From tee-shirts proudly proclaiming “I had an abortion!” to Christmas cards announcing “Choice on Earth”, Planned Parenthood has designed dozens of marketing strategies over the past four decades to convince Americans that the “choice” to end the life of an unborn child is “normal” and good, even morally upright.
The “pro-choice” label was created in 1975 when abortion proponents decided that the phrase “pro-abortion” was taboo. While legal, abortion was still viewed by many as a form of deviant behavior. The stigma remained. Few wanted to label themselves as “pro-abortion” and the pro-choice phrase was enlisted to describe those in favor of abortion rights but unwilling to say the ugly word. But it was always implied when those favoring abortion rights described themselves as “in favor of a woman’s right to choose.” Everyone knew the code. Everyone knew that the woman’s right to choose was always “for abortion.”
Still, the euphemistic “choice” seemed to work for nearly four decades. It has been used by “pro-choice” Catholic politicians including Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and long list of Kennedys and Cuomos who constantly insist on the need to protect a woman’s right to choose. Such Catholic politicians could speak in code—reassuring voters that they would vote in favor of abortion without ever saying the word “abortion”. But, like all euphemisms, what is hidden often remains clear, and as the culture has begun to move steadily in the pro-life direction, the pro-choice phrase began to seem a bit too explicit.
Planned Parenthood has realized that. Polling funded by Planned Parenthood in 2012 appeared to “show some dissatisfaction with the labels.” In the poll, 7% of self-described pro-choice voters thought Roe v Wade should be overturned. And in an online survey of recent voters, 12% said they were both pro-life and pro-choice, and another 12% said they would not use those terms. When asked for their moral opinions on abortion, 40% of those voters said “it depends on the situation.”
In its article, “Planned Parenthood Moving Away from Choice”, Buzzfeed.com described a 2013 press briefing in which Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood president, said “it’s a complicated topic and one in which labels don’t reflect the complexity.” Richards added that “the groups polling showed most Americans could get behind a more nuanced statement of principles.” Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens agreed, claiming that the word “choice itself might be causing problems…When choice got assigned, women didn’t have as many choices…” Since women now have more rights and freedoms, she said, maybe “’choice’ as word sounds frivolous.”
For the past few years, Planned Parenthood has been trying to replace the “pro-choice” label with something else. Lauguens suggested that Planned Parenthood poll tested “making abortion rare” but it polled “poorly” because women found it “judgmental and shaming.” In response, Cecile Richards tried something “more nuanced.” The euphemistic “women’s health issues” was enlisted to fill the void, and for a while—especially in the debate surrounding the funding for abortion and abortion inducing drugs in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act—the phrase “women’s health” began to replace the pro-choice label. The manufactured “Republican War on Women” was enlisted as code for attempts by pro-life politicians to restrict abortion. Instead of pro-choice, those same pro-abortion Catholic politicians who were “personally opposed but pro-choice” began to describe themselves as committed to “women’s health issues.” They understood that their base would know they meant abortion, but they must have hoped that those who are beginning to have concerns about “a woman’s right to choose” [abortion] might not be put off by the loaded phrase.
Indeed, President Obama has been lauded by many within the Catholic academic world, including Pamela Trotman Reid, president of St. Joseph’s College in West Hartford, Connecticut, who told a reporter for the Hartford Courant that Obama was a “kindred spirit.” As an African-American woman, Reid said that she would expect much from an Obama presidency and revealed her concerns about continuing women’s access to abortion by saying that “the next president is likely going to make appointments to the Supreme Court. That could affect the right of women to make choices about their own health. These are issues of incredible importance.”
The fact that real health concerns about access to health care for men, women and children have arisen through the passage of healthcare “reform” brought by the Affordable Care Act, suggests that “women’s health issues” and “War on Women” may in fact need to be replaced. However, a replacement for the pro-choice label has not yet been found. In fact, there are signs that the reliable “pro-choice” may be making a comeback.
Earlier this year, the euphemistically named “Abortion Care Network” held what it called its first “Abortion Stigma Busting Video Competition”. Both of the winning videos focused on “choice.” One of the two winners was a video entitled: “Women Have Abortions Every Day: It’s Just One Choice,” produced by the Irish Family Planning Association and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. In that video, women are portrayed as making the choice to have an abortion as a “normal” choice like the decision to buy a condo or a car, go to graduate school, or get a divorce—or obtain a restraining order against a spouse. Just one choice among many of the choices we make throughout our lives.
In the second award-winning video, Emily Letts, a twenty-five year old former actress—she is now, a New Jersey abortion clinic counselor—videotaped what she described as her “surgical abortion” procedure and submitted it for the competition to show others, as she told an interviewer for Philadelphia Magazine that she felt “super great about having an abortion.” In the prize-winning video itself, Letts exclaims “cool!” after the abortion. In an essay for Cosmopolitan magazine Letts writes that she let a camera crew film her first trimester abortion in order to dispel some myths about what it is like to have an abortion: “A first trimester abortion takes three to five minutes. It is safer than giving birth. There is no cutting, and risk of infertility is less than 1 percent.” Throughout her videotaped “abortion” Letts explains that she is “not ready” to have children. “I’m lucky because I feel completely comfortable with the decision. I’m supported by everyone.” Guitar music is faintly heard in the background throughout the video, and a kind doctor is heard reassuring Letts throughout the procedure. When the abortion is over, Letts smiles and says “I feel good. I’m done. Yay.”
While Letts claims that her award-winning video was created to diffuse some of the confusion that clouds the issue of abortion, her choice to make light of an abortion procedure created an uproar—even in the pro-choice community. According to Lifesite news, the interviewer for Philadelphia Magazine, Victor Fiorillo said he had heard from many women “who self-identify as pro-choice” who found the video “creepy”, telling Letts, “some said it should have been kept private some say that you were quite glib.”
Casey Fiano of Live Action News has joined others in the pro-life community to charge that Letts did not even have an abortion on that video. Kristen Iglesias at Clash Daily claims that the entire video was staged. Iglesias listed the inconsistencies and “strange coincidences” that led her to believe that Letts, with the help of her employers at the Cherry Hill (New Jersey) Women’s Center, fabricated the video. Letts claimed to be only two to three weeks pregnant—highly suspicious no matter which way you look at it. According to Casey Fiano, “while Letts claims that she chose to have a surgical abortion specifically for the sake of doing the video, that seems hard to believe. In order to have an aspiration abortion, a woman has to be at least six weeks pregnant.”
Whether Letts videotaped a real abortion or not is up for debate. More clear is the constant attempt by the pro-abortion side to define down the deviance of killing the unborn child in the womb—and the continued failure to remove the stigma of abortion. The Planned Parenthood tee-shirts failed because very few women would want to stand up and say proudly, “I had an abortion.” Few purchased the shirts as most women are ashamed of such a thing. The post-abortion recovery community has stepped in to help women cope with their decision to have an abortion. Some never fully recover from such an act; they know that abortion can never be de-stigmatized. The deviance of such a barbaric act can never be defined down because no matter what euphemism the pro-abortion side chooses to call it, abortion is still killing a child and no one can ever be proud of such a thing.