Choice: An Obsolete Strategy
By Lauren Sabina Kneisly
On the eve of the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Roe versus Wade decision, I believe it's time to come to terms with where we are. 'Choice' as an euphemism for abortion is dead. It's part of a flawed and obsolete strategy; we should instead ask for what we really want: unrestricted access to abortion.
Last week the San Francisco Chronicle broke a story revealing the fact that a large national HMO was referring patients to a so-called "Crisis Pregnancy Center," a class of 'ministries' whose primary stated purpose is to gather babies to be placed for adoption. The administrator of this center, Shari Plunkett, was quoted as follows:
Roughly 40 percent of the women who visit First Resort decide to have an abortion, Plunkett said. That shows women are making free choices, she said.
Representatives of Kaiser sat in on some of First Resort's 'counseling' sessions and deemed them fitting of referrals. The real story here is that by changing the name, and using sophisticated 'secularesque' language, the ongoing legitimization, as healthcare, of these 'ministries' is becoming reality. Centers that arbitrarily use terms like 'choice' are being upheld as 'unbiased'. 'Choice' is a word, now so common while standing for so little, that it has become useful to opponents of abortion for whom, in so many ways, there is only one 'right choice.'
I propose that those who support access to abortion and abortion providers completely drop the use of the term, 'choice.' It would be one thing to reject 'choice' if it actually stood for our goal, but it doesn't. I believe it was part of a flawed strategy that eventually overtook almost all other terminology.
Perhaps it would be more fitting for me, in my usual direct and offensive action style, to appear before the NARAL fundraising luncheon on the twenty-second of January with a black coffin. I could loudly proclaim to those who supposedly represent the 'pro-choice' position in the legislative arena, that 'choice' is officially dead! There is but one problem: I would, no doubt be mistaken for a compulsory pregnancy advocate, or as they're spoken of in NARAL language, an 'anti' or a 'lifer'. I assure you, I am neither. Still the image sticks in my mind, and I wonder what is it about the NARALs and NOWs of this universe that would equate being against the term 'choice' with being anti-abortion? Again, the only conclusion I can come to, is that for a large portion of those who argue in favor of abortion, the very word 'pro-abortion' does not represent their image of themselves. Rather than arguing for abortion all these 26 years, they argue instead for 'choice'.
Thus they argue not for the service itself, but instead for the 'option,' the 'right,' or the 'liberty' to buy the service of abortion! It has become unfashionable to demand the service itself, instead we argue for the ability to decide to 'choose' the service.
'Choice' to my mind is also an incredibly consumerist term. Only those who have the money, the ability to travel, and the resources to deal with childcare for their other children during the procedure have the 'choice'. All others may be allowed to make their mythical 'choice,' while they are completely unable to exercise it. Choice without ability is a lie. It assumes a choice is there, when in reality there is none.
What of women for whom abortion is the only 'choice'? Women who maybe can scrape together the $300 for an abortion, but the notion of affording a child is just plain bullshit? To call her abortion a 'choice' is a cruel lie. What of those who gave birth after a CPIC [compulsory pregnancy indoctrination center] or maternity camp experience only to be forced and coerced into signing away their child into an adoption? Or those for whom the adoption papers were signed with her hand in her 'counselor's' moving the pen as she came down off the labor drugs. Are you going to tell me that adoption was her 'choice'?
'Choice' is the property of those with choices.
To move forward beyond choice, we need to understand the heart of the problem with it. 'Choice' unfortunately goes beyond merely being a polite lie, it actually covers over and sanitizes the experience of those who make these reproductive 'choices,' be they abortion, or the 'decision' to bear.
To uncloud the issue, let's look at what our opponents are specializing in. In reality, women who find themselves pregnant have but two 'choices' - abortion, or carrying to term. If a woman 'chooses' the latter she is again faced with a 'decision' to parent herself, or 'choose' to pass the child into adoption. So in essence it comes down to, abortion is a 'decision' about bearing, adoption is a 'decision' about parenting. Compulsory Pregnancy Advocates specialize in confusing the two issues. Be it CPICs or flyers, 'counseling' or 'education,' it's their desire to equate adoption as the opposite of abortion.
