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As abortion bans sweep the country, more and more people are showing up to voice their support for reproductive rights — on social media, in conversations with friends and family, and at protests. This is both awesome and totally necessary! It’s wonderful that so many people have joined the fight.

But sometimes the language we hear or use to talk about abortion isn’t inclusive or accurate. Sometimes it might even hurt others who are fighting alongside us, or adds to the shame and stigma around abortion that got us into this mess. That’s why you also may have seen abortion rights advocates encouraging folks to avoid harmful language and imagery. While it’s not always easy to reconsider and change the way we talk about abortion, it’s worth the effort to ensure our movement is as strong as possible. 

The handy explainer below from Planned Parenthood of Greater New York offers helpful tips for making sure our language is accurate and inclusive. It’s for new and veteran activists alike. You can also check out our protest tips

Abortion is Health Care: Reducing Abortion Stigma and Using Inclusive Language
By Planned Parenthood of Greater New York

Instead of 


“women’s rights” 

“reproductive rights”

“This decision will harm women across the country”

“This decision will harm people seeking abortions across the country” or “this decision will harm women, transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people across the country”



“Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare”

“Abortion should be safe and legal”

“late-term” abortion 

“Abortion later in pregnancy”

“unwanted” pregnancy 

“unintended” pregnancy

Language that implies the right to abortion is not widely popular

Amplify the reality that 80% of Americans believe abortion should be legal

“I am pro-choice" 

“I support a person’s right to access safe, legal abortion”

Referencing your relationships with female family members as the reason this issue is relevant to you

Acknowledge the importance of fighting for the issue for all people who are impacted, centering communities that are most affected by the decision

Implying that we’ve already done everything possible to ensure full access to abortion

Emphasize that no matter where we live, we must do more to ensure equitable access to abortion for communities that face unnecessary barriers to health care, by funding access to abortion and supporting policies that protect reproductive health. 

Name the communities more harmed by abortion restrictions and explain why they are harmed. Due to systemic discrimination and racism, that includes but is not limited to people with low incomes, communities of color, LGBTQ+  people, and immigrants.

Language and imagery to avoid: 

  • References to abortion as an unsafe procedure, such as references to coat hangers and back-alley abortions. 
    • Coat hangers are symbols of outdated and harmful self-managed abortions, that suggest all illegal abortions will be unsafe. Thanks to advances in medicine and the accessibility to abortion pills, self-managed abortion is safe and effective with the correct guidance.
    • “Back-alley abortions” wrongfully depicts abortion providers as unprofessional,  inexperienced, ill-equipped, and dangerous. It also suggests that self-managed abortions are unsafe. 
  • Handmaid's Tale costumes and comparisons that reference the fictional dystopian future of white women, while ignoring the very real impact reproductive oppression has had on Black people, specifically Black enslaved women, throughout history. 
  • Abortion “Underground Railroad” co-opts another movement led by Black women across this country who offered shelter and support to enslaved people as they worked to escape. This is also an erasure of abortion funds, which are largely led by people of color and LGBTQ+ people. 
  • “Third World Country” comments or references, especially as it relates to the Middle East (for example "SCOTUS=Taliban" and "This is Sharia Law") are rooted in Islamophobia and perpetuate the false narrative that the United States is the highest standard, and/or the most "progressive" when it comes to human rights, particularly sexual/reproductive rights. It also erases the very real impact that U.S. intervention and military presence has had abroad (consider the ecologies of war, including how military toxic dumping in Iraq has caused birth defects). 

If we truly won’t go back, we must also unsubscribe from language and imagery that disregards the real impact abortion bans have on people today.

Tags: Reproductive Rights, protest, activism, stigma

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