Reproductive Rights Messaging

 

Anti-choice activists prefer to frame the entire reproductive health debate around abortion because it helps cloak their real agenda, which is to not only ban abortion, but birth control and other reproductive health options as well. In fact, the vast majority of Americans support commonsense reproductive health policies, especially those that reduce unintended pregnancy, and they would prefer a broader discussion on the issue.

A broader view of reproductive health, one that goes beyond abortion, is also consistent with what it means to be pro-choice, which is to support everyone’s right to safely and effectively prevent a pregnancy, end a pregnancy, have a healthy child, or place a child for adoption.

Much of this section relies heavily on and in some cases comes verbatim from the Moving Forwardproject, a collaboration of the Women Donors Network and the Communications Consortium Media Center. 

Say . . .

I believe people need to make their own important life decisions for themselves and their families. These include decisions about whether and when to become a parent. To make these decisions responsibly, individuals need access to medically accurate information, birth control, and, when necessary, abortion. All Americans should have the freedom and the opportunity to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. 

Why . . .

Research indicates that important life decisions is a very effective frame to use with persuadable voters. It is broad enough to allow you to transition the discussion beyond just abortion to the full range of reproductive health options. Talking about decisions instead of choice lends the appropriate level of seriousness to the issue and conveys that women and their families are deliberate and thoughtful when making potentially life-altering personal decisions. 

Too often, progressives use pro-choice and anti-choice as shorthand jargon to capture the full set of reproductive health issues. That’s okay when talking to progressive base voters. But when regular voters, especially persuadable voters, hear these terms they do not assign the same meaning to them as we do. They hear them as political terms in a debate they’ve heard over and over. They think they already know what you’re trying to say and essentially stop listening. Use language that helps persuadable voters understand that the issue has changed and reproductive health matters they thought were long past debate are under continuous attack

The core message above incorporates four values elements that you should also employ separately.

(1) Personal responsibility and a responsible government:

Say . . .

People need information and options so they can have the opportunity to make responsible life decisions. But we also need responsible government to provide safe, affordable and readily available options. 

(2) Protection, planning and prevention: 

Say . . .

People should have the ability to plan when they want to start a family, protect themselves from unintended pregnancy, and prevent serious problems in the future. These are important life decisions that everyone should make for themselves. 

(3) Respect: 

Say . . .

We need to respect people’s ability to make their own life decisions and not impose our beliefs upon others. We should each appreciate and respect our individual opinions. Sometimes, we just have to agree to disagree. 

(4) Individual decision making: 

Say . . .

Individuals should be able to have the freedom and opportunity to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. 

Why . . .

Each of these statements demonstrates that you empathize with most people’s views that important life decisions are complex matters. They also embody four key values that should be communicated during any discussion on reproductive health: responsibility, opportunity, respect and freedom.

Here’s another way to talk about responsibility

Say . . .

A responsible government would focus on reducing the need for abortion by preventing unintended pregnancies, supporting women who choose adoption and making childbirth safer. 

Why . . .

Polls demonstrate that Americans want to help prevent unintended pregnancies, making abortion less necessary. Here is another way to address the value of respect

Say . . .

I appreciate that this is a complex issue. In fact, there are many medical reasons why women might need abortions, including high-risk pregnancies that endanger a woman’s life, and miscarriages. We need to respect the difficult life decisions that can only be made by a woman and her doctor. 

Why . . .

Some voters don’t think about the circumstances that might make abortion the best medical decision. This version reminds them. 

Don’t say . . .

Say . . .

Choice

Prevention (by itself)

Unplanned pregnancy

Preventing abortion 

Personal responsibility (by itself)

Emergency contraception (by itself)

Who decides?

Conscience clause

Pro-life, Right-to-Life, Anti-abortion

Important life decisions, choices (implies broader frame)

Protection, planning and prevention

Unintended, unwanted pregnancy

Preventing unintended, unwanted pregnancy

Personal responsibility, responsible government

Birth control options, including emergency birth control

Personal decision-making

Refusal clause 

Why . . .

