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For many, "Pro-Choice" is not the same thing as "Legal Abortion"

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vets74 Donating Member (714 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-08-11 06:24 PM
Original message
For many, "Pro-Choice" is not the same thing as "Legal Abortion"
We're doing linguistic research on a voter pool that self-identify as consistent Republican voters. The list we are using has a substantial number of willing participants.

-- As a key to how they see the world, these Americans use "unborn child" as their preferred term. They never use "fetus."

-- "Should America have legal abortion ?" Simple question. Stated with those terms, a number of these voters are willing to enter into a discussion that works a lot like a negotiation process.

-- On the other hand, "choice" as related to abortion is tagged negatively. This non-logical effect has been built up over several decades.

Let's go back to the start. "Ms." magazine initiated use of "Pro-Choice" in 1975. They were speaking to their readership, certainly not worried about fueling an element of a conservative backlash. "Choice" has b een hammered over and over. It's like Reagan hammering "librul."

The two prime Ad Biz memes for this project present non-rational right-brain arguments. Do not underestimate them:

-- "Choice" is the opposite to "necessity."

-- "A Child Is Not A Choice."

The latter motto appeared in 1978. It is used relentlessly, including as a title banner for areas on church bulletin boards that collect photos of in utero "unborn children."

Want to get some votes from these folks ??? Then we have to find common ground with them. For example:

We will do one helluva lot better if we learn how to understand their use of language. We can listen appropriately. Sympathy for "unborn children" is surely not a feeling that one would intentionally denigrate.

"Child" vs. "Choice" vs. "Necessity" -- for the processes involved with right-brain emotions this specific presentation can be decisive. Looking at the image/fetus/unborn_child above, where you think that's likely to go ?

The worst is labeling anti-abortion people as "the forced birth party." This misleads you with respect to understanding how these voters see the world. (Getting even for "baby killer" is a poor excuse.)

Keep this in mind: linguistically, "choice" is a true antonym to the word "necessity." I say antonym is the sense of a gradable opposite (applying a technical term from semantics.)

Choice/necessity lie at opposite ends of a scale of meaning. Pairing these words in anti-abortion propaganda generates strong emotional response.

Right-brain emotional processing can be conditioned. That is what the Ad Biz does for a living. That is what has happened, as described above. Then, right-brain processing casts choice/necessity as extreme opposites. "Choice" is tied to killing that tiny creatures in the image above. Such images are presented over and over, by the hundreds over the years, and the pairing of choice/necessity is recalled each time.

All this ties to GOP politicians and hate-radio hosts tagging Democrats as "baby killers."

"Pro-Choice" triggers these right-brain association mechanisms full-force in conservative voters. That relationship was discovered and tested out in the early 1990s, so of course the Democratic Party professionals ignored the survey information. We are rerunning the basic tests and trying out alternatives to create alternative right-brain framing for the issue of legal abortion.

Democrats like "Pro-Choice," so why should Democrats bother with Republicans? That has been the lazy attitude in force for decades.

Well, with more than 40% of consistent Republican voters identifying themselves as single-issue anti-abortion voters, that is one phat pool for static electoral targets.

-- Consider swapping over a tenth of the self-identified single-issue anti-abortion voters to vote for Democrats.

-- In an otherwise 50:50 election, getting a tenth of these voters would give the Democrat a 54:46 victory.

Compared to what has been happening, this one change would produce a progressive landslide. Areas from Georgia to Arizona would open up to Leaning Blue status. Wanna win ??? We need to adapt, first, then get to work.
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AndyTiedye Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-08-11 06:46 PM
Response to Original message
1. They Get to Redefine the Terms as Fast as We Come Up With Them
It sux when the other side controls the media.
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vets74 Donating Member (714 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-08-11 07:15 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. This was the churches, not media.
-- "Choice" is the opposite to "necessity."

-- "A Child Is Not A Choice."

These memes went out through at least 50,000 separate churches.

These are non-rational arguments. But the door was opened when Democrats adopted terminology from "Ms." magazine -- "Pro-Choice" -- without analyzing the down side risks.
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AndyTiedye Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-08-11 07:21 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. They Had Already Done the Same With the Word "Abortion" Itself
Focusing on "Choice" was an attempt to get around that, and put a more positive spin on things.

