Question: What Would Be a Better Word Than “Abortionist”?

I’d like to host a discussion in the comments below. The question is: what would be a better word to use than “abortionist”?

I imagine the discussion going a little bit like this, except it will be online and it won't be a stock photo.

I imagine the discussion going a little bit like this, except it will be online and it won’t be a stock photo.

UPDATE 7/13/15: There’s been lots of great discussion in the comments, from both sides of the debate, exactly what I was hoping for! My conclusion at this point is that “abortion practitioner” does the best job of not being rude and also not removing all stigma from abortion, both things I think are important. You can jump straight to the discussion about whether that brings too much stigma to abortion here. You can also read my thoughts on how we ought to think of “shame” as it relates to this discussion here.

We’ve talked a lot about language choices we make and our dislike of labels like “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” because people are more complicated than the labels we give them. Having said that, sometimes using labels is necessary, especially when writing.

Our general principle is that we try to use neutral terms, at least in public articles and at the beginning of our conversations with pro-choice people. The goal is to avoid hurdles that distract us from the most important questions in the abortion debate, what are the unborn and how should we treat them?

So you’ll notice even in this post as well as the rest of this blog, much to some pro-lifer’s great frustration, we use the term “pro-choice” when we need to use a label, as opposed to a more derogatory label like “pro-abortion” or “pro-abort.” I don’t think those labels are helpful nor accurately descriptive of most people on the abortion rights side of the debate.

“Abortionist” is a word that never seemed offensive to us, but others have recently said it is to them. This is a problem because needlessly offensive words can distract from the important questions of the debate. Any time we’ve used that term we haven’t been trying to be rude. We would like to find a better word for the medical practitioner who performs the abortion that is less offensive but still clear enough that people know what we mean when we say it.

For example, one common phrase is “abortion provider,” but that seems too vague. Planned Parenthood is an abortion provider. We’re trying to find the best word for the person who carries out the abortion. Help us out in the comments below.

As always, I want to hear opinions from both pro-life and pro-choice people, so a quick reminder about our comments policy: I will be deleting snarky and disrespectful comments.

President

Josh Brahm is the President of Equal Rights Institute, an organization that trains pro-life advocates to think clearly, reason honestly and argue persuasively.

Josh uses speaking, writing and campus outreach to emphasize practical dialogue tips, pro-life philosophy, and relational apologetics.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Kelsey

    I sometimes go with “abortion doctor,” which I generally consider synonymous with “abortionist.” But that may not always work, since some people who commit abortions are not doctors; for instance, former doctors may continue to commit abortions on a revoked license, and in some extremely abortion-friendly states, there is no physician requirement.

    I never say “abortion provider,” both because of the ambiguity you brought up and because it’s not neutral. To “provide” something is impliedly positive; it makes it sound like the abortion is a gift, rather than a purchase.

    TL;DR, “abortionist” is the best we’ve got.

    • Perr5

      About abortion being a gift . . . Some abortions—I have no idea how many—are paid for by abortion funds, so those abortions could be considered gifts. And I think in those cases they are more or less intended as gifts.

      If the “provider” is the person who pays, then we have: the patient as provider, abortion funds as providers, insurance companies in some cases, plus, possibly, any clinic staff / doctors who may be donating their time and effort. Maybe others, such as the patient’s family and friends?

    • Guest

      Agree that “provider” implicitly legitimizes abortion. Imagine calling someone a “crystal meth provider”. That doesn’t sound quite right, because the item in question is something harmful rather than a valuable service or commodity.

  • BigBlueWave

    Some years ago, there was a blog called “The Abortioneers” run by people involved in abortion provision– not necessarily abortionists, but all the supporting staff. I kinda like the term “abortioneer” because they invented it, and it has the word “abortion” in it, without sugar-coating it.

    • I remember the Abortioneer’s blog. They’re views were a lot more extreme than most pro-choice people though, so that makes me suspect that the term wouldn’t be well received either. But I’m open if some pro-choice people said they like it.

      • ghhshirley

        Abortioneer sounds like a cartoon superhero, very silly.

  • Leah Torres, MD

    I am a physician who performs abortions. I identify with the following terms/labels: Doctor, OB/Gyn, reproductive health specialist, and a combination of any of those followed by “who is an abortion provider as well.” I find “abortionist” limited and therefore inappropriate because the abortion procedure is only a small part of the vast amount of procedures I perform. I also find it offensive due to historical stigma placed on the term.

    I appreciate the effort to reduce this stigma by using the term “pro-choice” as opposed to “pro-abort” and other derogatory terms. Thank you.
    -Leah

    • Thanks for adding your voice here, Leah!

    • Leah, a few people have suggested “abortion practitioner.” Any thoughts on that term?

      • Leah Torres, MD

        I think that the first step is to realize that performing abortions is a subset of broader health care. Must we then say “Stent practitioner” for cardiologists who provide stents? Mentioning abortion is an afterthought for me as it is not a primary part of my practice. So, I’m an “OB/Gyn who provides comprehensive health care. Yes, I also provide abortion care.”

        I see a lot of desire to perpetuate the stigma of abortion. This is unhealthy as well as harmful to pregnant people. I also see a lot of desire to label people who provide abortions as criminals, desires to dehumanize health care practitioners who provide abortion care. This also is harmful and has lead to fewer health care practitioners who can provide safe abortion care. I’m sure this is not the desired goal of “pro-life.” I imagine everyone wants people out of harm’s way, not forced into it because of lack of resources.

        The stigmatization of abortion must stop as it endangers lives. I see it. I live it. It is unacceptable and contrary to what I understand “pro-life” to stand for.
        -Leah

        • Perr5

          Leah’s comment leads me to ask a question of the pro-life side: how to pursue your goal lowering the number of abortions to zero while incurring as little collateral damage as possible in terms of the health and lives of the pregnant people who are seeking abortions and of the doctors (and supporting staff) who provide them?

          Reducing the amount of this collateral damage would be one reason to avoid such intentionally stigmatizing terms as “abortionist” (to respond both to Clinton’s question specifically and to the point of this thread more generally).

