Why the Pro-Choice Movement Needs to Talk About Children


I was recently reminded of the old pro-choice slogan, “Every Child a Wanted Child.” Along with my personal favorite slogan, “Pro-Child, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice,” this decades-old mantra succinctly sums up a powerful pro-choice argument: that supporting reproductive rights is also supporting families, children, and choice.

Yet in large part, the mainstream pro-choice movement seems to have moved away from this focus on the family in favor of concentrating on the arenas of courtrooms and state houses. While the urgency of fighting increasingly severe challenges to abortion care is hard to understate, this shift in attention, messaging, and resources means that the anti-choice movement has been able to make the idea of family, specifically unborn children, central to its emotional power and success. As a result, the pro-choice movement has been left open to charges that it is anti-child and anti-family.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the name of the best-known pro-choice organization—Planned Parenthood. In these words is embedded the very idea of healthy families and children: the idea that people can and should plan their families. Being deliberate and thoughtful about when to have children ensures that every parent is as prepared as possible for the responsibility of raising a child. This is a message that any compassionate person would respond to.

Talking about family planning also places abortion care firmly on a larger continuum, along with contraception, access to good prenatal care, and the right of any woman to have a child. This also allows abortion to be correctly discussed as one part of the larger issue of reproductive rights and justice, rather than as an exotic medical procedure deserving of judgment and stigma.

The majority of women who have abortions are mothers. Millions of women and men have been able to plan their families through access to contraception. There are hundreds of thousands of women like myself, whose own experiences with pregnancy and parenting have made them more pro-choice than they were before they had children.

Our stories and experiences stand as a visceral rebuttal to the anti-choice movement’s desired narrative, which is that every pregnancy should be continued and no one should have a choice after a certain, arbitrary point in gestation.

How to change the national discussion is a big question with many valid answers. For my part, I’d like to see organizations and individual activists alike engage with the idea of respecting the desire of many people to have children while at the same time fiercely advocating for reproductive rights. More tangibly, I would love to see even one of the mainstream pro-choice groups launch a campaign of collecting and highlighting the stories of pro-choice parents—mothers and fathers—that directly affirm the idea of being both pro-choice and pro-family.

Until then, it’s once again on us in the grassroots and online community to be the innovators. And no, I don’t mean that I’m going to start scouring Etsy for tasteful abortion-themed toddler clothing. As I learned through dozens of interviews for my book on the future of the pro-choice movement, one of the most effective ways to increase support for reproductive rights is by doing so one conversation at a time. Emphasizing the pro-family roots and goals of abortion activism is an excellent way to keep these conversations open. If the conversation isn’t so much about abortion per se, but rather abortion’s role in protecting the rights of each family, it can avoid the feeling of discussing a “third rail” and perhaps illustrate that ever-elusive common ground. I’ve lost track of how many times even my most conservative friends have told me that they’re having X number of children, no more. And the next time they do, they’ll be sure to get a gentle, friendly reminder that they can thank the countless pro-choice Americans who are defending their right to make those plans.

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  • belgianchic

    This is so true. The anti-choice movement thinks they have monopolized the ‘family’ part of this debate, and who doesn’t like families? But we need to expand our activism to make it clear who is for families.

  • Valde

    Remember, you can’t kill a ‘child’ just because it might not have an ‘ideal life’!

    Just think of how the embryo will suffer being denied the ‘right’ to another person’s body for 9 months!

    • belgianchic

      LOL, embryos with rights to someone else’s body.

      • HeilMary1

        Similar to the “right” of priests to molest altar boys and GOP playboys to harass their interns.

        • belgianchic

          funny how that works, isn’t it…?

  • choiceone

    Frankly, I’m honestly tired of the focus on “family” and “families.” This is the US. When I was young, which was before Roe v Wade, no one talked politically about families. This nation was founded on the notion of the individual human rights of all persons, and persons meant individual born humans. It is those individuals who matter, whether or not they have families or want families. Family is merely a particular kind of social relationship between born human individuals.

