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“Pro-choice” is probably the word you’ve heard most often to describe abortion supporters. Many people strongly identify as“pro-choice” , and “pro-choice” has come to encompass a wide range of beliefs about why someone should be able to choose to have an abortion. But “choice” frames the whole conversation about abortion inadequately and doesn’t describe true reproductive freedom. We need to go beyond choice language to affirm our support for abortion.

The language of “choice” centers one person’s decision to get an abortion or not; a choice is something one person makes. Focusing on someone’s “choice” erases the structural, societal factors that determine how and if someone can get health care, and the quality of that care. These factors are not incidental or insignificant: they leave many people with no choices at all..

“Choice” assumes that everyone can get an abortion, and someone just has to choose whether or not they want one. Not everyone can get an abortion when they want one. Black feminists and feminists of color have pointed out that this isn’t the case: the legal right to choose to have an abortion does not always mean someone can actually get an abortion. “Choice” ignores the lived realities of people, especially Black people and people of color, who face barriers that are often compounded by racist and classist policies that keep them from the care they need. 

Think about it: if someone lives in a state with only one abortion provider several hundred miles away, that person technically does have the “choice” to have an abortion — technically. If someone can’t get transportation, can’t get time off work or school, or can’t afford their care, that person does not really have a choice. If we really want people to be able to make their own health care decisions, we can’t fight for just the right to make choices about abortion, we fight for full access to care, so anyone can actually get an abortion, when and where they need it.

Full access to care means not just the ability to get care; it also means that care should be respected and affirmed, without social judgments. Well-meaning folks often contrast “pro-choice” with “pro-abortion,” as in, I’m pro-choice, not pro-abortion. But that’s hurtful to people who’ve had abortions. It implies that abortion isn’t a good thing, that legal abortion is important but somehow bad, undesirable. That’s deeply stigmatizing, and contributes to the shame and silence around abortion, making people who’ve had abortions feel isolated and ashamed. At least one in four people who can get pregnant will have an abortion during their lives, and they should be supported and celebrated. It’s time to retire the phrase “pro-choice, not pro-abortion” for good.

“Choice” isn’t the only thing we need to fight for. We need to fight for access, equity, and the full freedom to exercise our legal rights. This is why Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts advocates for policies that will dismantle barriers to care and expand access to abortion. We’re fighting to ensure that everyone can get the care they need, that they have chosen, and that their decisions will be respected and uplifted. 

So what can someone say instead of just “pro-choice”? You can absolutely say:

  • pro-abortion, pro-abortion rights, pro-abortion access, or pro-abortion equity — abortion isn’t a dirty word.  

  • pro-reproductive health care or pro-reproductive freedom when you’re talking about more than abortion. 

  • “I support abortion access” or “I’m a supporter of abortion access.” 

It’s time to use language that reflects what we’re fighting for: access to abortion for everyone, without apology.

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Tags: Abortion, abortion access, language, pro-choice, stigma