        • Guest

          How do you reconcile the idea that every successful abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent person with the idea that it’s good healthcare (and as such, nobody should ever try to make it illegal or even criticize the practice)? Also, what do you understand “pro-life” to stand for? What do you think Josh means when he says he is “pro-life”?

          • Leah Torres, MD

            This is not something that requires reconciliation as the life of the pregnant person is the life that needs protecting. I protect the health and well-being of my patients according to what they want and what they think is best for them. They are the only ones who can truly know the best course of action for their health care needs and I provide them with comprehensive information so that they may make a fully informed decision.

            I don’t know what “pro-life” means to distinguish from “pro-choice.” After all, we are ALL pro-life. I am pro-life and demonstrate that by supporting and respecting the autonomy of my patients’ lives. No one is “anti-life,” but if you don’t support someone’s autonomy to make their own decision regarding their pregnancy and family, then you are anti-choice, anti-pregnant people, and anti-autonomy.

            Principle Medical Ethics:
            -Autonomy
            -Beneficence
            -Non Maleficence (not respecting autonomy is harmful)
            -Justice

        • Ashlen

          Hi Leah, I hope you don’t mind me kind of going off track here. I wanted to ask you some questions to get your perspective as someone who does abortions. I wanted to ask if you have you always wanted to do abortions or did you see later on as a good way of helping women or something else? Just wanted to add here I am very much against abortion and wanted you to know that now so you don’t feel like I was intentionally hiding that later if you continue talking with me.

          • Leah Torres, MD

            Hi Ashlen,
            I didn’t know I wanted to perform abortions until I shadowed doctors who were my mentors in medical school and saw the patients they cared for and learned how and why they performed abortions. Once I saw how important safe abortion care and access was, I was hooked. I knew I had to incorporate abortion care into my future practice in order to be the best doctor I could be. Thank you for your question!
            -Leah

            • Ashlen

              Hi Leah,

              Sorry it took me so long to get back to you, I’ve been busy prepping for college. I can sort of relate to that. I remember pretty early in my involvement in the pro-life movement reading about a man who did abortions. It talked about how he had started doing abortions as a response to seeing the harm that had come to women as result of back alley abortions. The women came in with horrible complications like perforated uterus. He wanted these women to have a safer alternative.
              I respected and do respect the intention of wanting these girls to be
              safe and know that they deserve so much better than a dangerous procedure like that. I also wish I had the chance to talk to this man. As a pro-lifer I know life begins at fertilization and believe that our humanity is what makes us valuable. As abortion take the life of a living human organism I believe it does not help humanity, the unborn or the woman. Can you kind of see where I’m coming from with my position? Also are there any abortions you wouldn’t preform, such as after a certain point in pregnancy or for a reason such as gender selection? If you wouldn’t mind answering what do you think makes a life valuable? (I know it’s a deep question) Thanks for taking the time to talk to me :)

              • Charles Stanley

                Ashlen, I can try answering your question theologically. We are all created in the image of God. I share your belief that life begins at conception, but that does not lead me to a hard line pro-life stance. In the case of pregnancy, you have two lives intertwined, one adult woman, and a fetus. The characteristic of the fetus is that it life is sustained by his or her connection to the first individual. This is what makes moral questions so complicated. If the pregnancy is dangerous or a risk to the life and health of the woman, what do you do? If the baby is anencephalic, and cannot live outside the womb, what do you do? Also, if the baby is simply not wanted, what do you do? If corporations are denying women medical leave and using their biology against them, what do you do?
                These are all morally different situations for me. All life has value, and an aborted child is a person who died. But the context may dictate a very different response morally. This is why I no longer identify as either prolife or prochoice. I feel the discussion has gone of the rails.
                Good luck in college.

        • Charles Stanley

          YAY Dr. Leah! Thank you so much! It is important to hear what people want to be called, and use those terms in real dialogue. This is how progress is made. Even using the term “pro-life” to describe people who oppose abortion is a problem, for one simple reason: What does that make the other side?

        • Charles Stanley

          I agree with Leah from the perspective of historic Christian faith.

        • ChristinaDunigan

          How many doctors who are doing primarily abortions are actually ob/gyns? George Tiller, I believe, trained as a pathologist. Kermit Gosnell was a GP. I’ve seen podiatrists and psychiatrists and ENT specialists who discovered that there’s good money in doing abortions.

          Referring to these people as “reproductive health care providers who also provide abortions” is like calling somebody who does cut-rate liposuctions all day as a “holistic practitioner who also performs liposuction.”

    • Dr. Jack Covel, MD

      As a physician I can’t bring myself to label those who performs abortions as “doctors.” I think instead of a label I would rather just stick to “a person who performs abortions” if it is true that abortionist would be offensive. I do appreciate you voicing your concerns though.

      • Sharon Diehl

        Jack, dear, I would not consider you worthy of being my doctor with that attitude of yours.

        I fully support Dr. Leah Torres, who considers women as human beings, in charge of their lives and medical decisions.

    • Charles Stanley

      Write more Leah!!!!

    • Poltergh0st

      Dr. Torres, I want to thank you for your service to women. You’re very brave, and if you ever need extra security at your place of work, I would be honored to help. Stay safe.

  • Nectroll

    I think “Abortion Practitioner” would be the most neutral and generic term, while still avoiding historical stigma.

    • TooManyJens

      I agree with this.

  • Perr5

    Honestly, “abortion provider” does it for me. I understand what you’re saying, Josh, about an organization technically being a provider, on some other level, but that meaning would never have occurred to me. When I hear “provider,” I immediately think that we’re talking about a person. So, for me, a “health care provider” is a person too, rather than being, say, a hospital or an insurance company.

    Is “provider” too approving a term, as Kelsey suggested? I’m not sure. I do think that it accurately reflects the situation: people who want an abortion are looking for someone who will provide it to them. Their act of seeking it implies that they approve of it.

