Name-calling isn’t new. It’s been a classic bullying and teasing tactic amongst children for centuries, and while our education system tries to eradicate such childish behavior before adulthood, we’ve clearly failed on this one. If you’ve sneaked a peek at any social media website, you’ve certainly noticed that adults show about as much maturity as your average middle schooler in this department. The abortion debate, in particular, brings out the worst in people, and you can find a whole host of names and labels being thrown around from “anti-life” and “baby killers” on the one hand to “anti-woman” and “forced-birthers” on the other.
While few pro-choice people are actually using terms like “forced-birthers,” many have adopted the term “anti-choice” in order to avoid referring to us as standing for life. Many pro-life people have decided to reclaim the term in response, openly embracing their view as being “anti-the-choice-to-kill” or something like that. A few weeks ago, we received a comment on our YouTube Channel pointing out precisely that:
This comment really got me thinking: How should we respond when someone calls us “anti-choice?” When is it helpful to debate labels, and when is it really just a distraction from the issue at hand?
Estimated reading time: 11 minutes
Labels Can’t Get You Very Far
In case you haven’t noticed, our brains love labels. Labeling people, objects, places, or literally anything else helps us to organize our thoughts and reactions by categorizing things as being like or unlike other things we’ve previously come into contact with. This is incredibly helpful for organization and memorization in our brains, but incredibly unhelpful for nuance. Our brain’s natural inclination to slap a nametag on everything and everyone causes us to judge books by their covers and come to unfounded conclusions about the people we meet. There’s a fairly recent trend in the education system that helps growing children understand the harm that labels have on others and encourages them to never let the labels others put on them “define them.” As a product of a teacher education program myself, I spent hours reading about how children internalize the labels we put on them and learn to live up to those expectations as the “slow-learner,” “genius,” or “class clown.” One of the worst things I could do for my students’ development would be to openly label my students like that.
But no matter how much we learn about how unhelpful and even harmful labeling can be, we still do it all the time to both ourselves and others. Thus, we must learn to see past labels, utilizing them for their helpful effects but moving beyond them to uncover the uniqueness of each person as quickly as possible. We must recognize that labels, even self-selected ones, are ambiguous and confusing, and people are far more complicated than the terms they’ll use to describe themselves. In conversations about abortion, for example, the word “pro-choice” actually tells me precious little about what someone believes. Think about it: if someone’s Twitter profile says “I’m pro-choice,” what do I actually know about her? She believes that at least one type of abortion should be available as a legal choice for at least some women at at least one time during the pregnancy for at least one reason. That’s so unspecific! She might think that all types of abortion should be available for any woman who wants one at any time during the pregnancy, or she might think that abortion should only be available for women who are survivors of rape or incest during the first trimester. Those are drastically different views, and I’ve met both of those self-identified “pro-choice” people in real life! Just reading “I’m pro-choice” on someone’s Twitter profile tells me nothing about what she actually thinks or what is driving her view.
Labels can not only be ambiguous and refer to wildly different views, but they can also be used “inaccurately.” I’ve seen many a self-identified pro-life person get lambasted on social media for saying that they’re pro-life but think there should be an exception that allows for abortion in cases of rape and incest. “If you’re not against all abortions, then you’re not really pro-life” they’ll say, usually in a much more derogatory and ALL-CAPS WAY. All of this to say: labels on both sides of the abortion debate are confusing, unhelpful, misused, and easily misunderstood. Maybe that person shouldn’t be calling themselves “pro-life,” or maybe the person who is for all abortions at all times should be called “pro-abortion.”
But let me be frank: I don’t really care. I’m not here to debate labels. I am here to foster better dialogue about abortion and save lives. I have way bigger fish to fry than caring what people call themselves; I care what you think about abortion, not what syllables you slam together to vaguely identify your viewpoint. If someone brings up a label in our conversation, I’m going to use it to point me in the right direction and then assume nothing more. If someone says they’re pro-choice, I’m going to start asking clarification questions to better understand what’s going on for them. It will do me zero good to start making pro-life arguments if I don’t understand why they’re pro-choice in the first place. My questions might include:
- “I’ve heard a lot of different people say ‘I’m pro-choice’ but mean drastically different things by that, and I want to make sure I understand you. Can you help me out here—what does being pro-choice mean to you?”
- “Do you think that abortions should be available during all nine months of pregnancy? Or should there be a cut-off somewhere?”
- “Do you think that abortions should be available for any reason? Or are there certain reasons we should make illegal, like an abortion because the fetus has Down Syndrome or because the fetus is a girl and that family doesn’t think girls are as valuable as boys?”
Only once I understand a bit more about how they think and what’s actually driving their view can I make a pro-life argument that will resonate with them. In order to be as effective as possible, I need to move past whatever label they used as quickly as possible and get to the meat of the issue.
But What About Derogatory Labels like “Anti-Choice”?
You might be thinking: “Okay, that’s all fine and good, but you’re talking about the term ‘pro-choice’ here. That’s a widely accepted term that pro-choice people use to identify themselves. That is way different from something like ‘anti-choice,’ which is specifically designed to throw negative PR at the pro-life movement. We should certainly care and not just move on when someone does that!”
