Pro-Choice, Not Pro-Abortion

by Jay Johansen
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An interesting theme

I received an e-mail today that said, "Pro-Choice does not mean Anti-Life or Pro-Abortion. Pro-Choice means that one is in favor of WOMEN being able to choose what they want to do to their own bodies. Please do not mistake the two."

I've heard many statements like this over the years. Indeed, I received an e-mail a few months back in which the writer not only declared, "I am not pro-abortion; I am pro-choice", but went on to boldly state, "No one is pro-abortion". Another writer explained to me that abortion is not necessarily a good thing, but that, good or bad, it should be legal.

What's the difference?

I am routinely surprised at how vigorously pro-choicers make this point. This is surely a curious statement to be made by people who have dedicated their lives to the cause of defending abortion. Do people make this sort of statement about any other issue? I'm hard pressed to think of examples. People who defend the right to carry a gun do not say that they believe that gun ownership is evil and causes countless senseless deaths, but nevertheless they think it should be legal. Rather, they give arguments about how law-abiding people owning guns deters crime and that sort of thing. People who campaign for school vouchers do not say that they believe that private schools threaten the cohesion of our society and that this unconstitutionally breeches separation of church and state, but nevertheless they are for it. Rather, they claim that public schools are failing and that private schools are a better alternative for many.

I'm sure similar statements could be made about almost any other movement. Except the pro-choice movement. They are the only group I can think of that vociferously states that the thing they are fighting for isn't necessarily good, they aren't really "for" it in any general sense, but they defend it anyway.

Are they really pro-choice?

Well, maybe someone could fight passionately for the right to do something that he thinks is a bad idea, just on the principle that he thinks people should have the right to do it. Is this what pro-choice people are trying to say?

Of course I can't analyze all the words and actions of everyone who calls themselves "pro-choice". But let's look for a moment at the organization that is surely the most vocal in declaring itself pro-choice: Planned Parenthood.

Case Study #1: Services Offerred

So I looked at Planned Parenthood's annual report. The latest I could find was for 2001. (As I write this, 2002 has just ended, so I guess they haven't come out with that report yet.) Toward the back they count the number of times they have provided various services. Here are some highlights from their chart:

Vasectomies 2,266
Abortions 197,070
Prenatal clients 17,700
Infertility clients 204
Adoption referrals 2,486

Notice an interesting pattern? Arrange these choices in order, from most pro-abortion to most pro-birth. You will see an interesting coincidence: The more pro-abortion a choice is, the more Planned Parenthood does it. The more pro-birth a choice is, the less Planned Parenthood does it. Destroying babies before birth (abortion): 6-digit range. Caring for babies about to be born (pre-natal care): 5-digits. Caring for babies already born (adoption): 4 digits. Helping to cause babies to be born (infertility): 3 digits.

If Planned Parenthood was really pro-choice and not pro-abortion, wouldn't you think they would be providing assistance to women regardless of their choice, and not so overwhelmingly to those who choose abortion?

Case Study #2: Choose Life

Just a few days ago I came across an article on Planned Parenthood's web site dated Dec 30, 2002, and entitled "Federal Court in South Carolina Rules 'Choose Life' License Plate Scheme Violates First Amendment". A little background: South Carolina was planning to offer a license plate with the message "Choose Life" (along with the license number and the regular information). This would be added to the list of "specialty plates" that the state made available to motorists. These plates cost a little more than regular plates, with the extra money going to some relevant charity, in this case, organizations that providing counseling and support services to pregnant women. Anyway, this article boasts that Planned Parenthood brought a law suit to stop the state from issuing such license plates, and convinced the judge that allowing people to have the words "Choose Life" on their car somehow violated Planned Parenthood's free speech rights.

Now, we could debate the details of this case, but surely the first question that should come to our minds is, Why did Planned Parenthood oppose this message? They say they are not pro-abortion, they are pro-choice. The message on the plates was clearly about choice: it was only two words, and one of them was "choose". The plates said nothing about stopping abortion or limiting choice in any way. Indeed, one might well wonder why it was not Planned Parenthood supporting these plates and Right to Life fighting them: Surely one could argue that to say "choose life" implies agreement with the idea that this is a choice that each individual should make, and that while we might encourage people to choose life, other choices are also good and valid. If Planned Parenthood is truly "pro-choice", shouldn't they applaud anyone who proudly declares that she has exercised her right to choose, regardless of what choice she makes?

They say that they are not pro-abortion, they are pro-choice. Then they bring lawsuits against people for saying that a choice other than abortion might be a good idea. So ... they are pro-choice, as long as the choice is abortion?

Case Study #3: The China Syndrome

In 2001, the Bush administration cut off U.S. foreign aid to China's population control program, on the grounds that the program relies heavily on forcing women to have abortions. Planned Parenthood (and other pro-choice organizations) came out very vocally against this cut off. For example, Planned Parenthood issued a statement ("UNFPA: The Full Story", dated 9/6/2002) in which they conceded that "no one disputes that China does engage in coercive practices", but insist that the U.S. should still fund it because the U.S. money is "actually having a very positive and much needed influence on Chinese family planning practice". They blame all objections to U.S. support of the Chinese program on "anti-choice" forces and groups "ideologically opposed to contraception".

In other words, they concede that China does indeed force women to have abortions as part of its "population control" program. But they can't imagine how anyone could think that this was a reason to cut off funding for such a program, unless they're some radical anti-contraception ideologue. Like, who would oppose forced abortions, except someone who is part of some wierd cult?

If someone cannot bring themselves to oppose forced abortion, are they really "pro-choice"? Or are they "pro-abortion"?

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Posted 14 Jan 2003.

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