    • ChristinaDunigan

      I think “provider” is indeed too benign. There are abortion practitioners who are party to coercion, abusing patients, profiteering, and so on. Even the most benign abortion practitioners blind themselves to the women’s real needs, and are performing something she is only resorting to because she thinks she has no choice. It’s as irresponsible to do an abortion to treat the ambivalence of early pregnancy with an abortion as it would be to treat the pain of a stonefish sting by amputating the limb.

    • I agree with Christina, which is why I prefer the word “practitioner”. It does the job of being less offensive to abortion advocates (which, by the way, is my preferred neutral term for pro-choicers when you don’t want to grant them ownership of all choice simply because they favour the right to the choice of abortion) while not being overly generous.

      “Provider” implies a service or a gift. I’ve provided you with something you need. But women don’t need abortion so much as we need a society that embraces women without penalizing us for our reproductive capacities. You practice abortion, you perform abortions.

  • Jim Burke

    I assume that the concern arose in the same way being called “anti-abortion” focuses on such a narrow aspect of being pro-life that it can insult the broader perspective. However, as new approaches to performing abortions arise, the terms may become even messier. With the advent of webcam abortions, the person seeing the client via webcam ends up being more of an abortion facilitator, since the mother of the child becomes the abortionist when she takes the abortion drugs. But women who get one abortion that way wouldn’t think of themselves as an abortionist, since they don’t perform them on a regular basis, and they would likely consider the person on the other end of the webcam the abortionist. That’s just something to consider after/while deciding what to call the abortionist in most other cases.

    “Abortionist” has a clear definition, and I’d almost say it would be handled like the times when someone has the wrong meaning of “open-minded”. In cases of pro-abortion, pro-choice, pro-life, anti-abortion, etc., it really does deal with what the person’s motivating attitudes are. But finding another term can be useful, if there is no other way to move forward. I do say “piano player” rather than “pianist” in many cases, just in case I don’t annunciate well or if someone doesn’t hear me correctly, even though pianist is the correct term for a piano player.

    Someone who performs abortions as only part of their work, who address so many other aspects of reproductive health may not want to appear to be only an abortionist. I also agree that a doctor seeks healing and restoring a person to optimal health, which makes it not work as well with the pro-life side. Any other term that avoids the term “abortion” in some way seems to lack the specificity or distinction of a medical professional that performs abortions rather than other medical professionals.

    So unless a good term somehow arises that’s one word, I suspect “abortion” will be an adjective or the root word. I tend to just use “abortionist”, but “abortion practitioner” seems reasonable to me. But it might still focus too much on abortion. It might end up a longer term, such as a practitioner who ALSO performs abortions…the “also” might be useful. Those are my thoughts.

  • Clinton

    How about abortion practitioner?

  • Clinton

    Honestly, while I think “abortion practitioner” works, I don’t think we should try and necessarily remove the stigma from a doctor who does abortions. The doctor’s first rule is to do no harm, and by performing abortions they are clearly violating the most important rule of being a doctor. Words are important, and if we continue to remove necessarily inflammatory words, that only plays into the hands of pro-choice people because all of the words are neutral and easier to justify.

    • I think “abortion practitioner” does the best job of not being rude and also not removing all stigma from abortion, both things I think are important.

      • Leah Torres, MD

        I’m quite unclear about why there “must be” stigma attached to abortion. This stigma silences people and puts lives in danger. Doctors become targets of terrorism and patients are harassed and shamed as a result.

        The stigmatization of abortion must stop. In my opinion, it is contradictory to the Christian faith to do such harmful things to others.

        To “first do no harm” includes not withholding medical care. To “do harm” can also mean to do nothing. For example, I am not allowed to withhold treatment from a criminal who was in a gun fight because I am morally against guns.

        I perform abortions because I put my patients’ lives first and I respect their autonomy. There is much less harm in doing an abortion for someone who desires one than not doing the abortion and forcing someone to undergo undesired health and life risks in pregnancy and child birth.

        Also regarding “First do no harm,” please see my blog post of the same title: http://leahtorres.com/first-do-no-harm/

        -Leah

        • This is actually a really helpful comment, because I think it clearly points out a way that we’re using language differently. (When that happens, it brings us a big step closer toward clarity.) In this case, I think we are either using the word “stigma” differently, or we disagree about what the necessary effects of abortion stigma are.

          Let’s start with some common ground. I’m completely against terrorism like acts of violence against abortion practitioners. (Some explanation here: http://bit.ly/1wKqcw6.) I’m against vandalism of abortion clinics. I’m against harassment of abortion practitioners and their staff. (We may occasionally disagree on whether an individual act is harassment, but probably not often.)

          When I say that I don’t think abortion should be de-stigmatized, I mean that it shouldn’t be thought of as morally benign, because I don’t think it is. You probably do, (don’t know enough about your views yet to know for sure,) and if so that would just mean that we disagree about stigma because we disagree about one of the central questions in the abortion debate: are elective abortions morally wrong?

          If by “stigma” you mean something more than that, than we may have more common ground than I thought. I’m just not sure how you’re using “stigmatized.”

          IF we’re using the word “stigma” the same way, then I disagree with your statement that it necessarily leads to terrorism against abortion practitioners. Any act of violence against an abortion practitioner is not pro-life, and is not justified in a democratic society like ours, even if abortion IS killing. People on either side who commit violent acts against each other ought to be shamed by both sides for doing something very wrong, and be legally punished. All that said, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to believe in a society that generally sees abortion as something morally different than most medical procedures AND where nobody attacks abortion practitioners.

          I could spend more time defending all of these statements, but since I’m not sure where we agree or disagree, I’ll stop here for now. :)

          • Leah Torres, MD

            Thank you for the more detailed clarification, Josh. I would not doubt that you are against violent acts, just as I am. However I was referring to the stigmatization of abortion as that which is declaring it as morally wrong which results in shaming others. Be shamed results in silence. Being silenced results in oppression. Being oppressed is to incur violence in a variety of ways systematically. It is not OK for someone to call me a “murderer” because that is a) untrue b) stigmatizing my profession c) endangers my safety given the emotional response invoked by such a label.

            Yes, this discussion would be an in-depth and lengthy one but I wanted to be sure to point out where we were disagreeing.

