Thursday, September 20, 2012

Language of Empowerment - 'abortion' vs 'choice'

I support and receive monthly newsletters from the Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization that tirelessly works to advance and promote reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments across the world would be legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfil. This morning's newsletter had a section that made think.
Deborah Tannen knows language’s power in the conflict around abortion rights. A Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University and author of the bestseller, You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Tannen is “troubled that the word abortion has been demonized, replaced by euphemisms such as 'choice.'” Straightforward language can help reverse the stigma surrounding abortion, she believes, especially in our personal conversations, where we have more power to question and to motivate others. It's an important time to be engaged. “To see access to legal abortion being eroded, undermined, and threatened is heartbreaking,” Tannen says. “I support the essential work of the Center,” she says, “because I believe passionately in its mission. I saw friends and relatives suffer through the physical pain, danger, and emotional trauma of illegal abortions. Then I saw the contrast after Roe v. Wade. We have to resist the piecemeal slipping back—and language is a key arena to retake control.
I completely agree with Professor Tannen's assessment and sentiments, except for one quibble. I don't think that 'choice' is necessarily a euphemism, or even if it is used as such, its meaning and impact are restricted to being one. Choice is an empowered action, an expression of a right - in this case, a woman's fundamental and absolute right to choose and make decisions about aspects of her own reproductive healthcare, including birth-control, cancer screenings, maternity care, and abortion. This is why anti-abortion lawmakers in this country are also anti-choice, a position that stems from the flagrant misogyny deeply embedded in the patriarchal culture. The fact that the main objections to abortion are largely borne out of abysmal ignorance and/or religious faith seems almost secondary in importance to that.

It is, however, important to remember the profound interconnectedness of patriarchy-misogyny-ignorance-religious faith. Perhaps true empowerment of women will not be achieved unless all these four arms are battled simultaneously.

Speaking of empowerment, some anti-choice Republican politicians have been attempting to allow employers to deny a woman employee coverage of birth control if it conflicts with the employers' (supposedly) moral or religious beliefs, effectively putting the healthcare decisions of 40.2 million women in the hands of their bosses. To protest against these attempts, a new campaign called This Is Personal has been initiated from today by the National Women's Law Center, another organization involved in issues surrounding women's lives - education, employment, family and economic security, and health and reproductive rights. This campaign from the NWLC seeks to mobilize a new generation of women, in order to empower, educate and activate women across the country to protect women's reproductive health care. The goal is to equip women with the facts and tools they need to talk to their friends, write to their elected officials, and make a difference. Check out the campaign video on YouTube.

You, gentle reader, can take action via their advocacy page on this issue, to send a letter to your representative/policy decision maker voicing your opinion.

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