Framing the "A" word


Sunday was the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. There were celebrations (and protests) throughout the land, as well as over 200 citizen journalists participating in "Blog for Choice Day," sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice America. (AlterNet's own bloggers were on that scene.)

Finding the "right way" to talk about abortion, reproductive rights and women's rights has been the point of contention not just between the conservatives and the progressives, but within each side as well. How do we talk about these issues in a way that not just demonstrates our point of view, but that connects with the people that we want to hear our ideas?

This cuts right to the chase of a lot of the problems with messaging and spin in general: it's ego-centric, and doesn't generally play well with others. All around, we see organizers and spin doctors asking themselves, "How can I say what I mean?" With many on the left, the blinders go up from there, and we put a lot of time and energy into figuring out how best to promote this singular, solitary notion of an issue.

When the disconnect between ideas, emotions and frames gets lost, the message carried within those frames often falls flat. The real question is more along the lines of "How will people best understand and relate to what's important?" We progressives pride ourselves on being "of the people;" it's time we start start speaking it. It's time to take a step back and remember the larger ecology to which we belong, and to remember that no issue exists in a vaccuum.

Abortion can be one of the more difficult subjects to approach, and there's certainly no lack of frames out there. How successful have progressives been at framing or reframing in the last 30 years? Depends on who you ask, of course, but the recent SCOTUS nominations have certainly rekindled that discussion.

"Pro-life" is probably the worst possible frame for us to even think about in our daily discourse. Letting conservatives have this for the last few decades has dealt a major blow to the reproductive rights movement. By default in this frame, the opposite -- the opposers of conservatives -- are anti-life. I don't know a single women's rights advocate that's anti-life, and in fact, that describes the Bush administration to a T.

"Pro-choice," however, is also fraught with problems. As George Lakoff (referring to Deborah Tannen) has pointed out, the word "choice" has indications along the lines of consumerism, as if the decision to have an abortion is as simple as deciding whether or not to buy new pillows. It carries no weight of the woman's life, lifestyle, or livelihood.

On a larger level, talking about abortion as An Important Issue ghettoizes it and removes the larger contexts: abortion is about women having control over their own bodies, which is a part of an ongoing rights struggle for women's equality, which is a part of the larger movement of fairness, prosperity and justice for all people.

This isn't to say the implications of having something like Roe v. Wade overturned are not important to exemplify, and to talk about the individual dangers to women -- especially poor women and women of color -- should our access to proper reproductive care (which, in my world, includes access to an abortion) be restricted. We need to be adding the values to those examples, and not just waving coat-hangers and cold facts at blind eyes. We need to keep connecting the single issue of abortion to the larger ecosystem of progressive values and ideas.

Easier said than done, of course. How do you frame abortion and women's rights when speaking with your friends and family? How do they react? Leave your stories in the comments; tell us what works, what doesn't, and where you think we need to go to keep protecting the reproductive freedom of women.

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