Talking points on the federal abortion ban

With the Supreme Court having agreed to hear the case of the previously-rejected 2003 federal abortion ban (not to mention South Dakota's banning of abortion on Wednesday), it's time we have a quick lesson in talking points about this issue. It's been frustrating for many of us to see a number of progressive folks referring to the type of abortion the ban deals with using a certain phrase that won't be repeated here. Why? Lesson #1 in sociolinguistics: using the term reinforces the frame. Sure, that's what the Republicans named their law, but it is grotesquely misleading and skews the debate away from what this ban is about: human rights, and more specifically, reproductive rights.

A slightly better alternative to the conservative, misogynist frame that has been used by some is "late-term abortion." Amie Newman noted in The Mix yesterday that this is also misleading, since "late" could also mean a blanket ban on whatever the speaker defines as "late." Too much gray area here: "late" could mean anything after the first trimester, for example.

Others have suggested that progressives should refer to the actual medical procedure that conservatives are seeking to ban -- without provisions accounting for a woman's health, which is often the only circumstance under which this procedure is performed -- called dilation and extraction, or D&X. My own opinion lies here, since referring to the acronym would free up linguistic context for talking about the woman's rights. However, a quick informal poll among friends showed me a few wrinkled noses at the word "extraction," some saying that it conjured up something just as gruesome as the forced-birth side's frame.

This isn't an exercise in the name game, either. ("This is not a test!") The ban that Congress is pushing through is not just dangerous to women in its existing form, but is a slippery-slope initiative paving the way towards increasing restrictions and prohibitions on reproductive freedom by demonizing women who obtain the procedure and criminalizing doctors who perform it. (It's been noted that a similar ban in Wisconsin caused doctors to stop performing all abortions.)

Thus, the floor is open to suggestions and discussion. The one thing that should be clear, as we enter this phase of debate, however, is that progressives everywhere must stop using the conservative frame -- even in "quotes" and with putting "so-called" in front of it, you're still using it! -- for good. The ban itself can be referred to as the "2003 federal ban on certain abortions" when necessary.

Ultimately, the debate about this ban ends up nitpicking various constraints and allowances about time limitations and situational factors, and ignores the larger picture: our value of, and commitment to protecting, human rights. We should all be focused on retaining our collective reproductive and privacy rights... not debating and reinforcing fundamentalist lies outlawing women from taking care of themselves.

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