            Performing abortions is a moral act. Having an abortion is done with moral dignity. I encourage you to try to see it from the pregnant person’s perspective. You must start there. When you are able to step in to their world, you may have more compassion and less desire to stigmatize than you realize.

            One of the greatest failures of the anti-abortion stance is the lack of compassion for pregnant people who don’t want to be pregnant. Their lives come first and I will never apologize for that.

            Thank you for including me in this discussion. I look forward to future opportunities to participate. =)
            -Leah

          • Perr5

            Josh, I think you’re not giving stigma enough credit. It expresses more than disagreement. Stigma is that factor that says: not only is what you did wrong, but now you must be shamed and maybe even expelled from community—silenced, disbelieved, harassed, and so on.

            You wrote to Leah: “. . . if so that would just mean that we disagree about stigma because we disagree about one of the central questions in the abortion debate: are elective abortions morally wrong?” Speaking for myself, let me say that elective abortions *can be* morally wrong. But—and I would say this is where you and I differ—it is up to the pregnant person, no one else, to know that and to decide it, though of course you might have an opinion when it comes to someone among your close friends or family. But whatever your opinion in a particular case, no one should be shamed, thought less of, driven out for their decision to end or continue a pregnancy. No one should be *stigmatized* for getting an abortion—or for providing one.

            • “Josh, I think you’re not giving stigma enough credit. . . . Stigma is that factor that says: not only is what you
              did wrong, but now you must be shamed”

              Regarding a certain kind of violence other than abortion, Josh had written in the comment you have replied to:

              “People on either side who commit violent acts against each other ought
              to be shamed by both sides for doing something very wrong . . .”

              He seems to think that shaming has a necessary role at times. I didn’t understand him as being unaware that stigma involves shaming.

              • Perr5

                Acyutananda, I agree that Josh seems to think that shaming has a necessary role at times, based on the part of his comment that you quoted. But that is not what he calls stigma. Stigma for him, if you look two paragraphs up from there, is a quality that belongs to an action that you think is morally wrong. It is the result of a mental categorization, and it need have no other consequence for people who are talking ethics than the observation that they disagree. Or, if you go back down two paragraphs again, stigma is something that *does not* lead you to violence against people doing the thing that you disagree with.

                But that is not what stigma is. Stigma is, in fact, a marking out of someone for special treatment. It is a social phenomenon; you cannot “stigmatize” actions without changing the way you behave toward the people who do them.

                My question is, is stigmatizing people who perform abortions an effective way of achieving pro-life goals?

                • Regarding “stigma,” “stigmatizing,” “shame,” “shaming,” let’s start on the literal level, which is where I should have started in the first place and didn’t. I think that you and I both have slipped from “stigma” into “stigmatize.”

                  Josh Brahm said, “When I say that I don’t think abortion should be de-stigmatized, I mean that it shouldn’t be thought of as morally benign . . .”

                  Referring to that, you have said, “Stigma for him . . . is a quality that belongs to an action that you think is morally wrong. It is the result of a mental categorization, and it need have no other consequence for people who are talking ethics than the observation that they disagree.”

                  Though you had disagreed with that definition in your reply to JB, and now you have again disagreed with that definition, I think it is a good definition. Stigma is a negative attribute that attaches to an action — specifically the bad reputation of that action.

                  Your disagreements: To JB you said, “Stigma is that factor that says: not only is what you did wrong, but now you must be shamed . . .” And now you have said, “Stigma is, in fact, a marking out of someone for special treatment. It is a social phenomenon; you cannot ‘stigmatize’ actions without changing the way you behave toward the people who do them.”

                  And I said, similarly, “stigma involves shaming.”

                  But I think that you and I have both been imprecise, slipping from “stigma” into “stigmatize.” Stigma is an attribute that attaches to an action. How can an attribute of an action itself perform an action — shaming, stigmatizing or any other action? It can’t.

                  What I had in mind when I said, “I didn’t understand [JB] as being unaware that stigma involves shaming” was his searching (in his first input about “stigma”) for a word that will “not remov[e] all stigma from abortion,” which “I think [is] important.” He recommends selecting a word that will not remove all stigma from abortion. Selecting is an action.

                  Moreover, regarding a certain kind of violence other than abortion, Josh had written in the comment of his that you replied to:

                  “People on either side who commit violent acts against each other ought to be shamed by both sides for doing something very wrong . . .”

                  Since I felt quite sure that he, like me, thinks of many abortions as violent acts, it seemed inferrable to me that he would be comfortable with employing shaming (and thinking of it in terms of that word) in the abortion sphere as well in the sphere he was specifically referring to.

                  But I should not really draw inferences about what he is thinking within.

                  And I should not slip from “stigma” into “stigmatize.”

                  “My question is, is stigmatizing people who perform abortions an effective way of achieving pro-life goals?”

                  Let me just say for now that there seems to have developed some thinking that all stigmas should be taboo. But, using your term “mental categorization,” if in society there is going to be a mental categorization of right and wrong at all, there must also be stigma. Only a morally-relativistic society will be a stigma-free society. I think we should have mental categorizations of right and wrong. Regarding how to deal with the fact that that entails stigma, I will try to say something later.

                  • Perr5

                    Hi, Acyutananda—
                    Please forgive me, I don’t think I will be able to engage with everything you have retraced from our conversation. Let me cut to the chase—I think you are wrong here:
                    “if in society there is going to be a mental categorization of right and wrong at all, there must also be stigma. Only a morally-relativistic society will be a stigma-free society.”

                    I think that stigma amounts to exactly the behavior that Josh disavows elsewhere—harassment of abortion providers, harassment of abortion-seekers, violence against clinic staff, picketing of the schools attended by the children of people who own property occupied by a medical practice where abortions are performed—all that. I think that is simply the correct definition of stigmatizing.

                    I think it is possible to disagree with a particular course of action (of performing abortions, let’s say), to try to persuade someone not to take that course of action, to criticize someone publicly after they’ve done so and continue to do so, to give them the reputation of being willing to perform certain actions (a “bad reputation,” if you will, to re-use words of yours), and so on, all without branding them (which is the etymological meaning of stigma) as less-than, as someone whose safety and well-being doesn’t count, as worthy maybe only of being driven out. I don’t believe that a lack of harassment equals a morally relativistic society.