Yes, I do care. But I care far less about myself getting offended and way more about what’s driving their decision to call me “anti-choice” in the first place. Remember: my goal here is to have the conversation. Minds and hearts change because of conversations, not slogans, and so it’s a waste of valuable time to focus on the label rather than figure out what’s going on under the surface. If someone calls me “anti-choice,” I do know one thing about them: they probably have a pretty negative view of pro-lifers since the term itself implies that we’re denying rights and choices to women. Thus, that’s probably the place I’m going to start. I might reply with something like:
“It sounds like you care a lot about this issue! By using the word “anti-choice,” it seems like your view is that abortion should be an available choice for women, which people like me are trying to wrongfully restrict. Am I understanding you correctly? Don’t worry, you can’t offend me; I’d much rather have an honest conversation where I can understand your views than have us censoring what we think and not actually getting anywhere.”
Notice how I’m not attacking the use of the derogatory label; instead, I’m using it as a tool to start a conversation and dig a little deeper into what’s driving their view. After I’ve discovered their underlying assumptions and we’ve fully explored those, and after I’ve built rapport that challenged the caricature of the pro-life movement they had in their head, I might bring the conversation back to that label that started it all. It might be a hundred messages or an hour later, and that’s okay. It’s not that I’m never willing to discuss labels; I just don’t think they’re my number one priority in a conversation. So if the pro-choice person and I have built the rapport to go there, then let’s dive right in.
“Anti-Choice” is Blatantly Inaccurate
Let me be clear: I am not against people being able to make choices. I am saying that women shouldn’t get an abortion—that getting an abortion isn’t something she should have a right to do—and that is not the same thing as being opposed to women making choices.
We know that abortion kills a human organism, and I believe that all human organisms are persons. Pretty much everyone agrees that killing innocent persons is always wrong except sometimes in cases like self-defense. So, if I’m right that abortion kills a person, and if I’m right that it can’t qualify as self-defense, then abortion shouldn’t be a legitimate option. Thus, I’m arguing that we should take away an illegitimate option; we should take abortion off the table of legitimate options, just like we have taken murder and rape off the table of legitimate options. Defining these options as unacceptable is very different from being against people making choices or forcing people to choose a certain option.
Consider this thought experiment courtesy of my colleague Andrew: a man tells you, at gunpoint, that you have to get ice cream from the soft-serve machine. He doesn’t care whether you get chocolate or vanilla, but you have to get one. I come along right then and take off the handle for the chocolate ice cream side. I happen to know that, if you pull the handle to get chocolate ice cream, it would poison one of your relatives who you’ve never met, so I take off the handle for the chocolate ice cream side. You shout at me, “How dare you! You’re forcing me to get vanilla ice cream! Are you opposed to me making my own choices?” Doesn’t that seem ridiculous? I haven’t made you choose vanilla, even though I took away your only other ice cream option; the guy with a GUN is forcing you to choose vanilla! I’m not forcing you to do anything, and I’m actually saving the life of one of your relatives. If there were three ice cream flavors available to you, and I took away the chocolate ice cream handle because it would poison one of your relatives, I wouldn’t care if you chose vanilla or whatever other flavor is there. I have absolutely no problem with people making choices; I just don’t think that killing should be an option on the table.
In pregnancy, there are only two options available. You can either allow the fetus to exist in your womb for nine months, at which point you don’t have to have any further legal obligation to it if you don’t want to, or you can have the fetus killed through an abortion. Perhaps it’s unfortunate that there are only those two options; it would be really cool if we had the ability to Star-Trek-beam the fetus into an artificial womb so that the woman wouldn’t have to be pregnant anymore and the fetus wouldn’t be killed. I would at least be willing to entertain the idea if we had that technology, but we just don’t. So her only options in pregnancy are to allow the human to exist in her womb or to kill the human, and I believe that killing another innocent human is wrong—the kind of wrong that should be illegal.
Thus, “anti-choice” really isn’t an accurate representation of my viewpoint; it’s more like I am “anti-killing-being-a-legal-option” or “anti-abortion-as-an-available-choice.” I know that’s not exactly catchy to say, but it’s a much fairer label for my position.
So, Should We Reclaim “Anti-Choice” or Not?
The short answer? I don’t think so. I’m not going to go around calling myself “anti-choice” on purpose because I don’t think it’s true! But I’m also not going to make a big fuss if someone calls me “anti-choice.” Instead, I’m going to use it as an opportunity to start a conversation, get to know what’s driving their view, help them understand what’s driving mine, and ultimately graciously demonstrate why “anti-choice” isn’t actually an accurate representation of what pro-lifers like me believe about abortion. It’s not that I’m never willing to debate labels or try to change the culture about what labels we use. I’m just far more concerned about discussing the real issue—that unborn humans are being legally killed on a daily basis—than about getting offended by the things people call me. Learning how to have better conversations about abortion thanks to resources like our Equipped for Life Course will have a far greater effect in changing the culture than battling labels alone. So don’t get caught up in the labeling and name-calling; diving beneath the surface of their view is a much more effective use of your time.
Please tweet this article!
- Tweet: I Don’t Care What You Call Me: Responding to “Anti-Choice”
- Tweet: Our brain’s natural inclination to slap a nametag on everything and everyone causes us to judge books by their covers and come to unfounded conclusions about the people we meet.
- Tweet: Just reading “I’m pro-choice” on someone’s Twitter profile tells me nothing about what she actually thinks or what is driving her view.
- Tweet: Minds and hearts change because of conversations, not slogans, and so it’s a waste of valuable time to focus on the label rather than figure out what’s going on under the surface.
The post I Don’t Care What You Call Me: Responding to “Anti-Choice” originally appeared at the Equal Rights Institute blog. Subscribe to our email list with the form below and get a FREE gift. Click here to learn more about our pro-life apologetics course, “Equipped for Life: A Fresh Approach to Conversations About Abortion.”