    The embryo never suffers. It has no consciousness. It is not a child. It is a stage of development in the process by which a woman uses some biologically human material to make and give birth to a human child – and she risks her health and well-being by doing so. If a writer has a right to stop writing a book in mid-process, a woman has a right to stop developing that biologically human material into a human being.

    • fiona64

      By the same token, the anti-choice seem to be laboring under the erroneous impression that pro-choice people have no children. I think it’s important to point out that they’re incorrect.

      • choiceone

        I totally agree. Many women who have abortions already have children. And in debates with anti-choicers, I love to point out that a woman who has an abortion can still get pregnant and may decide to do so within the period that she would otherwise have been pregnant and then carry that second pregnancy to term. I have no doubt that some children have been conceived that way. Those children would never have existed if their mothers had not had an abortion of a prior pregnancy. This really annoys them.

    • pitbullgirl65

      I’m tired of it too. I’m single with no children. Tell me how often President Obama or any politician includes us? It’s as rare as mentioning atheists. I tried getting HEAP one year: I was turned down because I didn’t have children. Since we are seen as worthwhile either as citizens and votes I feel this has effected policy

      • choiceone

        I’m single, no kids, too. When I had a medical emergency that temporarily threw me into a financial disaster, it was very, very hard to get government help, but a single woman with a kid can get more help just by irresponsibly getting pregnant and having another kid. Totally warped reality.

    • belgianchic

      While I agree that childless/childfree people are often left out of the conversation, the anti-choice movement has claimed their position as pro-family, and even if one doesn’t have children of their own, that doesn’t necessarily make them anti-family, right? Being childfree doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t have a family. I ust think that it is important that the movement takes back the focus on families to show that abortion access is beneficial to families everywhere, which is something that people with children and people without can unite behind.

    • Valde

      I am really sick of how people who choose to be childfree are also painted as being ‘selfish’. As if, the ONLY way you can truly contribute to society is to have lots of kids. And then these same pro-liars complain if you have too many kids that you can’t afford to feed – because then you’re a ‘welfare queen’.

      • HeilMary1

        Hey, if it’s OK for nuns and priests to be childfree (because they wear street clothes and use fake names when PP bails them out of their own sex scandals!), then it’s OK for the rest of us!

        • Valde

          I was visiting a racist, very pro-life, right wing forum the other day, and some of the members were tut-tutting an african tribe that, once given a good wage, bred like rabbits, and produced hundreds of children.

          See, it’s ok when white people breed like the Duggars. But if non-whites do it…omg…the horror!

          • Ella Warnock

            Every life is precious, doncha know. Some are just more “precious” than others. I guess it just pisses them off that they can’t fool all of the people all the time.

          • Wonder

            Oh yea. Well the actuarial tables shall lead them

      • MClarissa

        Add epigenetics to the chil equation and those of who choose to be childfree, interacting with children of others may actually impact their gentics and their childrens genetics. This would also mean that mean politics of pollution, starvation of cut food programs and gutting of basic needs directly and negatively effecting the fetus, the infant, the child. Literally child abusing from office of policy maker.

        • Valde

          Yeah, speaking of epigenetics, the ignorant pro-liars love to say that your entire personality and all your traits are there from the moment of conception.

          They couldn’t be more wrong.

          • MClarissa

            proLiars. omg LOVE it.must use

  • liberaldem

    I htink that everyone who identifies as pro-choice would be very happy if we didn’t have to continue focusing on maintaining what access currently exists to contraception and abortion.

    • HeilMary1

      And libs are also weighted down with figuring out how to rescue and provide for the already here, GOP-forced birth millions of abandoned street kids who get trafficked as child soldiers, prostitutes, guinea pigs and organ “donors”.

  • pitbullgirl65

    The prochoice movement has allowed the forced birthers to frame the argument, with mealy mouthed, apologetic comments about abortion. Also instead of focusing exclusively on the right to an abortion, it needs to be pointed out prochoice also means not FORCING ABORTION on women.
    And stop calling them Pro lifers.

