The debate about abortion is roughly centered around whether a woman should or should not have the option of aborting her pregnancy. However, the main two terms used when discussing the topic of abortion are “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” Both of these terms are problematic in their own ways, and both of them offer misconceptions about the stances people have regarding this debate. To make the issues with these terms more clear, let’s first look at their definitions and what is unclear about them:
Pro-life: The prefix “pro” means “in favor of,” so this term clearly means “in favor of life.”
The main issue with this term is that it was created in such a way as to make it impossible to disagree with, namely because no sentient being who is alive is not to some degree in favor of life. Everyone likes life in at least some ways. The reason the term is agreeable is because it is incredibly vague. If I were to ask someone who did not know anything about the debate of abortion or who had not heard the term associated with abortion before “Are you pro-life?” their answer would, of course, be “yes.” The vagueness of this term is what makes it problematic.
Pro-choice: Using the same logic as above, this term means to be “in favor of choice.”
Again, an issue with this term is that it is vague. It does not distinguish what kind of choice it refers to. And again, that vagueness makes it agreeable: we all want to be able to choose; we all want freewill.
Both of these terms have another problem stemming from their vagueness. Neither of them represents the people’s opinions about abortion which they are intended to represent. Only the extreme opinion of “no one should ever have an abortion no matter what” is represented by the intended meaning of pro-life. On the other hand, many people who call themselves pro-choice could also be considered pro-life because they generally don’t think abortion is okay, but they wouldn’t take away another person’s choice to have an abortion. In the same way, many who call themselves pro-life do believe that abortion is okay in certain emergency-type situations, such as when the fetus is not yet viable and the pregnancy is endangering the potential mother’s life.
Before we can figure out how else to discuss abortion, we should first break down the many viewpoints people have. None of these contain the author’s or Planned Parenthood’s opinions on abortion. They are simply the views, fact based and otherwise, that people commonly have about it.
- Abortion is wrong and should never be done no matter what
- Abortion is wrong, so it should only be done if continuing the pregnancy to term would very likely endanger the mother’s life (and thus terminate the fetus as well anyway)
- Abortion is not wrong but is still immoral and should generally be avoided
- Abortion is not wrong, but other options such as continuing pregnancy and then giving the baby up for adoption or enlisting the support of friends and family to help care for the baby are much better
- Abortion is not wrong but is morally ambiguous, so it should be the choice of the potential mother and her partner or family (if applicable) whether or not to continue the pregnancy
- Abortion is not wrong and is morally okay, so it should be the choice of the potential mother and her partner or family (if applicable) whether or not to continue the pregnancy
- Abortion is a good option for anyone who becomes pregnant
Clearly this is a complex issue, and these seven common opinions are not entirely inclusive of all possible viewpoints people have on abortion. Does that mean we need at least seven new terms to describe these varying opinions? Maybe, but it would be much more complicated. Some might say that describing these ideas deserves to be complicated because it is a morally complicated issue. However, instead of trying to boil down people’s opinions into a couple of words each, it would also be a good idea to listen and learn and show respect for the ideas of others when talking about the issues of abortion. The extreme ideas (the top and the bottom of the above list) could be labeled “anti-abortion” and “pro-abortion,” but every opinion in between could be called “pro-life” or “pro-choice.” Perhaps the conversation should not be boiled down. Instead, when the issue comes up, in the news, in government and politics, in conversation, we should acknowledge the moral complexity of the issue and describe our own ideas and opinions to better understand and learn from each other and to make our arguments and decisions.
The terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” were created to oversimplify the opinions surrounding abortion, but oversimplification hasn’t made the discussions any easier. The morality of abortion is complex and can be looked at in many different ways, and the terms we use to discuss it should reflect that complexity. By updating the terms we use, we can better understand each other and thus make political decisions regarding abortion easier to make.