How (Not) to Talk About Abortion

Editor’s Note: Thanksgiving is here, and the holiday season always spells out a lot of “debate” at the dinner table. The below guide from NARAL walks you through how to talk about abortion—with fellow voters or at your dinner table. We figured this would be a helpful resource this fall and beyond.

It’s become quite clear that reproductive freedom is a political winner: We’re seeing candidates up and down the ballot run, and win, on their stance on reproductive rights. This makes a lot of sense: The vast majority of Americans (77 percent) support Roe v. Wade.

Meanwhile, in Virginia and Kentucky’s recent elections, anti-abortion leaders and candidates conducted a trial run of one of their major 2020 strategies: spread dangerous disinformation about abortion later in pregnancy in order to distract voters and deflect from their ultimate goal of banning abortion, which is wildly out-of-touch and unpopular with the American public (even Republicans).

Here are the facts.

This year saw an unprecedented wave of abortion bans sweep states across the country, and anti-abortion legislators are emboldened in their pursuit to gut Roe as Trump reshapes the federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. All of these bans are patently unconstitutional and put people’s lives at risk—and some, like in Ohio and Texas, even include the death penalty as criminal punishment for people providing or accessing abortion care. 

That agenda—completely banning abortion—is extremely unpopular, which is why Republicans and anti-abortion extremists, from state houses to the White House, are working to obscure the terms of the debate, infuse incendiary and deceptive rhetoric and spread disinformation about abortion

That’s why it is incumbent upon everyone to engage responsibly in the debate, and avoid adopting the kind of incendiary language upon which the anti-abortion disinformation playbook relies. 

(Audrey Penven / Creative Commons)

Pro tips for responsibly engaging in conversations about abortion:

In describing abortion bans, describe the bans for what they are: unconstitutional laws intended to ban abortion, often before many women even know they’re pregnant, designed to challenge Roe v. Wade

Do not use the phrase “heartbeat bill.” Instead, say “abortion ban before many women know they’re pregnant,” or simply “abortion ban.”

Do not use “late-term abortion” (which is not medically accurate!) to describe abortion later in pregnancy. Remember that “late term abortion” is not medically-accurate and is a loaded term that Republicans have weaponized to describe abortion later in pregnancy at the expense of women and families experiencing in imaginably difficult situations. Instead, say “abortion later in pregnancy” or “later abortion.” 

Do not elevate incendiary and dangerous terms like “infanticide” or “born alive.” Trump and anti-abortion politicians like to bring up “infanticide,” an inflammatory term adopted by anti-choice politicians to falsely describe abortion later in pregnancy or post-birth palliative care. Infanticide, of course, is already illegal. They also like bringing up “born alive” to describe the notion of a baby “surviving an attempted abortion”—which is not grounded in medical science and is intended to evoke disturbing and violent imagery.

If it is necessary at all to repeat these terms, it is essential to do so alongside this critical context. Include proper context, such as “these inflammatory comments are part of a larger anti-choice movement,” or “a term not grounded in medical science” or “a term intended to evoke violent imagery.”

Ultimately, voters continue to view a candidate’s support for reproductive freedom, including the right to access abortion, as key to earning their vote in 2020. It’s critical that all of us—members of the media, political candidates and even family members gathered together for a meal—talk about the issue in language grounded in truth, and avoid the intentional linguistic traps core to the anti-abortion playbook. 


NARAL Pro-Choice America and its network of state affiliates and chapters are dedicated to protecting and expanding reproductive freedom for all. Since 1969, NARAL has made history, grown to over 2.5 million members and met the moments that have defined this fight with action, power and freedom.