Anti-Choice Lingo Decoded

Like any subculture that exists for any reasonably long period of time, the anti-choice movement has developed a jargon that both works as a shorthand for their subculture's values and serves to mark those who belong to that subculture. In this week's podcast, I document an example of anti-choice lingo working its way into the mainstream media, with an anchor on MSNBC Live using the term "pro-abortion," which is a more normal-sounding term of the anti-choice preferred "pro-abort." Here's a guide to that term and others that are bandied around anti-choice circles:

Pro-abort: Pro-choice. The idea behind the term is that anyone who supports abortion rights loves the procedure. I'm unsure why they use "pro-abort" instead of "pro-abortion." It could be that they're too lazy to pronounce the last syllable. They may think "pro-abort" sounds harsher than "pro-abortion." Or maybe they think that pro-choicers love abortion so much that the situation calls for an affectionate nickname, the way that "pornography" was shortened to "porn" when it changed from being an occasional and scandalous treat to being a daily viewing experience.

To contracept: Verb meaning "to use contraception," but you usually see it as a participle, as in the contracepting female or the contracepting couple. Men are rarely, if ever, described as contracepting. Just as with the term "pro-abort," there's a sense that the oddness of the term is meant to convey insult–one is supposed to recoil from the idea of being described as "contracepting." Most people, however, don't see why it's such a bad thing to take responsibility for your own fertility and timing of your children, so the term tends to cause nothing but confusion at best and merriment at worst for outsiders.

Being open to children: The only way to have sex and be right with God. It's the exact opposite of "contracepting," and the general concept is that after marriage, you can have intercourse with your legal spouse so long as you do so at least pretending to be happy with the possibility of yet another child. There's some debate within the anti-choice community about the exact definition of "openness." Some feel that natural family planning as a way to have non-procreative sex under God's wrathful radar, but others treat the rhythm method like it's cheating, since you're still actually trying to exert control over your fertility.

Abortion mills: Usually a term for women's health clinics, and while it's preferable that the clinic labeled as such actually be one that performs abortions, it's not absolutely necessary, especially with anti-choice efforts to redefine female-controlled contraception methods like hormonal birth control and IUDs as "abortions." Under some circumstances, the term can be stretched to describe any place where fertile young women congregate, so long as they aren't currently pregnant and it can be assumed that some at least have sex, such as a high school. This usage is rare; even anti-choicers have limits on their hyperventilating verbiage.

Consequences: Punishment. Aware of the unpopularity of the straightforward argument that sex is wrong and those who indulge deserve punishment, anti-choicers use the euphemism "consequences." Sex does indeed have consequences, both positive (good moods, closer relationships) and negative (unplanned pregnancy, STDs), but anti-choicers usually only use the word to refer to the negative, and usually only to those consequences that are avoidable, but that anti-choicers wish to make harder to avoid. When an anti-choicer petulantly says, "Sex has consequences," he usually means, "People are getting away with having sex and we should artificially introduce more risks in order to scare people off of it."

Or, as a commenter at Michelle Malkin's blog said with regards to withholding contraception access to sexually active middle schoolers (with the assumption that this will probably mean they get pregnant): "Action.Meet.Consequence." Apparently he imagines himself as the Dirty Harry of the public school set, dispensing vigilante justice to misbehaving middle schoolers by blowing them away with sperm guns after he delivers his devastatingly witty action movie line.

Purity: The favored word for what the rest of us call "virginity," favored in part because it sounds both less and more sexual than virginity. Less because it's a vaguer concept than virginity, which is why the father-daughter dances that are dangled out as a pro-virginity bribe are called purity balls instead of virginity hootenannies. But it's also more sexual in a creepy way, since it implies that girls who have sex have been contaminated by invisible sex particles, and that marrying a woman who isn't a virgin is a lot like ordering dinner at a restaurant only to find a roach in it.

And yes, only female humans can be pure or impure. There have been half-hearted attempts to bribe young men into pledging to wait for marriage to have sex, but these have been called "integrity balls." Which tells you a lot about the retrograde gender roles that fuel the anti-choice movement, since purity is a state of being, but integrity, much like a woman apparently, is something you actively possess.

Secondary virginity: If you've had sex, but envy all your friends with their abstinence pledges and silver rings, you can get a piece of the action by pledging to quit getting any action and taking on a second virginity. You don't get to be pure; that's reserved for the real virgins who don't have invisible sex particles all over them. Or in them. I'm not sure how the impurities actually work, but I think even the believers in them are a bit unsure on the exact mechanics.

