Planned Parenthood Gives Up the “Pro-Choice” Label: What Does It Mean for the Movement?

This week, Planned Parenthood announced it will let go of the “pro-choice” label, concerned that the pro-life/pro-choice framework for abortion doesn’t resonate with the general public that holds many more conflicting positions on abortion. They instead would like to focus on the real life circumstances of women and the idea that none of us can walk in any woman’s shoes. This decision led to a huge sigh of relief among advocates for reproductive health, rights, and justice across the U.S. While the media and many of the larger more established movement organizations had held onto “pro-choice”, critics of the framework had existed for years and included activists, advocates, and scholars. Lest we forget our history and think the rejection of “Pro-Choice” is a radical departure, I want to acknowledge just a few of those past critiques:

  1. Pro-choice is an economic term. It suggests that what a woman does about a pregnancy is simply another choice like picking a red or blue car, thereby trivializing the abortion decision. It turns parenting into a decision based on economic rationale and consequently into an economic privilege. Here I think about the work of historian Rickie Solinger.
  2. Women don’t always have a true “choice.” Choice is only possible when women have the resources to select either option. When there is no funding for abortion or no clinic to go to, women don’t really have a “choice.” The opposite is also true. Women who have abortions often say they feel like they have “no choice.” They don’t mean they were coerced; the abortions are their decisions. They mean that they do not have the economic resources, social support, or capacity to care for a child. Here I think about the work of political scientist Rosaline Petchesky.
  3. Pro-choice is a singular binary tem that recommends a preferred outcome for a pregnancy. It suggests that as a movement we affirm the right to abortion and do not value the other decisions a woman might make. Here I think about the work of English professor Jeannie Ludlow who always demanded we call it “pro-choices” rather than “pro-choice.”
  4. Pro-choice is a label that connects most directly to the situation of middle and upper class women. Childbearing is an obligation for white women, thus abortion is the alternative choice. However, for women of color, whose reproduction has been controlled across time, abortion is not the only right for which women need to fight. Rather women need to be able to have a child, not have a child, and parent the children they have. Here I think of the work of the philosopher and activist Marlene Gerber Fried and advocates like Loretta Ross and Akiba Solomon who advocated for a focus on reproductive justice as the broader lens for our movement.
  5. Pro-choice is a political label and has nothing to do with the real stories and lives of women who have abortions. Here I think of the work of advocate Aspen Baker who pioneered of a third way, called “Pro-Voice” to replace prolife/prochoice.

As organizations like Planned Parenthood back away from the “pro-choice” label, what is next? It isn’t enough to adopt what Planned Parenthood offers, to simply focus on the idea that abortion is a personal decision and that “we can’t know a woman’s circumstances.” The “privacy” or “personal” frames for abortion are just as problematic. To say abortion is an individual woman’s business absolves us of our obligation to create a more just world. A focus on privacy cannot address the stigma of abortion. It cannot reshape our economic policies so that all people can parent with dignity. It cannot get us what we want. The future demands that we do more than simply shift away from polarizing language and instead begin to transform our culture, institutions, and policies so that all people can make the sexual and reproductive decisions they want to achieve the lives they deserve.

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  • liberaldem

    to wax soooooo philosophical on this topic.  Well, Ms. Weitz, in my day, the “choices” were (1) to marry an unwilling partner to legitimize the birth, (2) drop out of college or high school and move into a home for “unwed” mothers, (3) drop out of school, have a child one was in no way, shape or form able to parent, (4) have an illegal abortion which might just cost you your life or health.And I write this as a white woman from a modest, middle-class background.

    So spare me your self-righteous drivel about making a ‘better, more just world’. 

  • ljean8080

    let your child be adopted into a loving home.

  • lori-freedman

    Thank you Dr. Weitz for putting Planned Parenthood’s decision/statement into context. What a great analysis!

  • big-softy

    So liberaldem, what’s your point?

    Or are you just about maintaining your white middle-class privilege?

  • give-em-hell-mary

    There are no loving adoptive parents for most disabled children, and adoption doesn’t solve the problem of killer or disabling pregnancies that immediately threaten mothers, regardless of the health or wanted status of the fetuses.

  • ljean8080

    who want to adopt children with Downs.

