US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Is "pro-life" the right term?

By Megan Sweas | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

On deadline days at U.S. Catholic magazine (today), we editors are at our best/worst arguing over word choice, commas, and capitalizations. While most of these arguments would bore you, here's one that won't: how to refer to "pro-life" and "pro-choice" factions.

At U.S. Catholic, the biggest fight we've had over this is whether "pro-life" has a hyphen (we said yes, obviously). But at NPR, listeners are debating whether these terms fit. Interesting a number of major news groups don't use the terms.

"We call them pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion rights because it's the right to abortion that we're talking about," said Linda Mason, CBS senior vice president of news and in charge of standards. "What does pro-life mean? That leaves people scratching their heads."

That's why we did a whole survey dedicated to this topic. "Pro-life" from U.S. Catholic readers' perspective is definitely about a consistent ethic of life. But I doubt the "consistent ethic" is consistently embraced by all Catholics.

Do we need to break it out into the specific issues in the mainstream press? What about the Catholic press? What about in what people call themselves?

I'd be interested to see what various news organizations called Rep. Bart Stupak. I'm fairly certain he was referred to as an "anti-abortion Democrat." But didn't he really turn out to be "pro-life" in embracing health care from womb to tomb? Of course, now the anti-abortion pro-lifers are rejecting him and he's saying the opposition to the executive order is hypocrisy.  

"Pro-choice" seems less problematic. It's certainly not about the death penalty or war. But it could still be murky, especially since most Americans and even Catholics are somewhere in the middle on this issue. People might be "pro-abortion rights under limited circumstances," "pro-abortion rights at all times," "pro-abortion access," or even just "pro-abortion."

I'm not promising that we'll make any deadline decisions about the terminology we use based on the discussion, but I would love to know what Catholics think of these two terms. Do you notice when they are or aren't used in the mainstream press?