Planned Parenthood Ditches ‘Pro-Choice’ Label for Nuance
Just weeks before Roe v. Wade’s 40th anniversary, Planned Parenthood announced they were departing from what they called a polarizing pro-choice label. Planned Parenthood claimed the move aims to attract more support from individuals who do not identify within the movement, but do support reproductive justice. In a video released last week explaining their decision, the organization presented a nuanced take on the abortion conversation, framing it in a continuum, rather than the previous black and white binary.
A recent Gallup Poll may have influenced Planned Parenthood’s decision, showing that Americans who identify as pro-choice has fallen from 56 percent in 1996 to 41 percent currently. Despite these figures, Planned Parenthood notes a second poll from Quinnipiac University that suggests support for reproductive freedom is at an all-time high, even among those who identify as pro-life.
"What this poll makes clear is that labels like 'pro-choice' and 'pro-life' simply don't reflect the complexity of how most people actually think and feel about abortion in this country," Planned Parenthood President and CEO Cecile Richards told Campus Progress.
Quinnipiac University’s 2012 annual voter poll indicates that proponents of the Roe v. Wade ruling outnumber opponents with 64 percent in support, up from 4 percent in 2010. However, when the question is worded within the pro-choice/pro-life framework, pro-life support prevails. Perhaps a more accurate rhetoric would be “pro-Roe” and “anti-Roe,” but Planned Parenthood isn’t seeking a new label and as a Pew poll suggests, 44 percent of Millennials may be in need of a history lesson on the revolutionary ruling to grasp that sort of branding.
But perhaps new catchy labels aren't necessary to move the conversations surrounding abortion forward. Planned Parenthood's tactic of leaving branding behind imitates successful "post cool" corporate campaigns that identify our generation's theorized resistance to labels—and since galvanizing the Millennial generation on this issue is crucial it's unsurprising that the organization is willing to try its hand at a more nuanced approach.
The fact that anti-choice legislation continues to sweep across our nation suggests that more needs to be done to convince legislators that pro-choice bills aren't only essential to women's health but that anti-choice ones fly in the face of the majority of Americans—and voters. Millennials proved their merit this last election season, impacting outcomes on both the local and national levels and they're also overwhelmingly value pro-choice, making them a solid target to market to. As PolicyMic pointed out, young women ages 15 to 30 are especially vulnerable to policies that prohibit choice since they are more likely to experience unintended pregnancies.
Parenthood’s strategy is a unique step toward making pro-choice conversations more palatable and accessible to those who don't strongly identify with the pro-choice branding but it's emphasis on rights to privacy may be problematic.
Focusing on privacy may only compound the already deeply entrenched stigmatization of abortion. Emphasizing abortion as an individual woman’s concern excuses others from working toward reproductive justice. It doesn’t stress the importance of being vocal about progressive social and economic policies that will create tangible change within our system, potentially isolating potential allies that are essential for coalition building.
While Planned Parenthood departed from the semantics of choice, NARAL Pro-Choice America released a statement confirming their commitment to the pro-choice label. NARAL acknowledges the importance of understanding the word “choice” in broader terms.
“Choice means having access to birth control and choosing when to make the personal and financial commitment to bring a child into the world." Tarek Rizk, NARAL communications director said in the release. "It means taking steps to ensure you can provide for and protect that child to the best of your ability. It means you, and not the government, decide whether you become a parent.”
One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime in the U.S. Our society’s dialogue needs to reflect that reality.
Pro-choice label or not, Planned Parenthood must be straightforward about their support of a woman's right to choose. Meaningful change on reproductive rights can be made only when abortion becomes widely accepted as a common, safe medical procedure.
Anya Callahan is a reporter for Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @LezAnya.