                    Reading over my comment I see I didn’t quite word it the way I want to, but that will have to do for the moment. I hope you can get the gist.

                    • “I hope you can get the gist.”

                      I certainly think I have, and hope I’m correct that I have.

                      You have said: “I think you are wrong here: if in society there is going to be a mental categorization of right and wrong at all, there must also be stigma. Only a morally-relativistic society will be a stigma-free society.

                      But as I continue to read, you only object to that in terms of your definition of “stigma,” not in terms of what you called Josh Brahm’s definition — which I ultimately agreed with. So it seems you’re only arguing a semantic point.

                      For instance:

                      “I think that stigma amounts to exactly the behavior that Josh disavows elsewhere—harassment of abortion providers, harassment of abortion-seekers, violence against clinic staff, picketing of the schools attended by the children of people who own property occupied by a medical practice where abortions are performed—all that. I think that is simply the correct definition of stigmatizing.”

                      So you’re arguing for a certain definition, and you may possibly be correct about the definition. But as long as Josh disavows all that, and as long as that is not what I mean by “stigma” when I say Only a morally-relativistic society will be a stigma-free society, then there is no issue among any of us except how to define a particular word, right?

                      “I think it is possible to disagree with a particular course of action . . . to criticize . . . to give them . . . a ‘bad reputation’ . . . all without branding them (which is the etymological meaning of stigma) as less-than, as someone whose safety and well-being doesn’t count, as worthy maybe only of being driven out.”

                      I didn’t know that “branding” was the etymological meaning of “stigma”. That’s interesting. But even if we assume that the etymological meaning should be considered the correct meaning today, how specific a kind of branding was involved? Does the etymology really show that we must understand the branding to be as less-than and to be driven out? Might not the branding be in terms of disagreeing, criticizing, and giving them a bad reputation?

                      I hope you won’t mind if I share my unresearched feeling. This is just from my life experience, which goes back a while. I have the feeling that “harassment of abortion providers, harassment of abortion-seekers, violence against clinic staff, picketing of the schools attended by the children of people who own property occupied by a medical practice where abortions are performed—all that” is a definition of “stigma” that has developed only in very recent decades and only in limited circles of society, such as pro-choice activists, and has not entered any reputable dictionary.

                      However that may be, do you agree that we are differing only about semantics?

                    • Perr5

                      It’s good that you and Josh repudiate that kind of harmful behavior—but somehow you both want to keep using the word for it. Are there any elements of that harmful behavior, then, that you actually want to keep? That’s what I want to find out. And Josh has evidently found the need to work out his thoughts on the subject more fully, which I am looking forward to reading.

                      I’m inclined to accept your point about abortion providers being a target of stigmatization only in recent decades, though I admit I don’t really know much relevant history from before that. But I think stigma has had the meaning I’m referring to for much longer. Take The Scarlet Letter as an example. Since so many texts are online now, I checked and found that Hawthorne even uses the word several times.

                    • Thanks.

                      “I’m inclined to accept your point about abortion providers being a target of stigmatization only in recent decades”

                      I didn’t say anything about historical events. What I said was about the history of people using the word “stigma” in the way that you use it.

                      “But I think stigma has had the meaning I’m referring to for much longer. . . ., I checked and found that Hawthorne even uses the word several times.”

                      Could you provide a quote or two where he uses the word to mean harmful behavior?

                      “It’s good that you and Josh repudiate that kind of harmful behavior—but somehow you both want to keep using the word for it.”

                      So far it’s not clear to me that “stigma” means harmful behavior. Will await examples in Hawthorne, in dictionaries, etc.

            • I’ll be posting some comments on the topic of shame this Monday. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

              • Will look forward to it.

                I have made an attempt at some related thinking in a reply to Perr5. If you have time to look at it, please see below “Regarding ‘stigma’ . . .,” or click here.

              • Perr5

                Thanks for responding to let me know, Josh, I’m looking forward to reading.

        • Guest

          The gun fight example doesn’t work because nobody is arguing that women who choose to have abortions ought to be denied medical care. Where the disagreement lies is in whether or not abortion itself qualifies as good medical treatment.

        • ChristinaDunigan

          Leah, let’s step away from abortion for a moment so we can look at a general principle.

          We all know that not all dental pain means that the tooth that the patient is complaining about needs to be pulled. The problem might be that gingivitis has exposed the dentin on the side of the tooth and is causing sensitivity, and just changing the patient’s dental hygiene habits would address the pain. The patient might have referred pain from another tooth that has issues while the painful tooth is in good shape. The patient might just have a cavity that needs to be filled and the tooth will be fine. It’s the dentist’s job to figure out what is causing the dental pain, explain this to the patient, and develop a plan for dealing with it.

          What would you think of a dentist who simply peered into the patient’s mouth, verified that there was indeed a tooth present where the patient reported the pain, and pulled the tooth? Would you have a low opinion of that dentist? Would you think that this dentist deserved to be stigmatized?

          Now let’s shift to abortion, and the words of Dr. Alec Bourne, who challenge the UK’s ban on abortion by openly performing an abortion on a 15-year-old rape victim. Dr. Bourne was not an antiabortion activist by any stretch of the imagination. But in his memoir he wrote:

          “Those who plead for an extensive relaxation of the law [against
          abortion] have no idea of the very many cases where a woman who, during
          the first three months, makes a most impassioned appeal for her
          pregnancy to be ‘finished,’ later, when the baby is born, is thankful
          indeed that it was not killed while still an embryo. During my long
          years in practice I have had many a letter of the deepest gratitude for
          refusing to accede to an early appeal.”

          Let’s look now at the words of Dr. Mary Calderone, back when she was Medical Director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In an article published in the American Journal of Public Health she wrote:

          “[Members of the 1955 Planned Parenthood conference on abortion] agreed, and this was backed up by evidence from the Scandinavians, that when a woman seeking an abortion is given the chance of talking over her problem with a properly trained and oriented person, she will in the process very often resolve many of her qualms and will spontaneously decide to see the pregnancy through, particularly if she is assured that supportive help will continue to be available to her.”