    • belgianchic

      I never say pro-life anymore, only anti-choice.

      • Cthulhu0818

        They aren’t Pro Life, since most of them are also Pro War, Pro Torture, Pro Death Penalty, they’re just Pro forced birth.

        • belgianchic

          they’re so incredibly hypocritical

    • Valde

      Lately I am a fan of ‘pro-liar’

  • MClarissa

    We really need to stop reiterating their Orwellian propagandist lingo (using the opposite of what the concept is to lie and promote harmful agenda) and using better ones ourselves. We call them prolife (their self chosen name) despite knowing that their agenda kills women, harms children, babies, families, born, sentient people. It induces poverty, poor health, squanders finite resources, harming society and the planet. Therefore it is time to call them out on it. Ask the FAUXlife crowd why they want MORE orphans and why they think it is ok to take away health, food, time, education from infants, babies, toddlers, children-the born. Ask them why they are ok with killing women-mothers who die in childbirth/pregnancy complications due to lack of medical health procedure and they should explain to the men who loved them (husbands/boyfriends), friends, and families that their death is preferable to removing a zygote. Bring up their lack of historical knowledge and that Romania’s COMMUNIST DICKTATOR Ceausescu’s Decree 770 made into national law the outlaw of abortion which created violent crime spikes, orphans, poverty, child abuse, and of course more death for women and babies. Finally, start calling ourselves more than just prochoice but proBorn proKnowledge, proHistory, proWomen, proFamily, proHuman, proEmpathy, antiSuffering, antiChildabuse, antiPoverty, antiHate, antiSlutshaming, antiMisogynist.

    • HeilMary1

      Forced birthers are simply pro-suffering for the rest of us.

      • Valde

        yep -they see nobility in suffering

        remember, only jesus christ was perfect – and we are merely lucky that god allows us to suffer, instead of outright killing all of us

        really, I think this gets to the heart of the matter re church and governmental control of the masses – CONVINCE PEOPLE THAT SUFFERING IS NOBLE AND THEN YOU CAN EXPLOIT THEME EASILY.

        • MClarissa

          Tell them the basic wonderfulness of humanity is sin so just Being creates an addict of a belief system. A promised reward that is secret wish fulfillment. Like the promise of jobs in exchange for tax breaks and toxic waste only materialise the latter. Take the suffering and abuse because one day…

        • goatini

          They see nobility in WOMEN suffering.

          • Valde

            pfft didn’t you know babies are gifts, ALWAYS?

        • Cthulhu0818

          They see nobility in OTHER’S suffering, Never their own of course.

      • MClarissa

        Preach. We should bring up that states that have antiHealth laws also have high rates of accidental pregnancy, teen pregnancy, hiv, stds and red states also take more from gov than give back (takers/moochers) so they CAN’T lead from epic fail.

  • HeilMary1

    I would add the sub stages of altar boys and GOP mistresses.

  • Valde

    They narrowly define it.

    Like, I hate tattoos. However, I am not going to prevent people from getting tattoos. Therefore, I must be ‘pro-tat’ because I don’t want to ban it.

  • MClarissa

    Check out the discussion on World View with @UKProgressive Denis Campbell https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NRItKMysk4&feature=youtube_gdata_player

  • MClarissa

    please do and i will stick it on ALL my social media.

  • goatini

    They are rape apologists and enablers. They WANT the rapist to win.

  • freeportguy

    “Pro-life” is just another catchy name in the line of “Freedom Works” and “Americans for Prosperity” aimed at misleading people from their REAL goals.

    “Pro-birth” better defines what that crowd is, for after the birth, they then tell “Now, you are on your own” to parents and kids as they want nothing more than to refuse them any assistance programs.

    How much does the “pro-birth” crowd “love children” when they want to deny a woman’s right to her own choice under the auspice that “actions should have consequences”, in other words that a “woman should be be her sin of having had sex”, by actually considering those babies as PENALTIES and condemning many of them to lives of misery??