If you scratch the ones who say NO to "Choice" but maybe to "abortion", you'll probably find
they still want it to be illegal except when it should be mandatory.
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vets74 Donating Member (714 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-08-11 08:23 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. Scratch the single-issue voters and find some for "legal abortion"
There's a lot in the way of hypothetical scenarios and outright conjecture to Democratic analysis.

What we are getting is a wide range for language use. Plus, language use is a solid predictor for underlying attitudes.

As long as Democrats insist on using "Pro-Choice" to indicate support for legal abortion, their situation with these voters will show a severe disadvantage.
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iverglas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-12-11 06:42 PM
Response to Original message
5. you're familiar with your counterpart?

First Things

A Failure to Communicate

Paul Swope

Copyright (c) 1998 First Things 82 (April 1998): 31-35.

For twenty-five years the pro-life movement has stood up to defend perhaps the most crucial principle in any civilized society, namely, the sanctity and value of every human life. However, neither the profundity and scale of the cause, nor the integrity of those who work to support it, necessarily translates into effective action. Recent research on the psychology of pro-choice women offers insight into why the pro-life movement has not been as effective as it might have been in persuading women to choose life; it also offers opportunities to improve dramatically the scope and influence of the pro-life message, particularly among women of childbearing age.

This research suggests that modern American women of childbearing age do not view the abortion issue within the same moral framework as those of us who are pro-life activists. Our message is not being well-received by this audience because we have made the error of assuming that women, especially those facing the trauma of an unplanned pregnancy, will respond to principles we see as self-evident within our own moral framework, and we have presented our arguments accordingly. This is a miscalculation that has fatally handicapped the pro-life cause. While we may not agree with how women currently evaluate this issue, the importance of our mission and the imperative to be effective demand that we listen, that we understand, and that we respond to the actual concerns of women who are most likely to choose abortion.

The importance of a new approach became clear from the results of sophisticated research pioneered by the Caring Foundation, a group that presents the pro-life message to the public via television. This group has been able to tap into some of the most advanced psychological research available today, so-called "right brain" research. (The distinction between "right brain" and "left brain" activity may be physiologically oversimplified or even wrong, but it remains useful as a shorthand description of different ways of thinking.)

The right side of the brain is thought to control the emotional, intuitive, creative aspect of the person. Whereas most research involves analytic, rational questions and thus draws responses primarily from the left side of the brain, "right brain" research aims to uncover the underlying emotional reasons why we make particular decisions or hold certain beliefs. Such an approach has obvious applications to an issue such as abortion, as a woman in the grips of a crisis pregnancy certainly does not resolve this issue in a cold, logical, "left-brain" manner.

(and it goes on at great length, and is very instructive)

As a firmly left-brain person, I find the whole appeal to the right-brain thing on public policy just icky, as a visceral reaction.

That said, my on-line conversion successes back in the 90s were of the right-brain type. Three I can think of specifically.

One was a woman who firmly believed that the pro-choice crowd didn't care about women. Then she observed me posting to a woman who had posted about her deep, desperate despair after having her fourth child, which she did not want and for which she felt no love or even interest. With everybody else telling her to get a grip and do her duty, I advised her to go back to her doctor, to keep going to any professional she could find until one took her concerns and problems seriously, that she was very probably suffering a severe post-partum depression and needed genuine help. The woman whom this swayed into serious consideration of the pro-choice side, and eventual conversion, was a doula and familiar with post partum depression, and no more impressed than I was by all the judgmental opinions the poster had been getting. I just opened a window for her out of the nasty little box that pro-choice people had always been confined to by the voices she listened to.

The second was a woman who "admitted", more privately, some time later that she had had an abortion in university and carried the guilt and self-hatred with her into the middle age she was approaching. An intelligent woman, a politically active woman: she was later a mole in an effort to unionize WalMart. But her experience and her representation of it - obviously, more the social representation of it than her own - had made her unable to stand up for women because she couldn't stand up for herself for making her choice.