  • sarahlee310

    This makes me really uneasy. It is about choice. Making it possible for each woman to make the correct choice for herself. And frankly, abortion just is not a big deal or a hard decision for all women. Wasn’t for me. I did it without any hand wringing – except for how to get and pay for it. Gave me the freedom to create a better life and have children when I was economically and emotionally stable and ready. A friend who did not have that choice before Roe just wound up dead.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    Well whoop-dee-do!  But only if those children are cute white infants, while most other non-cute and expensive disabled children don’t get adopted in the U.S. and around the globe.  You even admitted on another thread that older children remain stuck in the foster care system.

  • smwhistler

    I can understand Weitz’s arguments for dropping the pro-choice label, but she offers no suggestions on what to replace it with. Framing the debate properly is important. What about “reproductive justice?” Or “women’s health and personal privacy issues?”  Or other descriptors that open up the subject to more than just abortion/no abortion.

  • therealistmom

    Don’t get me wrong- people who are willing to accept the challenges of raising a child with DS I’m sure for the most part are exceptional people. HOWEVER- part of me wonders if there is a sick fascination with the syndrome for some folks, the idea of having a child that will always remain in some ways a bit childlike. Maybe people are romanticizing, or have white knight syndrome. You just never see people lining up to say, “I want to adopt a child with cerebral palsy!” or “I want to adopt a child with spina bifida!” So yes, I wonder.

    Right after my daughter was born, in the aftermath of the very poor tact the Colonel showed in breaking the news to us, my then husband and I briefly considered adoption. It was never really a serious consideration I don’t think… we were just shocked and afraid we weren’t able to give her the best. She would have had a good chance- white, born from a healthy pregnancy, having no major health issues such as heart or GI malformations. She would have been one of the lucky ones.

    But how is it that anti-choicers in one breath say that babies are the greatest gift EVER then in the next just act like a woman can give birth and hand the newborn off like a football, and go on with her life? Oh, just give it up! It won’t have any effect on your life at all! Well, except for the whole pregnancy, birth, and lifetime of wondering…

  • liberaldem

    Apparently in your mind white middle class women don’t have a right to vent or to comment.  I agree with another comment on this that I would like to know whether Planned Parenthood will use another phrase/concept such as reproductive justice in place of pro-choice.



  • ljean8080

    adopted 2 African American kids.To Realist Mom,my bmom had 6 years to get her act togather,she didn’t.

  • ljean8080

    when she and my bdad got divorced.she turned around and married an abusive drunk.

  • arekushieru

    No, I think BWS’ point was that, as a white, middle class woman, there is, essentially, no comparison between you and a woc economic status, especially during the times in which you speak.  

  • arekushieru

    So?  Hugh Jackman (whom I think you actually meant…?) has a lot of economic privilege.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    My birth mom disfigured me so no one would ever rescue and adopt me from her abuse.  All her anti-abortion Catholic relatives knew she was abusing me and none of them ever defended me against her decades of abuse.

  • give-em-hell-mary

    How about “pro-pregnancy risk management options”?  Or “safe sex gender equality” (like marriage equality)?

  • mzjane

    I think this is a wonderful article with a very sophisticated worldview that challenges the individualized/individualizing forces laden in the concept of the pro-choice framework. I applaud the work of Dr. Weitz and really appreciate her analysis. thank you!

  • give-em-hell-mary

    “HOWEVER- part of me wonders if there is a sick fascination with the syndrome for some folks, the idea of having a child that will always remain in some ways a bit childlike. Maybe people are romanticizing, or have white knight syndrome. You just never see people lining up to say, “I want to adopt a child with cerebral palsy!” or “I want to adopt a child with spina bifida!” So yes, I wonder.”

    Exactly!  You are describing perverted pious pity addicts like my Munchausen by Proxy mom who publicly paraded my lobster skin as her badge of Catholic martyrdom and marital chastity.  She even tried to force me into some humiliating disability pagent to show off her “artistic mayhem talents”.  In the Munchausen by Proxy book, “Hurting for Love” by Herbert Schreier, MD and Judith Libow, a similar pity addict mother showed off her “disabled” child in a wheelchair parade.  I also have read of able-bodied anti-choicers faking disabilities in “pro-life” marches by using wheelchairs.

  • kathleen-murphy

    I’ve been thinking this for a long time (since 2000) and I’m more than thrilled to see that Planned Parenthood is coming around to it too.

