Can you explain what pro-choice means and pro-life means? When my family talks about abortion I think they’re saying “pro-choice” and “pro-life” wrong, but I’m not sure.
The pro-choice and pro-life labels are confusing for a reason: They force people into just two boxes for all their religious, moral, political, and practical beliefs on abortion. Still, a lot of people use these labels (like your fam). Below, we’ll nail down what most people intend when they say “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” plus our suggestions for better words to use when describing your views on abortion.
Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice
Generally, people who identify as pro-choice believe that everyone has the basic human right to decide when and whether to have children. When you say you’re pro-choice you’re telling people that you believe it’s OK for them to have the ability to choose abortion as an option for an unplanned pregnancy — even if you wouldn’t choose abortion for yourself.
People who oppose abortion often call themselves pro-life. However, the only life many of them are concerned with is the life of the fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus. They are much less concerned about the life of women who have unintended pregnancies or the welfare of children after they’re born. In fact, many people who call themselves “pro-life” support capital punishment (AKA the death penalty) and oppose child welfare legislation.
The black-and-white labels of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” pit people against each other, as if they’re on two different teams. But we agree more than we disagree: A majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal, and they support the right to access abortion.
We Say “Pro-Reproductive Rights” and “Anti-Abortion”
To be more clear and inclusive with our word choices, we at Planned Parenthood say “pro-reproductive rights” and “anti-abortion” to describe people’s beliefs about abortion access. The pro-reproductive rights and anti-abortion labels leave room for a variety of beliefs, while focusing on access to abortion specifically. “Accessing” abortion means having the ability to afford it, physically get to an abortion provider, and other factors that allow you to exercise your right to abortion care.
When you say that you support reproductive rights, that means you support laws that allow people to access the full range of reproductive health care — including safe, legal abortion.
If you identify as pro-reproductive rights, it means you want to keep abortion legal and you believe people have the right to be able to access abortion.
Pro-reproductive rights folks oppose laws that ban abortion, as well as laws that keep abortion out of reach — like laws that shut down health centers or that force patients to jump through hoops to get the care they need.
Many pro-reproductive rights people also support access to birth control, sex education, care at Planned Parenthood health centers, and other forms of sexual and reproductive health care.
Using the term “anti-abortion” is a more accurate way to describe people who want abortion to be illegal. Many anti-abortion people don’t believe that pregnant people should be able to choose abortion under any circumstances, even if their pregnancy is a result of rape or if carrying the pregnancy to term puts their life in danger.
Anti-abortion people tend to:
Disagree with most medical authorities about the definition of pregnancy. They mistakenly believe that pregnancy begins with the fertilization of the egg. Most authorities believe that pregnancy begins when the implantation of the fertilized egg into the lining of the uterus is complete.
- They believe that people should not be allowed to use birth control.
- They want to overturn the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. In that decision, the court ruled that a woman’s right to choose abortion is protected by the Constitution and that abortion is legal throughout the United States.
The Bottom Line
“Pro-choice” and “pro-life” labels don’t reflect the complexity of how most people actually think and feel about abortion. Instead of putting people in one category or another, we should respect the real-life decisions people and their families face every day.
Decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or continue a pregnancy should be made by a pregnant person with the counsel of their family, their faith, and their health care provider. Politicians should not be involved in anyone’s personal medical decisions about their reproductive health or pregnancy.