Editor’s note on Nov. 22, 2022: The holiday season always spells out a lot of “debate” at the dinner table. The guide below walks you through how to talk about abortion—with fellow voters or at your dinner table—and how to avoid anti-choice traps. We figured this would be a helpful resource this fall and beyond. Originally published in 2018, this piece has been updated to reflect NARAL’s newer guidance and our new post-Roe reality.
For additional conversation guidance, check out the Reproductive Freedom Conversation Guide from All* Above All Action Fund, Emily’s List, NARAL, Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Voto Latino Action Fund.
It’s become quite clear that reproductive freedom is a political winner: We’re seeing ballot measures pass and candidates across the U.S. run, and win, on their stance on reproductive rights. This makes a lot of sense: A vast majority of Americans (62 percent) now say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
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.
When Responsibly Engaging in Conversations About Abortion, Language Matters
In describing abortion bans, describe the bans for what they are: unconstitutional laws intended to ban abortion, often before many 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.” 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. 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.
How to Respond to Tough Questions and Avoid Anti-Choice Traps
Disinformation, charged rhetoric and false information are flying around abortion—especially the rare cases of abortion later in pregnancy—and post-birth palliative care. To rebut these claims, research shows that the most effective value we can communicate is that of supporting parents (specifically in difficult and often painful circumstances).
Most of us try to live our lives without interfering in other people’s lives. We know that a woman may end a pregnancy for different reasons. We cannot make a woman’s decisions because we haven’t walked in her shoes. Tragically, sometimes a woman gets a diagnosis of a serious health complication that threatens her life or health. Other times, a family learns later in pregnancy there is a very serious fetal diagnosis, or the baby is dying and can’t survive for long. When people are making difficult, complicated, personal medical decisions, one-size-fits-all laws don’t work.
It’s wrong to interfere in people’s lives like this, for political reasons. When it comes to abortion or pregnancy loss, legislators in Washington, D.C., and state capitals can’t know what every family is going through. Real people going through complicated issues are going to be hurt with these one-size-fits-all restrictions. The fact is, their real agenda is about banning abortion with no exceptions. That’s wrong. These politicians are overstepping their role, and women and families don’t deserve to pay the price
How to Answer Specific Questions
Do you support any kind of restriction on abortion?
“I oppose abortion restrictions that will endanger and punish women. Looking at any proposed restriction, I’d want to know: Does it reflect evidence-based medical best practices? Or does it recklessly take personal medical decisions in complicated situations out of the hands of women, families and their doctors?”
Why haven’t you taken a stand against infanticide or killing babies who survive an abortion?
“Murder of any person, including newborns, is already a crime, as it should be. This question is not rooted in medical care or science, but rather an intentional disinformation campaign. Tragically, sometimes a woman gets a diagnosis of a serious health complication that threatens her life or health.
“Other times, a family learns later in pregnancy there is a very serious fetal diagnosis, or the baby is dying and can’t survive for long. When people are making difficult, complicated, personal medical decisions, one-size-fits-all laws don’t work. We cannot make a woman’s decisions because we haven’t walked in her shoes.”
Do you support abortion up to the point of birth?
“This does not happen.”
IF ASKED BY HOSTILE QUESTIONER: “Your question is not based in medical science. You’re asking about a fake situation because you’re trying to mislead voters about what’s true and real. I won’t help you do that.”
IF ASKED BY MEDIA/MODERATOR/VOTER: “You’re asking about a fake situation invented as a distraction to mislead voters about what’s true and real. When it comes to abortion or pregnancy loss, politicians in Washington, D.C., and state capitals can’t know what every woman and her family is going through. They are going to hurt real people going through complicated issues with their one-size-fits-all restrictions.
“A parent’s job is to protect and care for their children. Parents are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of difficult decisions. Out of deep love, some choose abortion. Abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare (<2 percent of all cases) and almost always because something in the pregnancy has gone seriously wrong.”
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