          These are only two cases in which supporters of access to abortion pointed out that abortion ideation can be treated, very much to the woman’s satisfaction, with far less drastic approaches than abortion. Do you think that a doctor (and I am not saying that you, personally are such a doctor) who simply verifies that there is indeed a fetus present and removes it is being a responsible physician meeting the patient’s needs, or do you think he’s more like the dentist who just casually yanks teeth without even ascertaining that the teeth in question are even unhealthy?

      • Perr5

        Josh, could I ask you to elaborate—what is the importance of retaining a little bit of stigma, of using words that are a little bit “derogatory” or “offensive,” as you say in the post above? I wonder whether you worry that people won’t really understand your position unless you express a personal disdain.

        Could I ask you this: do you think my position here is unclear, even though I have used no disparaging terms for people who hold views like yours and are activists in that cause?

        Let me come back to a question I asked before, and please think about giving an answer to it: how much collateral damage do you think is necessary as your pursue your goal of reducing the number of abortions to zero?

      • Charles Stanley

        Josh you are wrong, Whether or not there should be stigma attached to abortion is the issue. Would you prefer to be called a “misogynist” rather than just a woman-hater?

        • Guest

          What kind of a question is that?

          • Charles Stanley

            Many “pro choice” people believe that misogyny causes pro-life-ers to be insensitive to the pregnant woman’s life and health. They point out that the opposition to abortion comes from Christians of the Catholic or Evangelical Churches, both of which do not allow Women to be clergy (Yes I know it’s not law in evangelicals, but it is still the reality). My question is, do I need to state this connection, argue for it, present evidence of this connection? Or is it enough for me to engage in name-calling which deliberately stigmatizes the actions of the other side?
            To the extent that abortion is legal, Doctors who perform these procedures should never be stigmatized. They should be referred to in discussion by the name they choose.

            Dr Leah is correct when she says, “The stigmatization of abortion must stop. In my opinion, it is contradictory to the Christian faith to do such harmful things to others.”

            Let’s stop stigmatizing and demonizing and discuss things.

            PS I don’t really mean the “woman-hater” thing – I am only making a point. Stigmatizing the position of others is not the same thing as winning an argument.

  • ghhshirley

    Abortion Care Provider

    • a7xrocker1981

      Baby life snuffer is more like it.
      There is nothing caring about killing a kid in abortion.

      • Leah Torres, MD

        It is comments like these that put people’s lives in danger from acts of terrorism.
        -Leah

        • a7xrocker1981

          Free speech

          • There is no free speech on this site. See my comments policy.

            • ghhshirley

              Thank you, Josh.

  • Michigan_Pat

    “doctor” ? Although, does anyone get offended because you refer to your pediatrician as a “pediatrician”? Perhaps, rather than changing the “label”, you just need to ask the question…
    “Why would calling him/her an “abortionist” bother you? You know that he does abortions, right? If I said my child went to the doctor, you might ask ‘what kind of doctor?’ If someone brings their unborn child to a doctor, you might ask ‘what kind of doctor?’ or ‘is this a wellness visit?’ “

  • Guest

    I’d go with simply “person who performs/does abortions”. It’s neutral, simple enough, and doesn’t exclude non-physicians that do abortions.

  • Tom Reichardt

    I recognize that among the people who perform abortions there are various types. One single word cannot do a perfect job to describe everyone who may perform abortions.

    If a doctor has something like a legitimate ob/gyn practice and a hospital admitting privilege…and does abortions as apart of that practice. I could use a normal medical title that applies like “attending physician” or whatever they prefer.

    However, doctors whose main focus is doing abortions at a clinic that advertises itself as the place to go to get an abortion. That person is best described as something like an “abortion provider” because that is what they do. Any implied stigma that may be attached to those words goes with the job.

    And, of course, I would never lump any of the above in with the truly grisly abortionists like Gosnell.

    • Tom Reichardt

      A couple thoughts on my comment:

      First, the most inflammable language ought to be reserved for the most outrageous situations. Lest it become dilute of meaning. This is a matter of tactics…all abortions are an outrageous violation of rights.

      Second, I don’t advocate going easy on the “occasional abortionist”. As if that’s not so bad. They need to be held to account, however, I don’t think calling them, or anyone, names that they don’t accept will help persuade them.

  • This will not be a direct answer to your question. I would like to bring up a deeper issue that seems to be somewhat involved.

    First, I think that Clinton’s point “I don’t think we should try and necessarily remove the stigma from a doctor who does abortions,” and Tom Reichardt’s point “[Abortionists] need to be held to account” should be considered seriously.

    Secondly: Is there such a thing as righteous anger, and do you think it is ever the most appropriate approach? Are there any circumstances in the world where continued friendliness toward someone would be counterproductive, and where the best thing would be to say, “What you are doing is completely wrong. I don’t want to see you or speak to you again until you have rectified yourself” — ?

    If someone is doing something wrong, is it possible to treat them exactly as we would treat someone who is doing everything right, without sending them the message that we don’t think they’re really doing anything wrong?

    Almost the same question: Are there or should there be stigma-free wrongs? Do we want some or all wrongs to be stigma-free?

    In these questions I don’t want to focus on performing or committing (as the case may be) abortions. I am asking something more general.

    • I also agree with Clinton’s point. I don’t want to remove the stigma of abortion. I also don’t want to be rude, so balancing those two things is the reason this discussion is difficult in the first place.

      On your question about righteous anger, I could see scenarios where I should cut off fellowship with someone who consistently hurts people AND calls himself a Christian. The Bible is pretty clear about that. I think it’s different with non-Christians though.

      “If someone is doing something wrong, is it possible to treat them exactly as we would treat someone who is doing everything right, without sending them the message that we don’t think they’re really doing anything wrong?”

