many people consider the “hard cases”, such as disability, teenage pregnancy, and pregnancy after rape. Some people raise the issue of “abortion to save the mother's life”. What they mean by this is that in a very small number of cases, a pregnant woman may have life-threatening health problems which can only be treated by doing something which may have the side effect of ending the pregnancy. An example of this is chemotherapy, which can be an effective treatment against cancer but can also lead to the death of an unborn child.
    In this situation, it is not really accurate to describe the action as an abortion, as the intention is not to end the life of the unborn child. The child's death is an unintended side effect.'

    So for the record you got LIFE wrong in this piece.

    I will put to you the same question I have asked fpa & brook

    What is the basis for your utter commitment to the absolute ideological position which says that women have a 'right to choose'?

    My point being that pro choicers are value driven too!

  2. I have been very worried by Dorries call for independent advice because I thought all the advice centres that did not provide abortions would be anti-choice centres that would lie to and traumatise the women that are already in a difficult situation. It is a great relief to find a pro choice advice charity that is exactly what is says pro CHOICE. Though I am still opposed to the reforms as having to seek advice when you are already sure of your decision will delay the procedure making it worse.

  3. 'what choice does a young pregnant woman who presents herself at an abortion clinic have?

    When a young woman presents herself at an abortion clinic, she has generally chosen. She will also receive counselling if she has any doubts.

    As 'pro-lifers' withold abortion as an option and even disagree with contraception in many cases, they are anti-choice.