To Win On Abortion, Take Back Our Words

by | Jun 27, 2023 | Restoring Our Language

Don’t let the Left dictate terms of the debate.

Part of a developing series on how the Left is destroying our vocabulary for political gain.

In the battle for ideas, words are everything. “Progressives” excel when they dictate the terms, reclassifying “abortion” as “women’s healthcare,” an argument they’ve used in ever-greater frequency since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

The goal was always to steal momentum from pro-life activists by shifting the debate away from infanticide towards women’s autonomy and rights, helping to cement women as a key Democratic voting bloc. Little wonder, then, that in the past 50 years terms such as “reproductive rights” have joined the panoply of “pro-choice,” “bodily autonomy,” and other Planned Parenthood-led phrases.

Consider that from 1970 to 1990, “pro-choice” appeared just 5,700 times in newspaper articles; yet between 1990 and 2023 that phrase was used over 168,000 times, according to LexisNexis.

The term “bodily autonomy” barely existed before 2011, according to LexisNexis, appearing in a scant 172 articles between 1986 and 2011. From 2011 to 2023, however, the term was used in over 13,000 articles.

From 1970 to 2001, “reproductive rights” was mentioned just over 10,000 times, but from 2001 to 2023 it appeared in over 115,000 articles.

As the abortion debate continues to become more polarizing, many publications have shifted away from “abortion clinic” or “abortion doctor,” opting to define them as obstetricians or gynecologists and “family planning clinics.” The language change helps move past the reality that the doctors and clinics are performing abortions by wrapping it in with “healthcare” and “family planning” (the latter a term coined by Margaret Sanger a century ago as a euphemism for population control measures).

On the Offense

In the same way, the left-leaning media has embarked on a years-long campaign to reclassify the “pro-life” movement as merely “anti-abortion.” It’s a subtle but powerful shift in tone—who wants to against something when you can be for something instead?

Pro-life (Blue) and Anti-abortion movement (Red) from 2004 to 2023.

One of the largest changes implemented by the Left was the decision to change “baby” to “fetus.” From 1980 to 2000, “fetus” was only used in 46,000 news articles. From 2000 to 2023, the term appeared in over 1.9 million articles, a 4,030 percent increase.

The 2022 Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade and returned the issue of abortion to the states, where it belongs. Faced with the prospect of red states restricting (or virtually banning) abortion, groups like Planned Parenthood turned to a grisly solution: At-home abortions using mail-in abortifacients.

The key ingredient to this self-induced abortion is mifepristone, which was invented in the 1980s but illegal in the United States until 2000, when the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use (following an activist-led lobbying campaign). Since then, it’s exploded in use, accounting for over half of all abortions nationwide in 2020. Naturally, pro-abortion activists want to use mifepristone and its “sister” drug, misoprostol, to bypass abortion restrictions in red states.

The data reflects this rapid growth: According to LexisNexis, between 1986 and 2000 mifepristone was mentioned a scant 1,400 times, but appeared in over 12,000 articles between 2000 and 2023. Expect that figure to rise in the coming years.

Reproductive rights (Blue) and bodily autonomy (Red) from 2008 to 2023 on Google Trends.

New Terms Reframe the Same Debate

The Left implements many new terms to reframe a debate, and in many cases, the language is unknown to many Americans. These terms can never be defeated as public norms if their origins, time of relevance, and purpose are not widely known.

There’s only one solution for conservatives: Take back their language. Winning debates about the issues is only half the battle.