I've not heard the term "third virginity" or even "fourth virginity," which could mean that you only get two. Which makes sense, because if you had the option to re-virginize yourself after slipping up, some crafty kids would probably have the, "Yeah yeah I'm sorry and now a virgin again" routine down to a five-second post-coital drill in no time.

That's only a sampling of some of the common jargon of the anti-choice movement, but a good starting point for those scanning the mainstream media for signs of encroaching wingnuttery.

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  • invalid-0

    The right-wingers are fond of substituting “Democrat” for the adjective “Democratic,” as in “the Democrat Party.” I think it’s because they want to reclaim the concept of democracy for themselves, and because they get a bang out of stressing the “rat” syllable. “Pro-abort” sounds as unpleasantly brusque as “Democrat Party,” doesn’t it?

    I think the old name for “integrity balls” is “blue balls,” isn’t it?

    I could be “open to children” (well, maybe to one more) if pregnancy didn’t pose such a huge risk to my health. The twits who oppose contraception and abortion have an utter disregard for the very real risks that pregnancy poses to many women—even happily married women. (Of course, they have complete disregard for all women, not just ones in my circumstances.)

  • invalid-0

    I knew a girl who was on her thirteenth Secondary Virginity. Once you pledge to become a Secondary Virgin, you have generally promised to abstain from math as well.

  • scott-swenson

    Some readers may notice that three comments were deleted from this post. We encourage constructive and civil dialog from a range of political perspectives. We however don’t condone banal or sophomoric personal attacks, which reflect more on the commenter who makes them and contribute nothing to civil discourse.

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    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0


    I and many others who oppose abortion object to this very terminology and the associated beliefs, but from what you are saying here, and in your other writings, who would ever know unheard-of, impossible creatures like ourselves could exist?

    Personally, I think it would just be plain rude to call anyone who advocates abortion rights a “proabort.” So I don’t use this term (among other ugly words) and I actively discourage its use, and the use of other demeaning abortion-debate cuss words…

    Is it not kindest, in this & so many other situations, to call people what they prefer to be called? Or at the very least to not call them, what they prefer not to be called?

    By this very same token…I do wish and hope that more prochoice-on-abortion people would learn & accept the reality that not everyone who opposes abortion is deserving of the epithet “antichoice”…Our kind really *is* motivated by a concern that can be accurately decribed as prolife, before, during, & after birth–and yes, that includes of course the precious lives of abortion providers…

    And incidentally, we tend to agree with prochoice-on-abortion people about *the rest of the choices*–you know, the ones that actually *reduce* abortion (you’re not the only ones who have figured this no-brainer out, thank you very much), such as contraception, het outercourse, same-sex relationships, comprehensive sex education, and so forth… The problem is not at all nonprocreative sex, the problem is that too many folks end up conceiving when they would rather not and thus may face situations that lead to abortion…From our perspectives, that’s not what the dispute is about, or should be.

  • invalid-0

    Is to reserve “anti choice” for those pro lifers who not only oppose all abortion for any reasons; but also oppose all birth control and all science-based sex ed. Most pro lifers I have met on discussion boards and in chat rooms are more pragmatic – they recognize abortion will never cease entirely and support birth control and science based sex ed.

  • invalid-0

    for making that distinction. I hope more prochoicers will make it.

    On the other hand…
    My personal preference is to call this same group of people “anti-abortion” because the label of “anti-choice” is so hated by the recipients and it has the effect of instantly squashing any hope to even hold a conversation. Which possibility exists, I think, more often than Amanda Marcotte seems to allow for…

    Also, I have found over many years that many anti-abortionists who oppose sex ed, birth control, etc do have some elements of concern for fetuses/unborn children and for women mixed somewhere in there with the distaste for nonprocreative sex.

    Now, you and I might both beg to differ vigorously with said antiabortionists on how well their sexual/reproductive agenda actually serves the interests of fetuses/unborn children and women…And evidently, we both do…

    However, I personally think it’s better to honor and appeal to whatever element of lovingkindness lies in people’s motives, than to deny the chance it’s in there with such a term as “anti-choice.”

    To me, it’s as much of a blanket character assasination as, say “anti-life.”