Why Our Language Needs to Change

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The National Institute for Reproductive Health, in cooperation with an anonymous partner, has invented a web browser extension that will spare sensitive readers from a particularly offensive term, translating it into nicer, “more accurate” language. The offensive term? “Pro-life.” According to the makers, this term is “problematic” and shouldn’t be forced upon web-users. So now, if you use Google Chrome, all you have to do is install the “Choice Language” extension and all of the references to “pro-life” will be changed to “anti-choice.” How thoughtful.

An overview of the extension explains, “Tired of seeing the fraught term ‘pro-life’ used ubiquitously and incorrectly, we conceived of this extension to shift the language of the discussion towards a more accurate framework.” Using the language of ‘pro-choice’ and ‘anti-choice’ eliminates the sneaky and damning implications of a model built around ‘pro-life’ versus ‘pro-choice’ language.


First of all – what “model” are they referring to? These are real life conversations, debates, and quotes that the extension is changing – not an outdated “model” of language that can just be updated like a dictionary. Putting aside the fact that this app goes so far as to change direct quotes, which is more than a little ethically questionable, such a measure strikes me as incredibly sad. Are these users so totally uninterested in the conversation about abortion that they would rather tune it out than engage? Are they so sensitive and intolerant that they have to change the terms of the debate?

One who believes abortion should be outlawed can still believe that choice is a good thing in many other respects – such as the right to choose your own spouse, vocation, or political party. And of course, one who believes abortion should be legal can still believe that life is a good thing in many other respects – such as their own life, or life outside the womb in general. The language of both choice and life is, admittedly, loaded. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the terminology adopted by both sides tells us something about why they are either for or against abortion.

When someone says they are “pro-choice” that tells us that they are pro-abortion because they believe the mother’s “right to choose” is greater than the baby’s right to life. When I say that I am “pro-life” that tells you that I am against abortion because I believe it bulldozes the baby’s right to life, making it no better than murder.


So yes, “pro-life” language is loaded. Just like “pro-choice” language. Substituting the latter for the former does nothing to get us nearer a “more accurate” representation of the debate. If accuracy or clarity are the goals, then change “pro-life” to “anti-abortion” and “pro-choice” to “pro-abortion.” Anything else isn’t accurate but denial.

I have no problem saying I am anti-abortion. I am also anti-murder, anti-slavery, and anti-genocide. It does nothing to harm the pro-life cause to identify as anti-abortion. To be pro-life is to look the ugliness of abortion in the face and choose to stand steadfastly against it. But those that identify as “pro-choice” avoid the association with the word “abortion” like the plague. By refusing to say they are “pro-abortion” they seem to communicate, “It’s not abortion, we’re talking about, nasty thing, it’s choice. Abortion is unfortunate, sure, but it’s not the real point anyhow.” This is just a distraction. Abortion is precisely the point. It is the only point. I could say I am pro-choice too – I think giving women choices is a wonderful thing. But the idea that any human being has the right to choose whether another human being can live or die is perverted and wrong.

If you want to change the terms of the conversation – join the conversation. Don’t create an alternate world where all the terms are exactly what you want them to be. This is cowardly and will ultimately do nothing to change culture. Those on the pro-life side will continue to call abortion by its ugly name and stand against it.