On Better Terms

Friday, March 26, 2010


For the past five year, NPR has been alone among major news organizations in its use of the words "pro-choice" and "pro-life" to describe those divided over abortion. This week that changed. NPR News Managing Editor David Sweeney explains.

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Comments [22]

Perplexed from Maryland

I have to agree with previous posts that this language change calls NPR's neutrality into question. The implication is that abortion is a "right" that you are either in favor of, or not. Those who are opposed to abortion would argue that it is most definitely not a "right" in any sense. As a previous commenter noted, imagine the furor if NPR instead used "fetus rights advocates" or "anti-fetus rights advocates." Regardless of your position on abortion, NPR has already called into question it's neutrality on the topic by making this change. I can't imagine why they would think this is in any way an improvement.

Apr. 09 2010 01:55 PM
No name given

Agreeing that there is no truly neutral language, NPR's choice seems to be more accurate. Comments concerning the portrayal of one side as 'pro' and one as 'anti' are well-taken. On the other hand, the 'pro-life' side of the debate *is* pretty much concerned only with opposing abortion. If there are other aspects of fetal rights for which they advocate, it's not well-publicized. Further, as the euthanasia debates gain steam, it seems wrong-headed to stake out the term 'pro-life' to apply only to the abortion debate. I don't think we're in 'homicide bomber' or 'freedom fries' territory just yet.

Apr. 07 2010 11:55 PM
Ellen Evett from Holliston, MA

What is need is a third term that describes the vast majority of people that or not on one or the other far end of this issue. We need a term that describes those with a lot of common sense that know abortion has been with us for 100's of years. Making it illegal will just make it go undergound again. However we are doing very little as a society to prevent unintended pregnancies. Why do we have 5 to 6 times the rate of teen pregnancies as Europe? Why when a study of teen age boys is done do most think it is "no big deal if they get their girl friend pregnant"?

Apr. 02 2010 12:31 PM
Ron Rosenthal from California

I also appreciate NPR's decision to make the change to more neutral and accurate language.

Now if only we could get NPR to stop calling torture "enhanced interrogation techniques".

Mar. 31 2010 04:36 PM
Paula from Kansas City, MO

I appreciate NPR making this change; I have long disagreed with the previously-used, inaccurate terms. I have the highest respect for those people who may personally be against abortion but recognize that a woman's choice is far more important, even if it means abortion, than their personal opinion.

Mar. 31 2010 03:30 PM
Margaret from Western Michigan

I appreciate NPR's efforts to become more accurate in the language they use to cover topics, and this editorial change is a step in the right direction.

Mar. 30 2010 09:09 AM
Lori from Montclair, NJ

Long overdue! Calling anti choice persons "pro life" represented a bias against those who are pro choice. Funny how most "Pro Life" people are more inclined to support the death penalty, the NRA, and the zealots who kill doctors who perform abortions.

Thanks, now I can stop yelling at the radio...

Mar. 29 2010 07:36 AM
Ellen Jackson from Philadelphia

I'm a pro-choice feminist. I like the term. I also believe in life. So I dislike the term "pro-life." Who isn't pro life?

Mar. 28 2010 10:27 PM
darcy from arizona

it's strange to have the NPR media, known for being "liberal" (so if you do not agree, use YOUR choice, and change the channel- blah blah blah) becoming "neutral."

oh well. CHANGE, like mierda, happens...

doesn't change my beliefs, nor listening choices, regardless.

Mar. 28 2010 02:49 PM
Lia kass from Victor, Idaho

Sanpete, yes, you have a point. So does Tim regarding the "positive" vs "negative" terms. I don't know the best way to be accurate and fair without being cumbersome in language. But I still think that inaccurate use of language ultimately has a role in undermining thinking, reasoning, and intelligent discussion in America.

Mar. 28 2010 01:17 PM
Sanpete from Utah

Lia, It's the host of the program who claimed the new language is neutral, and Mr. Sweeney appeared to agree. Neutrality is an important goal for NPR and other responsible news organizations.

The new terms are no more truthful than the old ones, for reasons already explained by myself and others. Like the old terms, they're partly true and partly misleading.

As for "pro-choice," a common complaint is that abortion precludes the choice of the fetus to continue living, while pro-lifers want to protect that choice. "Anti-abortion" is criticized because many pro-choicers are also against abortion.

Mar. 28 2010 12:57 PM
Tim from Cleveland, TN

I have to agree with many of the comments before mine. As I listened to this story on the radio this morning, I wondered how transferring two "positive" terms (PRO Choice and PRO Life) to one positive term and one negative term was justified as neutrality. And when one throws in the term "rights" at the end, then NPR is basically being HEARD to say that one group is FOR rights and another group is AGAINST rights. While I agree that the Pro Choice and Pro Life labels were assigned as propaganda from both sides to sound more appetizing, there simply are no neutral tags in this debate. To say that NPR has chosen neutrality is totally disingenuous. It really appears that your editors made a decision to choose a side, and that generally means propagandizing your own terms to indicate which term you want to be positive. I expected better from NPR.