Above all, don’t limit the conversation to abortion. When Americans hear the word choice, they don’t necessarily associate it with right wing attempts to limit access to birth control and unbiased information about reproductive health. And voters very strongly support access to birth control and unbiased information. Use language—like important life decisions—that broadens the conversation to include the full range of reproductive health options that go beyond abortion and the fact that our anti-choice opponents are also cutting services and programs that would actually prevent unintended pregnancy.

In 2012, federal rules re-confirmed that churches would not be required to offer insurance coverage for birth control to church employees. But corporations that run hospitals and universities, including those affiliated with a church, would have to make insurance-covered birth control available so female employees will have the choice whether or not to use it as their method of family planning. 

Say . . .

I strongly support freedom of religion. Sometimes churches control corporations that run gigantic hospitals and universities, employing thousands of people of all faiths. Federal law, now being challenged in court, says those corporations are not allowed to discriminate when it comes to individual employees’ access to birth control. I agree with that rule because it is female employees of different faiths, not their corporate employers, who should have the religious freedom to make personal decisions about their private use of birth control. We need to respect people’s ability to make their own life decisions and not impose our views on others. Sometimes, we just have to agree to disagree. 

Why . . .

Anti-choice advocates like to call the idea of denying coverage a conscience clause, which in this case refers to the conscience of the corporation that runs the hospital or university. You should use a more accurate term—it is a refusal clause. Also keep in mind that birth control polls a little better thancontraception.

Conservatives control the majority of state legislatures and, as a result, have pursued a very aggressive strategy to restrict women’s reproductive health, including attempts to ban abortion outright. The rest of this section focuses on the most common anti-choice efforts, and how you can use the values and messages described above to answer the right wing’s many arguments.

Right wing strategy: Children don’t need sex ed in schools, they need parents for that: 

Say . . .

Young people deserve complete, medically accurate information about sexuality so they can make responsible decisions. Schools can do a good job, probably better than most parents, of providing comprehensive sex education—on the biological, medical and scientific facts. But it’s still the parents’ job to provide kids with moral and ethical guidance. Comprehensive sex ed doesn’t take away from that. We need to do both. 

Right wing strategy: Emergency contraception causes an abortion and should be banned: 

Say . . .

Emergency contraception, also called Plan B or the morning after pill, is birth control women can use up to five days after unprotected sex. It does not cause an abortion. People should be able to plan when they’re ready to start or expand a family. And when that plan doesn’t work, they should be free to make the decision to use safe, tested options, such as emergency birth control, to prevent pregnancy. 

Right wing strategy: We should ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy (or earlier): 

Say . . .

People need to make their own important life decisions for themselves and their families. This legislation is part of an effort to ban all abortions under all circumstances, something that Americans overwhelmingly oppose. There is no medical or scientific evidence to support the arguments behind this proposal. Rather, this legislation would hurt women and families who are facing heart-wrenching loss and unimaginable pregnancy complications. We need to respect people’s ability to make their own life decisions and not impose our beliefs on others. They should have the freedom and opportunity to make the difficult decisions for themselves. 

Right wing strategy: We should enact “personhood” and “fetal pain” laws (that would give a fertilized egg the same legal rights as a person):                                                                  

Say . . .

We need responsible government to provide safe, affordable and readily available options. This proposal is irresponsible and even dangerous for women and families. It would ban abortions even for women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest. But it wouldn’t stop there—if passed, you wouldn’t have access to the range of birth control you have now. Emergency birth control wouldn’t be available. Women who suffer miscarriage could be under investigation. And, the government would be able to interfere in a family’s personal decisions about fertility treatment. To make important life decisions, people need access to accurate information and appropriate medical care—not overreaching laws. 

Right wing strategy: We should enact Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws: 

Say . . .

People should have the ability to plan when they want to start a family, protect themselves from unintended pregnancy, and prevent serious problems in the future. These TRAP laws are designed to take away the opportunity for protection, planning and prevention. They single out women’s health centers and doctors who provide abortion services, placing severe requirements on them for the purpose of forcing them to close. That means women lose the opportunity to protect their own health and doctors lose the freedom to provide essential health services—we all lose. People need information and options so they can make responsible decisions. But we also need responsible government to make sure people can access safe, affordable and readily available services. 

Right wing strategy: We should enact waiting periods for abortion: 

Say . . .