And the third was a very young women, young beyond her years in fact, who was at university in the southeastern US and had only recently grown to accept the idea of evolution -- and only because the university instructor who forced her and her peers to study it had told them they didn't have to believe it, they just had to learn about it. She quarrelled with us forever, dredging up things like how nuns in Africa who had been sexually abused by priests and then forced to have abortions proved that abortion was evil. And then one day something said just pushed her button: that pregnancy can be dangerous to women in many ways. Her sister was a victim of spousal abuse, and she firmly believed that if her sister became pregnant again she would be at risk of serious harm. And from there, she adopted the harm reduction approach: it is worse to outlaw abortion than to permit it, because outlawing it can result in serious harm to women.

So ... the whole issue can exhibit different complexities in different people's minds.

What's the common thread, though? I mean, if you ask me.

Women are at the top of the pyramid of pro-choice concerns, and either they aren't, in the minds of the anti-choice, or in some instances the anti-choice don't understand that about the pro-choice.

I don't deal very well with anyone who puts fetuses, no matter what they call them, above women. So interestingly, I'm seeing that the women I described above weren't really in that camp: they came more from the concern-for-women angle.

That was the second wave of anti-choice activism, as described in the article I linked to above. "Abortion is murder" wasn't getting them anywhere, so "abortion hurts women" became the jingle. And the wave of "informed consent" laws and the like came from that well, poisoned as it is by the fact that their proponents don't actually give a shit about women at all -- they're just appealing to their audience's right brains.

I think it's important to know what you're dealing with, when you are actually dealing with "sincere" anti-choice types.

But I am very wary of this right-brain business as a strategy, since it really does smell like manipulation to me.

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uppityperson Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-13-11 11:54 AM
Response to Reply #5
6. People are emotional beings who seek to find intellectual reasons to back up their emotional
decisions. Thank you for this post, it is interesting. Yes, appealing to emotions by providing simplistic reasons to back up those emotions is manipulation.
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vets74 Donating Member (714 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-18-11 01:31 PM
Response to Reply #5
7. Swope comments on Kenny's "Abortion: The Least of Three Evils"
Kenny and Associates published Abortion: The Least of Three Evils in 1994.


The introductory sections of this report go a long way toward justifying general adoption of "choice" and the "Ms. Magazine" 1975 coinage of "Pro-Choice" as key labels.

The Psychological Kernel

Women perceive the choice of abortion as the least of three evils (abortion, adoption,
keeping the child) because it prevents the unwanted pregnancy from leading to the
death of the self and delivers the greatest freedom.

Death of the Self

The respondents in this study reveal right brain equations (an automatic association made by
the mind that is categorical and absolute black and white with no gray area) in their minds
between perceived solutions to unwanted pregnancies and evil. The respondents tell us that
each solution involves some form of threat to a pregnant womans self-preservation. The
threat they feel to the core of who they understand themselves to be is experienced
emotionally, in a right brain equation, as the death of the familiar self. The death of the
familiar self is a psychological death which is experienced in the right brain as an evil.
Carrying the child to term and keeping it is a right brain evil because it threatens death of
both the womans present and future selves.

Abortion is regarded as evil by the right brain because it results in the death of a budding life.
Adoption is also perceived by the right brain as evil because it leads to the death of the
relationship of the mother and child and the death of the self.


Carrying a pregnancy to term is seen as restricting a womans freedom for the future her
future self. Abortion offers her the most freedom by enabling her to return to the life she
knows and wishes to maintain.

If you want to speak to people as they are, then you have to start with what they feel.