      I think it’s possible to treat people well without implying that we agree with everything we do. I have enough rapport with Leah, an OB/GYN who performs abortions as a part of her practice, to ask her to join the discussion, and for us both to appreciate certain things about each other. I’m not hostile or rude to Leah, but I don’t think that confuses her into thinking I’m okay with abortion.

      • Thanks.

        I’ve thought of a few scenarios as to how I might reply, including asking Leah Torres exactly how disapproving of her activities she perceives you to be, but instead I’ll just make an observation that again doesn’t quite directly address the things you’ve been saying.

        I think there’s a big difference between abortion and most other serious wrongs, and that therefore we should relate differently to people involved in abortions than we might toward some wrongdoers. I think that many people involved in abortion are genuinely unable to see anything wrong in it. I think that a dismissive attitude toward the unborn is quite natural in many people and to be expected. It can take years, more years than some people will live, to come to “see” a being whom we can’t literally see, as the first requisite step in the process of a human life and therefore a person like ourselves — to come to see them so not just in an abstract way, but in the kind of reflexive way that will affect people’s moral intuitions. At this link I have said for my own part that since my present pro-life moral intuition “was not present in me prior to the scientific understanding and probably still would not be present without that understanding . . . I say that that intuition is not a fundamental and irreducible one” (search for that sentence).

        • Thinking about my first paragraph above, “asking how disapproving” might be read as sarcastic. I meant only to say straightforwardly that that is a question I did think about.

          • Leah Torres, MD

            I am happy to answer, though this is a very involved discussion that would be better done over coffee. (Josh, I’ll still take you up on those 7 questions).

            I don’t believe Josh “approves” of what I do, which saddens me, but just because we disagree does not mean we cannot treat each other with dignity.

            Abortion is part of reproductive health care. I am a trained physician and I can speak to this with scientific evidence to support me as well as international human rights organizations to support me. That said, not everyone agrees abortion is a good thing. That doesn’t change the fact that it is part of the high-quality health care I provide.

            If I had my perfect world, every pregnancy would be a planned and desired pregnancy. Those pregnancies, after all, are the healthiest pregnancies and health is a priority of mine as a physician. Even in a utopia where 100% of pregnancies were planned and desired, things can still go wrong and abortions will still be necessary simply due to Mother Nature. (I talk more about this in my blog post “Universal Truths.”)

            Lastly, I am not a Christian but I live by the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have done unto you.

            Living by this mantra has meant I treat everyone with kindness and compassion. So far I think it has served me well.
            -Leah

            • I’ll still take you up on that coffee meeting as well. Just waiting to be in your neck of the woods. :)

            • Thank you. I appreciate your reply.

              “I don’t believe Josh ‘approves’ of what I do . . . but just because we disagree does not mean we cannot treat each other with dignity.”

              Again I am inclined to follow up, and to do so based on the fact that you have already shown your willingness to talk about these things. My question would be, suppose pro-lifer X, who seems to be equally as noble a soul as Josh Brahm, were to say, “I will talk with you in a dignified way as long as I have hope of influencing you, but I don’t drink coffee with abortion practitioners.” Would you feel the disapproval more strongly?

              However, if I am lucky enough this time that you will reply to one question, but not lucky enough that you will reply to two, a question that I would give priority to would be this:

              Your participation here, the fact that you participate and the nature of it so far, leads me to take at face value your “I treat everyone with kindness and compassion.” But the fact that you perform abortions leads me to think that you don’t consider the unborn as part of everyone. This gets back to my remarks about how people (honestly) see the unborn in different ways.

              In the same essay that I linked to before, I have given my thoughts about these perceptions, and where they come from, in a couple of paragraphs. Please search for “some people tend to perceive a still picture, an organism frozen in time, while some tend to perceive a process.” I would like to ask you about your perceptions of the unborn within that framework.

              “Even in a utopia where 100% of pregnancies were planned and desired, things can still go wrong and abortions will still be necessary simply due to Mother Nature.”

              I said above that I tend to think, at this point, that you don’t consider the unborn as part of everyone. I support abortions when things go wrong and appreciate those who provide them. If you were to say that you provide abortions only when things go wrong medically, I would not suspect that your perceptions of the unborn were different from mine. But you suggest that lack of planning is a valid reason for abortion, and you don’t exclude the possibility that you might find other reasons valid also. If I’m wrong about these things, please correct me, but this is why I ask about your perceptions of the unborn.

              “I talk more about this in my blog post ‘Universal Truths.'”

              Could you kindly provide the link?

            • I found your “Universal Truths.” You posted it two years ago. Are you still open to replying to comments there?

      • Charles Stanley

        “an OB/GYN who performs abortions as a part of her practice”
        Referring to Dr Leah in the above way is the right way, and any other way is both hostile and rude. When you show this kind of flexibility, don’t you have to dodge bullets from the extreme right?

        • I’m used to it. Some pro-life people think I’m wishy-washy and need to be “stronger on the truth,” and some pro-life people rightly see me as trying to help us be more thoughtful and loving in the way we present the truth.

          For what it’s worth, our response to the “you’re afraid of the truth” crowd is here: https://blog.equalrightsinstitute.com/are-we-afraid-of-the-truth/

          • Charles Stanley

            I’d be happier is you would acknowledge that no one has cornered the market on truth. It would also be more thoughtful and loving to understand what the other side is fighting for, and that for many it comes out of distinctively Christian faith. May you and Dr Leah should open a website together.

            • Charles, this is not the first time you’ve subtlely implied something negative about me in one of your comments. Let’s take a look.

              “It would also be more thoughtful and loving to understand what the other side is fighting for, and that for many it comes out of distinctively Christian faith.”

              The obvious thing you’re implying is that I don’t understand what the other side is fighting for, and that some of them (like you) believe that their Christian faith calls them to be pro-choice.

              I’m getting really tired of this, Charles. I don’t know of ANYBODY in the pro-life movement who spends more time helping people to accurately understand the pro-choice person in front of them than I do. Stop stereotyping me.

