Lifesite News: NPR Changes Its Terminology in Covering the Abortion Debate

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The folks at National Public Radio understand the power of words. Managing Editor David Sweeney announced yesterday that the station would no longer refer to people in the abortion debate as "pro-choice" and "pro-life." Instead, the station will say "abortion rights advocates" and "abortion rights opponents," according to a memo circulated to NPR staff.

In making this change, NPR is shifting the terms of the debate to make it more friendly to the pro-choice position.

Being pro-something sounds much nicer than being anti-the other thing. So while the pro-choice and pro-life labels may not be particularly profound -- neither group is anti-choice or anti-life, after all -- they do convey each side's position on a level playing field. One believes women should be able to choose whether to keep a pregnancy, the other believes that even the unborn have an inviolable right to life.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchLife EthicsMediaReligion & Culture* TheologyEthics / Moral Theology

Posted March 28, 2010 at 6:24 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. MarkP wrote:

Here’s what I like about the change. I can imagine a “pro-life” person believing that he or she is “pro-choice” on issues other than the abortion debate (that is, he or she might say that his or her position on abortion was not really about “choice” at all). Similarly, I can imagine a “pro-choice” person thinking of him or herself as being “pro-life” except on the particular issue of abortion. The problem with these terms is that the “pro-choice” person is defining the debate as being about “choice” and the “pro-life” person is defining it as being about “life”, and the opponent may not agree with that definition.

I cannot imagine an “abortion rights advocate” claiming that he or she is in any sense an “abortion rights opponent.” So at least it gets the spin out of the basic labels—it is a debate about whether or not one believes in the notion of “abortion rights”.

March 28, 9:32 pm | [comment link]
2. PapaJ wrote:

The new terms NPR proposes to use tilts its well-established liberal prejudice even more toward the pro-abortion position.  The use of the word “rights” in both terms more than states that abortion is a right.  It suggests that to oppose abortion is to revolt against the legitimate rights of Americans. That NPR is doing this is not a surprize.  I see it as another unfortunate effect of the ultra-liberalism in the White House and Congress.  NPR is pretty much in lock-step with the Obama-Pelosi-Reid crowd.

March 28, 9:39 pm | [comment link]
3. William P. Sulik wrote:

I don’t mind - I’m anti-abortion, which is just one part of being pro-life. 

I’m anti-slavery - that wasn’t a big problem for those who were pro-human freedom back then.

March 28, 9:48 pm | [comment link]
4. DonGander wrote:

When I was a child, it was not unusual for a younger brother to try to change the rules and such when his chances of winning were evaporating.

I think the anti-life people are losing and trying to change the rules.


March 28, 10:30 pm | [comment link]
5. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

“(A)bortion rights advocates” versus “zygote/embryo/fetus rights advocate” is descriptively correct on all counts.  I wonder why they did not utilize that set of descriptors?

March 28, 10:39 pm | [comment link]
6. Fr. Dale wrote:

“Overseas Contingency Operations” for the War on Terror and “Man Made Disasters” for “Terrorist acts” come to mind as attempts to shift the agenda by changing the label. It is not that words and phrases become threadbare as much as revisionists want to obfuscate and reduce the precision of language. God spoke the universe into existence. Words matter.

March 28, 11:17 pm | [comment link]
7. DonGander wrote:

Fr. Dale has stoked my furnace and I must say that a great too many people think that there is some middle position between holding life as sacred and those who hold it as utilitarian. What middle position is there? There is none. Just like the attempt to force a compromise between good and evil the word-smiths continue to destroy language in order to make their destroying ideas look palatable.

Yes, God spoke the Universe into existence, and as Man attempts to make his own Existential universe, Man creates an idol for a god and attempts to destroys the language that would contradict his foolishness.

May God help us to model love in a very unlovely situation. We, today, stand in the dock just as Jesus did when Pilot ask, “What is truth?”

Thanks, Fr. Dale, I don’t feel better now but perhaps I’ve done my duty. If I have encouraged Father Dale then I might even consider myself contented.


March 28, 11:57 pm | [comment link]
8. RalphM wrote:

PapaJ:  I see exactly what you see in this new terminology - NPR is never on my radio dial - never.

March 29, 12:11 am | [comment link]
9. Fr. Dale wrote:

#7. DonGander,
Thanks, brother Don. I keep hearing the phrase these days, “A way forward”. C.S. Lewis said in “The Great Divorce” A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never simply by going on”.

March 29, 12:14 am | [comment link]
10. bettcee wrote:

Well at least they are using the accurate word “Abortion” instead of the euphemism “Choice“.
I wonder what would happen if an NPR reporter or analyst shortened it to Pro-Abortion and Anti-Abortion.

March 29, 2:20 am | [comment link]
11. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

Don (#7),

Couldn’t an extreme pro-life position be said to be one that negatived abortion even for ectopic and truly life-threatening pregnancies? This is usually a charge thrown out by many pro-choice advocates, but the principle of double effect is surely accepted, at least among those of a catholic persuasion?

March 29, 6:23 am | [comment link]
12. DonGander wrote:

re: 11. Jeremy Bonner:

If life is not sacred then EVERY question is a difficult one.