This Kenny analysis reports immediate responses to a range of psychological factors:

-- "When a pregnancy is unplanned it threatens her control of her life...."
-- "They also fear an unplanned pregnancy will cause them to appear to be foolish and irresponsible...."
-- "Choice is an existing attitude offering a woman the illusion of control by implying a process of evaluation in which several options to an unplanned pregnancy are considered and then accepted or rejected. It offers these women a feeling that they are consciously regaining control...."
-- "The term choice is used by these women to claim the deep seated belief that the decision is theirs alone... (but)... they tell us that most women in crisis feel that there is really no choice but to abort and 'learn to live with it.'
-- "These women say they dismiss adoption... (because... abandoning you own child to strangers is tantamount to 'throwing the child to the wolves.'
-- "When a woman chooses to keep her child, her spiritual conflict has ended with her acceptance of an expanded or changed definition of who she is and will be. Because the idea of motherhood already exists in her mind, the physical pregnancy is merely assimilated into this idea."
-- "Fear of remorse is at the heart of the spiritual conflict with which these women struggle in deciding to abort. In the absence of a clear and absolute good, the women feel guilt at agonizing over the choice between three evils."
-- "a woman deciding to abort knows that she alone bears the burden of guilt for denying the potential life"
-- "Pro-choice Feminism lends 'courage' and a sense that abortion is a 'courageous act.'
-- "The possibility of later confronting the abandoned child is absolutely terrifying to these women."
-- "We see that some women who have aborted a pregnancy ...continue to wonder what a child would have been like."
-- "In their minds, having a abortion killing an unborn child is evil but it is perceived to be
conquerable with the passage of time."
-- " women want abortion to stay legal so that they and other women, can maintain hope that their future plans will come to fruition."

K&A reportage reflects right-brain based thinking. Women relate their feelings. The Kenny crew teased out the repeating patterns.

The study does not address the most critical issue of political leverage: CHOICE =versus= NECESSITY.

Hammering NECESSITY is what the Fundie churches and politicians use to beat down women who want or have an abortion. Of course, very few abortions are life-and-death health decisions. This gets hammered 24/7/365.

Political campaigns need to understand these processes.

Campaign work is an extension of the Ad Biz. "The Century of the Self" Adam Curtis at BBC -- Part 1 of 4 -- Happiness Machine

Manipulation ??? You betcha. And the side that doesn't understand what is going on is likely to get its butt kicked.

OTOH ::: As matters stand the GOPer pols depend on self-identified Pro-Life-and-single-issue voters for more than 40% of their Election Day votes.

That presents an interesting target.
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iverglas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Sep-18-11 05:17 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. hi vets74
I don't actually get involved in discussions of issues at this site by PM -- do you want to put the content of your PM in a post here?

Basically, you're saying that "pro-choice" as a shorthand term for the position that abortion must be legally available to women at their option, which actually is what it has always meant, alienates some voters.

I'm not persuaded that altering one's vocabulary at regular intervals is a solution to the problem.

If the contrary position is that a majority of abortions are "unnecessary", what can be said to that? A large majority of everything that anyone does is "unnecessary". There's no reply to that statement.

I'm not persuaded that allowing the meaning of the term to be perverted by crap like

"The term choice is used by these women to claim the deep seated belief that the decision is theirs alone... (but)... they tell us that most women in crisis feel that there is really no choice but to abort and 'learn to live with it.'

accomplishes anything. If abortion is not available, a woman has "no choice" but to continue a pregnancy she does not want and have a child she does not want -- except that she has the "choice" of an unsafe illegal abortion; why not say that?

The "choice" in "pro-choice" is the power and right and liberty to choose.

I've addressed the equivocation pratised in this regard many times in the past.

1. The act of choosing; selection.
2. The power, right, or liberty to choose; option.
3. One that is chosen.
4. A number or variety from which to choose: a wide choice of styles and colors.
5. The best or most preferable part.
6. Care in choosing.
7. An alternative.

We can't stop the ugly right wing from engaging in these kinds of underhanded word games, but if one changes course every time they do that, one is left constantly on the defensive and constantly playing catch-up.

The discourse of rights is not an easy one, when the rights holders are members of a group that many people in a society simply do not believe are deserving of equal rights, i.e. are full human beings with equal dignity and worth. Women are such a group.

And oppressed groups whose rights are denied or jeopardized have really never got far by modulating their discourse to reflect the oppressor's framing of issues. Basically, because it can't be done, I'd say. Their goals are inimical to the oppressed group's interests. The oppressed group just plain can't fit its discourse to the oppressor's, because square pegs don't go in round holes.
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vets74 Donating Member (714 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-19-11 07:01 AM
Response to Reply #8
9. "The oppressor's framing of issues" discourages adaptation/survival/success
You quote the dictionary for logical uses of "choice." You want to use the word instead of sticking to the morally neutral term "legal abortion." Unfortunately, this insistence is not based on practical testing.