              • Charles Stanley

                No, Sir, you do not understand what the “other side” if fighting for. If you did, you would not say such a thing as “some pro-life people rightly see me as trying to help us be more thoughtful and loving in the way we present the truth.” I am not subtly implying anything. I am openly stating that if you enter into a dialogue with the certainty that your position is “the truth,” you are not relating in a way that is thoughtful or loving. You are just using a different tactic. Apparently you are not capable of seeing this.

                I am getting tired of your whining.

  • ghhshirley

    Josh, what do you believe is the best way to reduce abortions? Do you think making abortion more difficult to obtain or making it illegal will decrease abortions? If so, what is the basis for that assumption? How do you feel about birth control and sex education?

    • I think these are fair questions, Shirley, but they are way outside the scope of the discussion at hand.

      My short answer is that I think lots of things contribute to abortion reduction. I think some pro-life incremental laws do that. I think sidewalk counselors and Pregnancy Resource Centers do that. I think more people using birth control effectively does that. I think abortion becoming illegal would greatly reduce abortion, although obviously not completely eliminate it.

      My goal is not merely abortion reduction. It is to see human rights given back to the unborn, whom should have had them all along.

  • Andy Moore

    A better term than abortionist would be child murderer.

    Abortion is offensive. Those who commit abortions are offensive. There is no room for being “less offensive” when referring to child murderers.

    • Keep in mind my objective when I’m thinking of what language to use: I want to have productive dialogues with pro-choice people. Would you refer to abortion practitioners as “child murderers” in that context, or merely online and/or when talking to other pro-lifers?

  • Charles Stanley

    This article is a step in the right direction. The labels we choose for each other can sometimes be unkind and unloving. How would it change the discussion for everyone to assume that no one is evil, no one is wicked, and I just may be wrong? I am speaking as a formerly passionate prolifer and anti-gay pastor in the 1980-90’s. I was terribly wrong. One of the things I did wrong was to demonize people who thought differently. Clearly there are people who love the Lord on all sides of this issue.

    • “Congregationalists made decisions by complete consensus. If there is no consensus, the Spirit is not yet ready to speak.

      “This is why I see this whole debate as flawed. There are people who have the Spirit of God arguing both sides.”

      Do you mean that for each local congregation, there is a right and a wrong on every issue? That though they may not know what is right and what is wrong until a consensus emerges, there should not be moral relativism but rather an assumption that right and wrong are there to be found? And do you also mean that if what is right for one congregation is wrong for another, between those two congregations the correct position should be one of moral relativism?

      And if two congregations differ about right and wrong on any issue, then for those lacking the spirit of God, or with the spirit of God but outside any congregation, is there any yardstick for deeming any position of theirs to be right or wrong?

      (These questions must come up frequently.)

      “Another thing we might do is to understand better where our own position comes from. Do you really think your position comes directly out of the mouth of God?”

      I have thought as best I could at this link about the origins of moral principles. I would be interested in your opinions.

      • Charles Stanley

        Not sure what you mean by “moral relativism” but in my fundamentalist days is was a codeword for “no moral absolutes.” I will avoid the word because I am not sure what you mean by it.
        For Congregationalists, a person’s moral choices are their own and subject to their own conscience. Congregationalists gather in local communities and can discern Gods will for their community, but that is all. Neighboring congregations can give advice, and so can synods, but that advice, though important, is non-binding. We believe in moral absolutes, but we do not believe we human beings can grasp those absolutes absolutely. That’s why we need each other. An individual may seek guidance from the congregation on some matter moral or otherwise. But again that advice is important but not binding.
        Two congregations can hold to very different positions on many issues. We would not judge another congregation as being wrong or not having the Spirit of God. We allow other congregations to decide for themselves what they will do and how they will live. The relativity of moral decisions relates to time, culture, community, etc. We can discuss, but we cannot coerce.
        In the abortion debate I see the fundamental disagreement in how we talk to each other. It’s as if we have all been indoctrinated but some cultic power, and now we believe we know what is right and everyone else just isn’t up there where we are yet. In my case, the films by Francis Schaeffer “How Then Shall We Live” and “Whatever Happened to the Human Race,” were important. But the existence of godly people who think otherwise should cause us to pause. Of course, at first we demonize them with words and thoughts so we feel justified in not listening to them. But thank God the Spirit continues to soften our hearts.
        For example, Catholics and Evangelicals need to think seriously the relationship of their abortion stance to their understanding of womanhood in general. The Catholic Church bars women from the priesthood by law and evangelicals do it defacto. So women are told to pray and obey. What is the relationship. It may not be direct but it is there. And, both the Catholic Church and the Evangelical church both have significant ways of not having to listen to others’ thoughts. The Catholics have their view they are THE true church, and the Evangelicals see themselves as “Bible Believing,” as if the rest of us don’t.
        I don’t think the abortion issues are any more difficult than any other question, but there has been stubbornness on both sides.

  • Pingback: How Should Pro-Lifers Think About Post-Abortive Shame?()

  • Pingback: 9 Things I Would Ask an Abortion Practitioner Over Coffee - Equal Rights Institute Blog()

  • Pingback: 9 Things I Would Ask an Abortion Practitioner Over Coffee()

  • I don’t really know if it makes any practical difference if you say “abortionist” or “abortion practitioner”. The only difference is that one term is 4 syllables and the other 7 syllables.

  • ChristinaDunigan

    One thing I hate about “abortion provider” is that it is so benign and totally conveys the idea of somebody who is, well, providing. You, Josh, are a provider for your family. There are only positive, not negative, connotations to “provider.” This term simply can not be accurately applied to the Kermit Gosnells and the James Pendergrafts. We need a word that covers everybody from Susanne Poppema, who seems to genuinely care about the woman, to Douglas Karpen who bullies patients who change their minds. And I think you nailed it with “abortion practitioner.” It’s like “abortion facility” for a place where abortions are done. “Clinic” is positive; it’s a place for healing. “Mill” is negative. “Facility” maintains neutrality.

  • Pingback: Why Rhonda Changed Her Mind About Whether to Use the Word "Pro-Choice" - Equal Rights Institute Blog()

  • Tree

    When I was pro-choice, the term that would have felt most accurate and de-escalating to me would be “doctor who performs abortions”.