    In a world where pedophiles roam free and most of the “pro-life” movement has no respect for life, it is the utmost cruelty to bring a child into this world with no concern about the kind of life it will have.

    The discussion of abortion has been too narrow for too long with fake “Christians” dominating the conversation at every turn. I think it’s time to turn the tables on them and taking this brave step away from the narrow ‘pro-life versus pro-choice’ discussion is essential in order to best preserve the more genuine rights to real life and real choice.

    But most important to me, this discussion of abortion needs to include discussion on the growing problem of pedophilia, because that is the ultimate reason behind the “choice” -if it can be called that- for not bringing a child into the world. 

    The online pedophilia industry has a yearly growth rate of 150% (see 3rd paragraph of ) and in England, due to a recent change in their law, prison time will no longer be required for those caught in possession of child pornography -a truly frightening and horrific change in law that protects the billion-dollar pedophile industry. 

    The anti-abortion movement should not be given a free pass on this growing problem of pedophilia, and a change in the rigid limits of the abortion debate is desparately needed in order to address these more real problems of life and choice that we humans face. Thank you, thank you, than you Planned Parenthood for taking this vital step!!

  • arekushieru

    The only individualized/individualizing forces within the Pro-Choice framework are the individual members of the Pro-Choice movement.  The concept itself is intact.  Thanks.

  • msgmoney7

    Not sure what BWS stands for and I wish you would write it out so people like me can comprehend your message..I do know what WOC is..”women of color, please remember that I for one want to know what it is your saying.. It’s Important to me..

  • msgmoney7

    I am not sure why I should be angry at this article or embrace it. help me out here Liberaldem, we have evloved from those days as you have desribled..I am with you because they were times in which everything you said was part of our everyday lives as women. It feels like me so many young women do not understand the sufferage of us women and the shame women who had children out of wedlock which was endured by these same people attempting to pass legislation that could begin that viscous cycle  again…These religious fanatics had no hesitation in calling out bastrard children in schools and churches labeling children for life. I think whole heartly the poor woman was as low as she could be in the eyes of these judgers(WOC) and suffered greater provertym and her people embraced her, because they felt and knew true family and extended love..The white wealthy had to become a lower class, families were disgraced and humilated..the fathers in all situations were looked at as viral studs and treated as if they made a great accomplihment to be able to have a collection of knotches in their belt..familes disowned its own young girls…these things did not happen to me but I lived this time whem all these self rightous ass hats treated women having children out of wedlock, middle class, and wealthy worse than dog doo, you became the black sheep or the whore and all the things the radical pro life spit out at pro choice now…these people have not changed they just as always want to refuse funding for any woman because her life is invaluable to them..They feel their purpose to punish “whores” is greater in their “Gods” eyes as they break one of the ten commandments of “thou shall not judge,” from the start line. How is one sin greater than another? They forget that God is about love of that living person “woman” and not the egg that was fertilized in a moment of passion…Planned parenthood should keep “Pro-choice” amd never allow its meaning to become diluted with a nicer term.

  • msgmoney7

    There is NO greater term to descibe our fight for justice as Pro-choice…It was created for a reason and this reason has never changed and the meaning in those two words is more powerful as it resonates our history than any other term. I say Hell not do not change it. 

  • msgmoney7

    Her evil acts came from the psychological beating she endured from Catholic Dicrimination and hate ….they are some very oppressive beliefs created by man, not God…people are sick. These people will be punished in more ways than one. I am so glad that I was not born into a catholic family of women that took out their frustrations on those who needed them the most…

  • msgmoney7

    Our women in history created this label …we muct not allow it to become softer, our fight for our rights is not softer and it is a choice still and a right to women…It still remains important and should not be softened

  • delphina

    I do not agree with this decision.  The majority of the women I know consider themselves to be “pro-choice.  What PP should be concerning themselves with is the misnomer the anti-choice movement created with the term “pro-life,” when they have NEVER been concerned with the lives and the autonomy of  women.  The “pro-life” agenda is all about controlling the reproductive lives of women, which is what PP should be broadcasting to the public.