Mar. 28 2010 12:01 PM

about time this change was made. people anti-abortion are also often people pro-death penalty. "pro-life" is propaganda.

Mar. 28 2010 10:56 AM
Lia kass from Victor, Idaho

Sanpete, accuracy of language is key! In this case it's simple; what's wrong with "pro choice" and "anti-abortion"?
Why should terms have to be neutral or fully descriptive? Just truthful is fine.

Mar. 28 2010 12:34 AM
Sanpete from Utah

Lia, there is no neutral or adequately descriptive language. That's why it was decided long ago among the partisans who were willing to be civil to each other to call the other side by the name it prefers. NPR's alternative language is decidedly not neutral or adequately descriptive either. Only those with a particular bias will believe that it is.

Mar. 27 2010 07:13 PM
Lia kass from Victor, Idaho

"Pro-life" is NOT sound as a term simply against abortion. It is an example of language being hijacked and its meaning forgotten. It may accurately describe SOME anti abortion activists: Those against other methods of killing as well (yes, of course abortion IS killing) and those in favor supporting lives of the born as well.

Mar. 27 2010 06:17 PM
Sanpete from Utah

It's sad that two dedicated professionals who strive after fairness and neutrality and have each had to make decisions about this for a major news organization have no clue about why "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are preferred by many to terms like "advocates of abortion rights" and "those opposed to abortion rights." As has been pointed out many times in many places and should be known to anyone making such decisions, the alternative language NPR has adopted is *not* neutral.

The main appeal of NPR's alternative language is known to be to the pro-choice side, since it has a meaning essentially the same as "pro-choice" and "anti-choice." It casts one side as defending rights and the other as opposing rights, and suppresses the fact that both sides believe they are defending rights. Any pollster, and I would have thought any careful journalist, could tell you that giving only one side the banner of advocating rights skews the matter because of the positive associations of defending rights and the negative associations of opposing them. This is due in part to the broadness of the term "rights," which carries connotations of what people are justly entitled to. Referring to the pro-choice side as "advocates of abortion rights" would be fair only if the pro-life side were referred to as "advocates of human fetal rights" or some such thing.

The reasons for preferring "pro-choice" and "pro-life" remain sound: there are no better alternatives, so calling each side by its preferred and well established name is best. The terms should be understood in much the same way as "liberal," "moderate" and "conservative," and many other terms that have well established (if sometimes fuzzy) standard meanings in the context of politics apart from their loaded literal etymologies.

(FYI, I'm strongly pro-choice.)

Mar. 27 2010 06:06 PM
Lia kass from Victor, Idaho

Supporting the right to choose abortion does not necessarily mean one is in favor of abortion. Hopefully most would rather see fewer incidences of abortion, not more. I would expect this to be common ground to all parties upon which they could unite in efforts to help prevent women & girls from arriving at the point where they might choose it. Supporting the right to choose may be based in awareness of extenuating circumstances and the dangers of abortion going underground.

We should try to use words and phrases accurately so that we do not forget what we are saying.

Mar. 27 2010 05:56 PM
Bob Connors

In what universe is (If I understand the very unclear description of the new "correct speak" labels that NPR will use.) "anti-abortion rights" and "pro-abortion rights" considered neutral language. "Pro-abortion" and "anti- abortion" would be much more neutral. The very term "abortion rights" is offensive to any person who believes that human life is sacred and to use this term to describe their position is tantamount to using the "N-word" to describe a person. Please have the courtesy to call members of any group the name they chose for themselves. This is a transparent attempt to build bias into your coverage by using loaded terms. As a secular humanist, my pro-life principle is part of a carefully examined moral code that extends to capital punishment and aid to destitute people around the world. How could I not value the most innocent and defenseless human life above any other right, real or imagined. Please do not dismiss it as being "anti-abortion". And yes, it is easy to see that the unborn baby is a human life. If a plant or a virus is alive, the baby is alive, and if it is not human, what species do you imagine it is?

Mar. 27 2010 05:42 PM
Bonnie Schick from Maryland

What I want to know is how many, and who were the people who made this decision. As a pro-choice feminist, I believe women should be able to choose, not just abortion, but pregnancy prevention, pregnancy and childbirth with adequate medical care, having children without abandonment or abuse, and to be childless or not, as well as when and with whom to have sex. Choice encompasses pro-life, but is much broader. In my family, and in many families I know, several of these choices have not yet reached the level of rights, or even available choices.

Mar. 27 2010 04:59 PM
Rob from NY

Great..now only if we can get NPR to slap the "left-wing" label on guests and groups as quickly as they use the "right-wing" warning label on guests who they clearly want to single out.
I know, I know...NPR is totally unbiased. lol

Mar. 27 2010 01:24 PM
gaetano catelli from downtown manhattan

how 'bout: "pro-life" vs "the price is right"?

Mar. 27 2010 09:21 AM

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