This becomes readily apparent in cases like the proposed Florida or Virginia license plate that says 'choose life,' with the monies collected from the sale of the plates going to CPIC's and maternity camp 'adoption' programs. A Florida legislator suggested that as they were to be 'pro-adoption' plates, the message should be changed to explicitly state, 'choose adoption.' This counter-proposal was immediately rejected as it did not convey the message the designers were aiming for; 'choose life' for our opponents equates only to anti-abortion.
'Choose life' is therefore a rejection of the opportunity for the pregnant women to keep her child. 'Life' here is equated to 'adoption!' What 'choices,' then, are really offered by these now supposedly pro 'choices she can live with' CPICs?
Now, as we can easily give lie to the 'choices' offered by these compulsory pregnancy advocates, you may ask, why should we not 'reclaim' 'choice' for the pro-abortion position? Simply put, you don't need to. The word 'choice' gains you no credibility with the very constituents who have experienced abortion. To equate abortion with 'choice' on our side, is to open our position to attack as the false hope of 'choices' fall away into many women's realities in which 'choices' are not options. Why give your opponents yet another tool - disillusionment with the "choice" rhetoric" - with which to advance their agenda?
Instead we must see abortion as connected with the forces that bring women to abortion. To allow women real options, pro-abortion forces must see our struggle as connected to women's economic needs, their medical needs, and their family needs, to name but a few. In other words, rather than merely screaming 'every child a wanted child' pro-abortion advocates must also wear the hats of anti-poverty activists so that 'every abortion a wanted abortion' becomes true. Women need real options, not false 'choices'.
At the same time, I also feel that rather than hiding behind the easily appropriated word 'choice', it's time to begin asking for what we really want and need, which is full and unrestricted access to abortion.
I am pro-abortion, and proud! This always raises eyebrows as 'pro-aborts' is the derogatory term used by the CPAs to describe 'pro-choicers'. Calling oneself a pro-abort then, opens oneself to a multitude of suspicions that you're a double agent using clunky language.
Now we're in a bind. The pro-choicers can think I'm a CPA for demanding the death of the term 'choice', they may also think I'm a double agent as I refuse to use pro-choice and am instead calling myself a pro-abort. Meanwhile the CPAs are calling themselves pro-choice, and thinking I'm nuts when they spit 'pro-abort' at me and I smile and say "why yes, I am, and proud of it!" When you are working in an environment where CPAs are beginning to 'wear the enemy's colors' and the 'choicers' refuse to trust anyone who actually stand up for the service they are supposedly protecting, it's amazing we can communicate with others at all!
'Choice' was the product of a marketing campaign, and in it's own sick way it was brilliant for it's time. Unfortunately, the movement as a whole never moved beyond that marketing campaign to continue the fight.
By taking up the term 'choice' as synonymous with abortion, the movement now argues for the option of buying a product rather than explaining and standing up for the product itself. When a compromise is what the bulk of the movement argues for, then almost the entire political spectrum begins at 'choice' as the 'left' edge, and zero tolerance for abortion with death for both women wanting the service and providers as the 'right' edge. (Yes, left and right are imprecise terms, but it's a visual, so cope.) Now the entire so-called 'Debate' takes place from compromise to zero tolerance with only the few indies left screaming for abortion instead of euphemisms.
Naturally, I'm still bitching about all this because language and terminology does define the 'terms of the debate' so to speak. The very fact that some call it a 'debate' is unconscionable to me, as my life and continued existence is in no way debatable. New terms, like Compulsory Pregnancy Advocates, CPIC (Compulsory Pregnancy Indoctrination Center), Pro-Abortion, Repeal Movement, and Abortion Accessibility are getting limited usage and are ways of moving beyond a timely, yet now outmoded marketing campaign.
As always, we're back to what are the 'choices'? The CPA's political agenda advances because they demand choice, and governmental regulation. Evangelists and Promise Keepers use the 'choices' piece all the time. My local wingnut stealth candidate running for the school board says he supports choices and freewill, but in the end, we all face our creator and answer for our choices. 'Choices you can live with.' 'The choice between heaven and hell, revival or destruction', on and on. Choice is not abortion! To argue for 'choice' without at minimum defining which 'choice' one is talking about allows CPICs to slide in unquestioned.
So again, I think it's time that we end the imprecise use of language, and overcome the fear of coming right out and asking for what we really want. 'Choice' is the property of those with choices. Without abortion access, 'choice' becomes a castle in the sky.
Originally webpublished January 20, 1999