Kristan Hawkins has asked many students on college campuses whether they support strict limits on abortion access.
And then when they say yes, she has asked them, “Are you pro-life?”
That’s when she gets a no.
The term “pro-life” — used by abortion opponents to proudly define the value at the heart of their movement for 44 years since Roe v. Wade — is out of favor among many young adults today.
And Hawkins, the president of Students for Life, said that her organization is turning instead to a term that the media has long used to describe these activists, usually over the activists’ objections: “antiabortion.”
“We’re against abortion. I think it’s much simpler. It gets across what we’re about in a faster way,” said Hawkins, 31. “It’s already a bad thing. To say you’re against it is okay. I am antismoking. I’m anti-sex trafficking. I’m anti-drunk driving. And yes, I’m antiabortion.”
Students for Life has 900 chapters at high schools and colleges across the country. Hawkins said that she and others at the organization have started slipping “antiabortion” casually into their own speech in place of “pro-life” sometimes. They’re going to formally roll out a “No Labels” campaign endorsing the “antiabortion” moniker starting later this year.
To be sure, Students for Life isn’t dropping the “pro-life” label altogether. The name of the organization still embraces life. Their trademark posters will appear again at this year’s March for Life on Friday, stating “I am the pro-life generation.” And the “life” label indicates that their focus is broader than just abortion. While the vast majority of their projects and their materials focus on abortion, they also oppose assisted suicide, which curtails life at the opposite end of the age spectrum.
The Associated Press, The Washington Post, New York Times and most other large mainstream news organizations have long made it a matter of policy to refer to “antiabortion” vs. “abortion rights” activists, instead of the terms “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice.” To people who define themselves as “pro-life,” that terminology has often rankled.
“It’s just such a negative — we’re against something instead of for something,” Jeanne Mancini, the president of the March for Life, said recently. She acknowledged that the term “pro-life” has been muddled by people who no longer understand its meaning. But she still prefers it, and she did not think she would embrace “antiabortion” as Students for Life is doing.
Hawkins agreed: Many Americans are confused by what “pro-life” even means, and assume they must subscribe to a conservative agenda on many social issues, not just abortion, to join a “pro-life” group. “Maybe they’re pro-gay marriage or they’re pro-marijuana legalization. So they feel like, ‘I can’t be pro-life.’”
She thinks using the word “antiabortion” might help recruit those people.
The angst surrounding “pro-life” goes beyond the association with conservative politics, and beyond the confusion that makes people do a double-take as they try to remember: Which side is “pro-life” and which side is “pro-choice” again?
In some circles, “pro-life” has a bad reputation.
“‘Pro-life’ isn’t some old white man who’s yelling at a woman going into an abortion facility,” Hawkins argued. But activists do yell at women entering abortion clinics, and that’s what many people think of when they hear the term. And they want nothing to do with it. “The ‘pro-life’ brand is damaged.”
That brand will be proudly touted on the Mall at Friday’s March for Life. But at future events, Students for Life participants might start hearing more directly about what they’re against, too.