But some questions are not difficult - they are impossible. Only they (or He) who knows the future can make those choices perfectly. The old adage that odd cases make bad law is of a moral wisdom. In other words, I don’t hold people found in a place of making choices in which any choice has an equal loss as a moral failure. And I do hold a mother and a pre-born child as equal. I do so because I am convinced that God does.


March 29, 9:38 am | [comment link]
13. tired wrote:

NPR - always ready and willing to remind me why we should never pledge support, and why we listen more and more to internet radio.


March 29, 9:48 am | [comment link]
14. Fr. Dale wrote:

#12. DonGander,
This is from our Psalm for Palm Sunday.
“I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; you were my God when I was still in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 22:10)

March 29, 9:55 am | [comment link]
15. Br. Michael wrote:

Unfortunately we seek to win debates through the use of labels.  If you can frame the issue through the selective use of labels you can skew the argument in your favor.  For example, you confuse semi-automatic firearms with fully automatic firearms by labeling them “assault weapons”.  You never go back to the definition, you just simply repeat the label.

Likewise the use of “Choice” etc.  It’s really the use of propaganda.

March 29, 10:00 am | [comment link]
16. montanan wrote:

Jeremy (#11) - while I realize you’re only stating someone else’s arguments, those who are put to making such decisions and are pro-life (or “anti-abortion” in the NPR parlance) would always acknowledge the rights of life of the fetus do not supercede the rights of life of the mother - that her life bears protection.  So just as she would be justified shooting a robber who had a gun pointed at her, it is morally acceptable to use medication or surgery to prevent her demise from an ectopic.  Unfortunately (though not unpredictably, given human nature), this gets severely manipulated by some to include the stress the nascent life will cause her - or the threat to her social standing or ... well, you know how that goes.

March 29, 10:15 am | [comment link]
17. Milton wrote:

1984 + NPR = 2010

March 29, 10:27 am | [comment link]
18. Jeremy Bonner wrote:


Thank you, that was exactly my point.


Points like double effect need to be clarified to the secular world if we are serious about changing the culture. Otherwise, it’s all to easy when one asserts an unequivocally pro-life position (which I would accept cannot make concessions simply because of the fact of rape or incest) to be portrayed as one willing to sacrifice the life of the mother for the sake of the life of the unborn child. That, to my mind, really is a choice - the only one - that the mother alone can make.

March 29, 10:30 am | [comment link]
19. Fr. Dale wrote:

#15. Br. Michael,

For example, you confuse semi-automatic firearms with fully automatic firearms by labeling them “assault weapons”

As our resident firearms guru, didn’t the assault weapon ban sundown in 2004. If this is the case, can state laws be enacted that renew the ban?

March 29, 10:37 am | [comment link]
20. DonGander wrote:

18. Jeremy:

I do agree. the meaning of my post was an attempt to state that it is the mother’s choice (or, in the case of a mother that is non-communicating it would even be a third party) - while arguing that the life of the mother and child are equal (I don’t know if we agree here). I don’t know if secular society can handle that or not but it seems the only rational position.


March 29, 11:20 am | [comment link]
21. Br. Michael wrote:

The federal law did sunset, however there is some effort to reinstate it.  States can enact semi-automatic weapons bans and have (California for example), but if the Supreme court incorporates the 2nd Amendment to the States (currently before the Supreme Court) then those laws may be unconstitutional.  What the Court has not done is set the standard of review (rational basis or strict scrutiny or something in between).  For example cases involving limitations on other fundamental rights (freedom of speech and limitation on voting) require strict scrutiny review.

One may expect much litigation on this over the coming years.

Remember we have two different sovereigns—the States and the Federal Government.  States have “police powers” and can enact any laws not prohibited by their own Constitutions or the US Constitution.  The Federal Government is a government of limited powers and, theoretically, can only exercise those powers enumerated in the Constitution.  Thus the Federal Government cannot set a national speed limit of 55 mph.  What it must do is coerce the States (which can do it) into doing it by threatening to cut off Federal funding to the States. 

Does that answer your question?

March 29, 12:50 pm | [comment link]
22. Fr. Dale wrote:

#21. Br. Michael,
Thanks for the response and edification.

March 29, 5:58 pm | [comment link]
23. John Wilkins wrote:

I’m not sure why people would oppose this change.  The presenting issue is technically about the state and it’s role. 

A Christian might do all they can to offer women alternatives to abortion:  help them find health care; offer financial support; offer help when the child is born.  They may create networks that make it easy for women to make alternative decisions. 

A Christian might try to figure out why women have abortions (it might be that most women are kinds of psychopaths - women who murder their own babies, and should be jailed in order to protect society).  They might not want the big hand of the state involved - in part because the state is usually not effective.

But an abortion rights opponent may also support a variety of choices for women - drawing a line at abortion.  They may support a morning after pill; a variety of contraception; better education, while making the medical procedure illegal.  In this way they are for “choice” but not “unlimited choice.”

March 29, 9:11 pm | [comment link]
24. Fr. Dale wrote:

23. John Wilkins,

A Christian might try to figure out why women have abortions (it might be that most women are kinds of psychopaths - women who murder their own babies, and should be jailed in order to protect society).

John, put down that cigarette and just walk away from it. Just do it for all of our sakes.

March 29, 9:22 pm | [comment link]
25. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

John Wilkins,
Eighth paragraph down on intentionality and abortion…..

Nuance and all that sort of thing.

March 30, 12:00 am | [comment link]
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