We need to respect people’s ability to make their own life decisions and not impose our beliefs upon others. Waiting periods are nothing more than an effort to harass and shame women who have already made the difficult decision to end a pregnancy. They put emotional and financial strain on women and families, often requiring them to pay more for travel, hotel and childcare, and to take more time off from work. And they don’t cause women to change their minds about their decision. We need to respect the fact that women are capable of carefully considering and making decisions about important life events. What we don’t need is irresponsible government action that puts roadblocks in the way of people’s ability to plan for when they want to start or expand a family. 

Right wing strategy: We should require “rape insurance”: 

Say . . .

People need information and options so they can have the opportunity to make responsible life decisions. We also need responsible government to provide safe, affordable and readily available options. This legislation is completely irresponsible—it would ban health insurance plans from covering abortion and, instead, require women to purchase additional insurance riders to cover abortion care if they face an unintended pregnancy. [Most of] these laws do not provide anyexceptions for women who become pregnant as the result of rape or incest—meaning women must anticipate that they might be victims of abuse. In most cases, insurance riders are simply not available—you can’t buy them. This is nothing more than a ploy to deny women the freedom and opportunity to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. 

Right wing strategy: We should impose ultrasound/sonogram requirements: 

Say . . .

People need to make their own important life decisions for themselves and their families, including decisions about whether and when to become a parent. Mandating that a woman have a forced ultrasound/sonogram after she’s already made the difficult decision to end a pregnancy is invasive to the extreme. This proposal would do nothing to change a woman’s mind about ending her pregnancy. It would instead force an unnecessary medical procedure and drive up the cost of care. I believe we need responsible government leaders who will work to prevent unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion. But once a woman is faced with an unwanted pregnancy and has made the decision to end it, we need to respect her ability to make her own important life decisions. 

Right wing strategy: We should cut family planning programs:

Say . . .

People should have the ability to plan when they want to start a family, protect themselves from unintended pregnancy, and prevent serious problems in the future. This proposal would make planning, protections and prevention much harder. Clinics that provide family planning services do more than dispense birth control—they provide many women with primary care, including vital health screenings and other basic services. There is a cost to every individual who cannot prevent an unintended pregnancy or get an early cancer diagnosis. And there is a cost to our state’s taxpayers, who will have to pay for unplanned births and the medical expenses for cancer and other diseases caught too late. Planning and intervention are important for improving lives and preventing serious problems in the future.

Right wing strategy: We should require parental involvement in abortion decisions:

Say . . .

Young people need information and options so they can have the opportunity to make responsible life decisions. We hope they can get their information from caring, responsible parents who will help them prevent unintended pregnancy, or help them navigate the range of decisions they will have to make if they do get pregnant unintentionally. However, we live in the real world, where every parent is not caring and responsible. When that’s the case, the government needs to be the responsible one and make sure young people can seek the advice of trained medical professionals who can help them navigate the full set of potentially life-altering decisions they’ll have to consider.

Right wing strategy: We should ban Medicaid funding for abortions:

Say . . .

We need to respect the ability of women to carefully consider and thoughtfully make their own life decisions. We should not impose our beliefs on others—certainly not by imposing funding restrictions for reproductive care on families that face constant financial burden. We expect everyone to take responsibility for their own actions and decisions. That means government must be responsible too and provide safe, affordable and readily available options. 

Right-wing argument: There are too many abortions, and that’s why we need to end it. 

Say . . .

We need to focus on reducing the need for abortion by preventing unintended pregnancies, supporting women who choose adoption, and making childbirth safer. And in fact, because our country has increased access to birth control and improved the health curriculum in schools, the abortion rate is now the lowest it’s been in 40 years. I believe that individuals and families have to make the important life decision when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. They’ll make their decision based on their individual circumstances—their responsibilities, relationship, economic status, and many other factors. It is the government’s responsibility to put programs in place that help prevent unintended pregnancy in the first place. If that fails, we need to ensure that people can make deeply personal choices, whether that is to end a pregnancy, to have a child, or to have a child and place it for adoption.

Why . . .

According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2011 the U.S. reached its lowest abortion rate since 1973. The right wing argument is designed to frame the discussion around abortion in the abstract. The response brings it back to the individuals involved and the role and responsibility we all have in the decision-making process.


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