Wednesday 1 May 2013

What’s in a name? Reproductive justice or reproductive choice

Earlier this year there was a flurry of interest into research conducted by Planned Parenthood regarding the declining popularity of the term "pro-choice" in the US. This polling had a big impact - Planned Parenthood announced that they would be moving away from the language of "choice." The American group Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health followed suit by changing its name to Physicians for Reproductive Health.

There is clearly a growing sense in (what we have traditionally called) the pro-choice movement that its very label is hindering progress. A key problem with the term “pro-choice”, some argue, is that it does not encapsulate the myriad of factors – economic, social or political - that affect access to reproductive healthcare. For many “reproductive justice” is a more useful term:

“The conversation about dropping “pro-choice” language is largely missing a discussion about the real limitations surrounding the word choice. A reproductive justice framework addresses how “choice” doesn’t resonate for people because many people’s “choices” are dictated by societal factors... A woman who cannot afford time off work to travel for hours or even days does not have a real “choice”, for instance.”
They also argue that the term “reproductive justice” better communicates the full range of issues the movement is concerned with – not just abortion, but access to contraception, ending stigma and ensuring proper provision of sex and relationship education.

But this shift is not universally supported.

Jon O’Brien, from Catholics for Choice, does not support the idea that reproductive justice could be a substitute for choice. O’Brien argues that believing in choice compels us to advocate for true freedom and to pursue policies that enable women to make decisions for themselves, rather than have these outcomes determined by societal factors:

“By grounding itself in the idea that each person has a right to bodily autonomy, to determining the course of his of her reproductive life regardless of circumstance, choice respects individual conscience. We believe in choice because it is robust. What matters in the choice framework is whether or not the decision to become or stay pregnant rests with a woman and her conscience.”
Our Chief Executive, Ann Furedi, also wrote a piece defending the term pro-choice. Furedi states that using the term “pro-choice” is essential as it affirms our commitment to personal autonomy and our capacity for moral self-governance. Supporting choice does not mean ignoring the real issues women face accessing care and services but to claim “that choice ‘does not matter’, or is irrelevant, to a group of women because, for example, they are economically or culturally excluded, is both patronising and degrading. It implies they have no interest in making these moral choices for themselves, and perhaps no capacity to do so.”

Whilst this debate is currently predominately America-based, it will undoubtedly over time migrate across the pond. We should not shy away from these discussions. It is right to reassess the strengths and weaknesses of the movement. But it is essential that we are able to work through these divisions whilst still joining together to fight for our common cause, still united by our shared goals and values.

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