If in the mainstream media they’re “anti-abortionists,” shouldn’t their opposite number be designated “pro-abortionists”? So asks Ryan Sayre Patrico in a recent post. But I can already hear the demurral: It would be inaccurate to call proponents of abortion rights pro-abortion, because they don’t necessarily support abortion They only support your right to choose it. Analogies abound. You’re against smoking, gambling, refined sugar–but you still think that adults should have access to them.
Counter-analogies also abound, the classic one being slavery. OK, Mister Sanctimonious Abolitionist, you won’t sully your hands with anything having to do with the slave trade. Fine. But I have a plantation to run. It’s a business. And it’s my business, not yours. So butt out.
To return to Ryan’s point about unbalanced language in news coverage of abortion: I’m fine with being called anti-abortion. What I find curious is this: Note that, in the article Ryan links to, pro-lifers are called opponents not of abortion but of “abortion rights.” Across mainstream media outlets, that’s the formulaic phrase, “opposition to abortion rights.” The problem with that phrasing is that it’s too narrow to capture the exact nature of organized opposition to abortion. Pro-lifers are against not just the right to abortion. They’re against abortion, end of sentence. They’re against legal abortion, and they’re against illegal abortion.
Journalists are supposed to strive to say it in fewer words, so why don’t they stop at “opposition to abortion”? Why tack on the word “rights”? It has two counts against it–it’s another word, and it restricts the definition of what it means to be against abortion, narrowing that definition so much that, to make it fit the facts on the ground, you have to take a mental chisel to the anti-abortion cause and chip away at it until you’re left with a fiction that, though convenient to the abortion-rights side, is still a fiction.