Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Apparently there's someone named Amy Sullivan who gets herself beat up every few years by coming out in public with the notion that Democrats could woo many evangelicals away from the GOP if they took the trouble to treat them as thinking persons, not living jokes.

Or something like that. But it seems to be more fun to treat them as jokes. Well, be permanent minoritarians, if that's your thing. Kevin Drum even professes to be mystified by her dislike for the label "pro-choice."

Now, I don't know why Amy rejects the "pro-choice" label, and it's pretty likely that I don't agree with her reasons — largely because I don't have any moral qualms about early and mid-term abortion in the first place. But then, I'm not an evangelical, am I?

No, but you are a writer, aren't you? And "pro-choice' and "pro-life" are terms that congealed over the course of three years in the jockeying for moral high ground after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973.* They were chosen by the most activist ideologues on either side, with the intent of cornering the opposition into an unfavorable label while avoiding the same fate for themselves.

They have no other reason for existing, and no other validity. Neither is descriptive, either of the full range of opinions on each side or of the central thrust of each faction.

As such, they ought to be rejected by anyone who is interested in descriptive language. Like the deformed ideology-based rhetoric of fascists or racists or communists. Or else you can roll over and accept them both and let the language go to the dogs. But how do you justify using "pro-choice" because you "don't have any moral qualms about early and mid-term abortion"? The word "choice" doesn't even appear in that phrase.

I may be in favor of the same abortion allowances Kevin is. [I'd have to know what he thinks about things like consent.] But I'd hardly say I'm in favor of any choice anywhere. Calling yourself "pro-choice" because you "don't have any moral qualms about early and mid-term abortion" is a bit like calling yourself "anti-American" because you have qualms about certain U.S. foreign policies.

In one of my incarnations, I'm a dictionary editor, and I've had to devote too much time to explaining to people who I am not going to list "anti-choice" as the "correct" term for abortion opponents, or even merely an "alternate" term as opposed to a "hostile" one.

Back when I was a beat reporter, covering abortion protests and pro-life marches was the bane of my existence. No group of people were uglier to deal with. Not even criminals. There was no pleasing any of them (not that I tried) and it was the only sort of story you could write where both sides would call you on the same story with exactly the same accusations of personal bias (or sleeping with the other side -- literally), but in mirror image.

*It's hard to track which came first. The first discovered reference to "pro choice" is in a Wall Street Journal article from March 20, 1975, according to William Safire. "Pro-life" turns up by Jan. 18, 1976, in the New York Times. "Anti-choice" was coined, as far as I can tell, in "Ms." magazine, in text printed Oct. 8, 1978: "What hypocrisy to call such anti-humanitarian people 'pro-life.' Call them what they are -- antichoice."