5 tips for respectfully explaining to others what pro-choice means

The abortion debate is back in the news, just in time for Thanksgiving dinner.


Perhaps no decision in life is as private as whether or not to continue an unplanned pregnancy. However, the topic is once more in the public eye, with the Supreme Court taking up cases involving Texas’s abortion law and Mississippi’s legislation challenging Roe v. Wade. 

Even if you usually shy away from controversial issues, you may find yourself needing to support your stance. Here are five tips for respectfully explaining to others what pro-choice means. 

1. Understand — and Know How to Explain — the Terminology

Being pro-choice isn’t synonymous with being pro-abortion. Many women choose to give birth.  It means you respect a woman’s right to decide, along with her doctor, whether or not to terminate a pregnancy the same way she is free to consent to any other medical procedure.

While the media tends to divide people into one of two camps, the reality is far more complex. For example, some people raise little opposition to medical abortions occurring in the first 11 weeks of pregnancy. Such procedures take place in the first trimester. However, they might disagree with surgical procedures that take place in the second and third trimesters. 

Many people throw terminology around loosely without knowing what it means. Get clear on these abortion and pregnancy definitions you’re likely to hear when discussing this issue:

  • Late-term abortion: Abortions that occur after the first 21 weeks of pregnancy — toward the end of the second trimester. Such procedures account for less than 1% of all abortions and take place due to medical concerns, such as fetal abnormalities and danger to the mother’s life or health. 
  • Trimester: One of the three sections of pregnancy. The first trimester runs from one to 12 weeks, the second from 13 to 26 weeks and the third from week 27 to birth. 
  • Ectopic pregnancy: A nonviable pregnancy that occurs when the fertilized egg implants outside the womb, typically in the fallopian tubes.
  • In vitro fertilization: A procedure in which a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg outside the uterus, which doctors then implant in her body. Such processes destroy many embryos.
  • Fetal heartbeat: A critical term to know in regards to Texas law. This term is more legal than medical, as “fetus” doesn’t apply until the end of the 10th week of pregnancy. Before that, the correct medical term is “embryo.” However, some forms of ultrasound can detect cardiac activity before the heart forms, leading to abortion bans after the sixth week, well before many women know they are pregnant.

Misusing these phrases leads to many vehement disagreements. Before you begin arguing around the holiday table, ensure everyone agrees on the correct definition of these terms. 

2. Brush up on Constitutional Law 

A woman’s right to choose hinges on several amendments — the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and 14th.  The due process clause of the 14th Amendment guarantees a fundamental right to privacy — this principle forms the rationale behind Roe v. Wade.

However, the government must balance this right against “the potentiality of human life.” Because of this balance, the Court has to date restricted states’ rights to prohibit abortion during the first trimester. During the second trimester, states may place reasonable restrictions related to maternal health. They may regulate or ban abortions entirely during the third trimester once the fetus reaches viability except to save the life or health of the mother. 

3. Use Opposing Viewpoints to Provide Clarity

It’s helpful to listen to viewpoints that disagree with yours in order to learn things that help you clarify your point of view. The purpose of healthy arguments isn’t to throw gravy boats across the holiday table. It’s to seek truth, which you can do far more effectively with constructive dialogue and asking questions.

4. Arm Yourself With Science 

Much of the abortion debates revolve around the question of when human life begins. You aren’t likely to convince someone with a strong religious conviction that this moment occurs at conception. However, you can arm yourself with the science to present to those who may have heard misinformation or remain undecided whether they consider themselves pro-choice. 

Doctors now consider 22 weeks as the earliest gestational age when a fetus could survive outside the womb. Prohibiting abortion before this point is akin to forbidding other surgical procedures based on no other factors than gender. 

Some state laws require abortion providers to read statements regarding fetal pain. However, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that the nerves carrying painful stimuli to the brain do not fully develop until weeks 28-30. Therefore, they oppose measures requiring fetal anesthesia in abortions earlier, as it provides no benefit and increases risks to the woman. 

5. Remain Courteous and Calm 

Finally, it helps to remain courteous and calm when respectfully explaining what pro-choice means — even if the other person becomes heated. Losing your cool doesn’t make you look passionate to anyone other than those who already agree with you. It can make you appear to be a stubborn hothead to others. 

If you must, take a few deep breaths or excuse yourself to take a quick walk to collect your thoughts when debates grow heated. Remember, it’s perfectly OK to agree to disagree. Pro-choice ultimately means you and someone else is free to decide for yourselves what you believe. Having the right to an abortion doesn’t invalidate the experience of those who could never dream of terminating a pregnancy.

Respectfully Stating Your Case 

The abortion debate is back in the news, just in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Keep things civil by heeding a few thoughtful tips on respectfully explaining to others what your decision to be pro-choice really means.


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