    Years ago,  the anti-choice zealots attempted to propagandize abortion rights, by co-opting the term “pro-life,” and  the insinuation which followed, that women who supported reproductive rights were “anti-life.” This became the real issue, as they are anything but “pro-life.”  Being pro-choice, is not just about abortion care. It is about having access to contraception as well. It is about having a healthy and wanted pregnancy and childbirth.  Claiming that being pro-choice does not represent poor women or non-white women is ludicrous– PP was always there to help low income women, and the term pro-choice does not devalue those women in any way. 
    And, the “pro-life” fascists will no doubt see this as some sort of capitulation on the part of Planned Parenthood–particularly since PP has been attacked and defunded in so many red states–this is the last thing they should be doing.  Okay, they have surrendered–it’s not about “choice” anymore?!   Really?
    I truly wish that PP had focused on refocusing and expanding the term “pro-choice,” without throwing it away altogether.  Being pro-choice has been a mainstay in the ideology of millions of women, (and men.) What are young women and girls supposed to call themselves now?  The “real life circumstances of women and the idea that none of us can walk in any woman’s shoes,” movement?  
    Focusing on the real world consequences of lack of choice–as in the murder of the woman in Ireland by the staff of an Irish Catholic hospital, are what PP needs to amplify.  The Center for Reproductive Rights does a much better job of clarifying the attacks against women’s rights, including the defunding of healthcare providers, and the harassment of clinics which provide abortion care.  
    Why is PP running away from the only moniker millions of women have ever known, and also fought for, (or has PP forgotten all that went before??)
  • maiac

    I think their comment was more directed to the point that your original comment didn’t make much sense.

    In terms of, you know, having a point.

    That sounds way more hostile than I mean it, but I don’t know any other way to say it.

  • arekushieru

    And, going by my above logic, it appears that you are calling woc the judgers…?  Sorry, but that is the exact opposite of what actually happened, if that IS what you mean…?

  • arekushieru

    The person I was referring to?  It should be simple enough to see, even if I misspelled it, since I referred to BWS’ point, y’know, as in the person who is making the point…?

  • maiac

    Actually, if you READ the whole post closely before responding – you would see that in option 2. 

    Are you reallly unaware of “homes for unwed mothers” and our history of coercive adoption?

    Oh wait, probably not, as that would disrupt your oversimplified narrative…

  • maiac

    As our author clearly explained, dropping a “pro-choice” label is NOT about rejecting the value of individual choices; it’s about recognizing how “choice” is not enough to describe what we actually need.

    Maybe next time we read the reasoning before getting pissed?


  • maiac

    Have you learned ANYTHING about alternative frameworks? (like, say, reproductive justice?)

    Or do you just reject, out of hand? Assuming that because “pro-choice” is powerful & positive & works for YOU, that it must be universally so?

    Just FYI, reproductive justice doesn’t “soften” pro-choice, it STRENGTHENS it.

  • maiac

    The only individualized/individualizing forces within the Pro-Choice framework are the individual members of the Pro-Choice movement.”

    Not to be rude, but WTH does that mean?

    Are you really arguing that the terminology of pro-choice is NOT linked to any particular analysis or movement orientation? That it is simply a collection of individuals?

    If so, you, my friend, are the CASE IN POINT for why we need to move beyond pro-choice to pro-reproductive justice.

  • memerider

    The “pro” label has not only been hi-jacked by anti-abortion extremists, but many young women who have always had “choice” seem to wonder what the big deal is these days. They sometimes seem almost to slip into a position of thinking that maybe it *is* OK to force women to carry a fetus to term. They really don’t have the background to understand that when the only choice was the black market, that moms, sisters, aunts, daughters, and yes, mistresses were being injured or dying at the hands of hacks who lacked basic medical training–plus resistance to seek after-care, when necessary, because it was illegal. So minor infections turned into major ones for some women. Once it was legalized via Roe v. Wade, it became as safe as a minor dental procedure for women in the first trimester. Let’s face it, women rarely choose abortion later in pregnancy unless they have a substantive reason. In fact, all the focus on “late-term” pregnancy is mostly hogwash, since it represents a tiny percentage of abortions and is almost exclusively due to the health of the woman or the fetus.
    I checked the international statistics, and where abortion is the least regulated, the lowest number of women choose it. So if people are serious about reducing the number of abortions, it was be most rational to eliminate restrictions.
    One issue I have with some of the alternative framing terms to replace “pro-choice” is that they don’t cut to the bottom line or inspire action. “Reproductive justice” neither evokes emotion nor compels me to take a stand. It has too many syllables and no punch. We need to work on a better replacement to catch the real meaning and evoke a sense of urgency.

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