I'm not persuaded that allowing the meaning of the term to be perverted by crap like

"The term choice is used by these women to claim the deep seated belief that the decision is theirs alone... (but)... they tell us that most women in crisis feel that there is really no choice but to abort and 'learn to live with it.'

accomplishes anything.

Kenny & Associates went out and interviewed a large number of women. They reported what the women had to say. There's nothing "perverted" or "crap" about that. K&A reported a clear mirror to these women's minds. Similar research has brought back similar results over the last 25 years.

And yes, words matter. Careless word choice is not what you want for political speeches and expensive teevee ads.

Using "choice" works for educated, career-oriented women. Subscribers to "Ms. Magazine" love it.

No one tested "Pro-Choice." It came out of the magazine.

If you read the Swope article, you'll see what the anti-abortion forces have been doing to adapt. Their teevee ads make careful use of language. They know what they want, what women really feel about abortion, and how to apply language professionally.

Swope relates details of the resulting changes to community attitudes.

K&A and the Swope article come before the "choice-versus-necessity" tactic arrives on the scene. Their advertisements have moved even more voters to the "Pro-Life" position since 2000. You can verify this with Gallup and other polling organizations.

"Pro-Life" ads work. Adapt to these opponents' uses of language ??? No, you do not have to adapt. Adaptation is not necessary. Only if you want to win.

For competing in the current propaganda environment, "Pro-Choice" is not a clear winner. The opponents love it. Love to beat on it.

Want to win as bad as they do ? Studying K&A and the Swope article are a start. Looking up "choice" in the dictionary is not quite up there with absorbing the lessons in K&A. If the "Pro-Life" people know more about women than you do, they'll keep kicking butt.

Read, understand, apply...... or not.
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iverglas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-19-11 08:27 AM
Response to Reply #9
10. I guess I'm behind the times
I should have clarified what is generally known to old-timers -- I'm in Canada. ;)

We will likely be facing some assaults on reproductive rights with the four years now starting of a majority right-wing Parliament, but it's not very likely that they will get anywhere here, given our Supreme Court's solid track record on fundamental rights.

If you're not familiar with our situation -- we have no laws governing access to abortion, and abortion services are covered by the provincial health plan (with some small exceptions that I'm surprised nothing has yet been done about -- a small province or two that still refuses to pay, I believe). You might be interested in the governing decision, R. v. Morgentaler

and especially Justice Bertha Wilson's reasons.

So I guess the anti-choice discourse has gone from
abortion is murder
abortion hurts women
... abortion is unnecessary?

I'm not quite getting that, myself.

I do find your tone a little odd. I didn't "look up 'choice' in the dictionary". I pointed out that the anti-choice brigade, like the rest of the right wing, uses demagoguery and deceit to advance its agenda. I think it's extremely important to analyze right wing tactics and understand exactly what they are doing.

What I see them doing with "choice" isn't "appealing to the right-brain", it's lying. I don't think one can decide on an effective tactic of one's own without first understanding that.
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vets74 Donating Member (714 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-19-11 10:35 AM
Response to Reply #10
11. Thank God for Canada !
We're up against efforts in the U.S. that budget $200-million a year for propaganda and agitation.

This is the biggest single-issue leverage point in American politics.

The corporatist/rightie pols don't give a XXXX about the "unborn children." It's all about generating moral cover for the likes of Tom DeLay, Vitter, Cheney, the Bushes, all the jolly little Kocksuckers.

Turning out churchgoers to vote for criminals -- that takes first-rate propaganda.

Expect to see this "Pro-Life" theme replicated in every democracy in the world. They're also generating hundreds of versions of this one, too:

"Democracy is not the solution to our problem.
Democracy is our problem."

-- underlying message from The Gipper, First Inaugural 1981 at 6'08". Original has "government." Democracy and the presumption of moral equality are what they hate most.
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