Pro-life? Pro-choice? What do these terms really mean?
When one calls an anti-abortion activist “pro-life,” does this imply that all other individuals are somehow against life? Pro-death? I know that I personally support life in all its nebulous meanings, but I am also a supporter of abortion rights. To be “pro-life” positions your political opponents as champions of death. Under our current taxonomic standards, this is quite a quandary.
And the other side isn’t much better. What exactly does “pro-choice” mean anyway? An anti-abortion activist is probably very pro-choice when it comes to what he selects from his wardrobe to wear in the morning. And he is probably pro-choice when it comes to choosing what breakfast cereal to eat before he goes off to work. Or even not to eat any breakfast cereal at all. Abortion rights activists aren’t pro-choice, they’re pro-abortion. Calling oneself “pro-choice” is equally problematic as it positions the anti-abortion activists as fascists clamping down on our freedoms when, in fact, it is only one legal grey area that is truly being contested.
But in an attempt to free ourselves from the existing language of the debate, we run into another problem. What does it mean to be pro-abortion? If I am pro-abortion, does that mean I support haphazard and frequent abortions? For one to be pro-abortion sounds like one wholeheartedly supports and condones abortion across the board. Perhaps one who is pro-abortion even believes that abortion is a positive idea. This, however, is an unfair depiction of most activists on this side of the argument. For many people, the label of “pro-abortion” in the above context would be an unfair categorization. Most of these activists still believe that abortion is a sad, terrifying, but necessary right.
If put in a woman’s shoes, I might not personally choose to have an abortion, but this does not mean I do not support each woman’s individual right to choose to have the procedure. One can be ideologically opposed to the idea of abortion on a personal or emotional level while still supporting the legal right to choose on a public and governmental level. Despite this, “pro-abortion” still remains the logical antonym to “anti-abortion.” Both terms need to be thrown out the window if we are to make any sense of the situation.
So what now? “Pro-choice” and “pro-life” are vague and misleading. “Pro-abortion” and “anti-abortion” are equally problematic and prone to misunderstanding. Where does this leave us?
We can take the more “politically correct” route of “abortion opponents” and “abortion rights activists,” but if we’re really going to try to paint a fair and accurate picture, perhaps we need to stop focusing on such short, “precise” labels. There are multifaceted ways of looking at any complex issue. No one person can easily be lumped into either camp. Our society has grown to rely on easily digestible sound bites, but these do not facilitate real dialogue or conversation. We needn’t try to lump every complex position under one conglomerate banner; not everything fits neatly into such a binary.
When someone asks you how you stand on abortion, don’t answer “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” Don’t answer “pro-abortion” or “anti-abortion.” Don’t reduce your opinions and beliefs to a short signifying label. When someone asks you how you stand, take the time to explain your beliefs, contradictions and all. We must learn to recognize the nuances in the differences of opinion. It is only in this way that we can truly open a dialogue and begin to understand one another.
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