Opinion I had a late-term abortion. But saying I’m ‘pro-choice’ is a problem.

(Washington Post illustration; iStock)

Laurel Marlantes is a writer and speaker from the Pacific Northwest. She is finishing a book about her experience with late-term abortion, loss and healing.

Eight years ago, my husband and I received unimaginable news regarding our first pregnancy. Five and a half months in, due to medical complications, we were forced to decide whether to continue a pregnancy with almost no chance of infant survival.

In the end, releasing our pregnancy felt, for us, like the most loving thing to do. Although undergoing a late-term abortion and the subsequent stillbirth of our son was agony, it was also a time of poignant tenderness as our hearts wrestled to uncover what compassion could look like in the context of such an outcome.

To avoid judgment and misunderstanding of our choice, we kept silent about the truth behind our baby’s death, a decision motivated by our living in a culture whose language around abortion — “pro-choice,” “pro-life” — fails to authentically and accurately represent the profoundly personal and nuanced complexities.

Nuance doesn’t make for good political slogans. So, complex concepts are trimmed into neat and tidy sound bites. But perhaps we need to consider the expense more. The language we use matters, and when the words we use fail to represent the truth we feel, we become emotionally disoriented. Internal chaos is created — which in turn exacerbates political chaos.

Opinion: Abortion deserves a sober debate. Instead, it gets a war of unreason.

“Pro-choice” is easily heard as pro the choice, as in pro-abortion — a completely inaccurate interpretation. It also risks implying the experience of abortion is something one truly chooses.

I chose to abort my first pregnancy, didn’t I? So therefore the experience was something I chose, right? Well, yes. And no. I never chose to face such a choice — to have to make one. I was forced to by unasked-for life circumstances. “Choice” is the last word that feels authentic to me when describing the predicament my husband and I found ourselves in.

The word “choice” trivializes the profound seriousness of the issue. We use the same word to say whether we want cheddar or American cheese on our hamburgers. Mayo or mustard. It can feel downright demeaning.

We’ve all heard the claim that the Inuit language has more than 50 words for snow. The soft snow that dusts the trees at dawn is not the same snow that blows in sideways from the east with a biting cold. Giving distinct words to these vastly different phenomena is wise and effective communication. My guess is there was no word for the type of snow that comes in sideways from the east until that type of snow was encountered.

We now live in an age in which science and technology force humans to encounter medical choices we would be far more comfortable leaving to God. We need new words.

The term “pro-life” also fails to support productive communication, as it manipulates the listener into thinking that if they are not pro-life, they must be anti-life — or, worse yet, pro-death. The ability of the phrase to disorient is stunning, and a political stance against it can feel terrifying. No one authentically opposes life.

“Pro-life,” freed from association with right-wing politics, leaves a listener to wonder, Whose life is being valued? The fact is, mother and baby are, physically, one. For some, the well-being of this interconnected union might mean continuing with a pregnancy, while for others, well-being — even survival — might mean releasing it. These are life perspectives with equal honor and deserve equal respect.

As someone who received medical intervention ending a pregnancy — and grateful to live in a state offering such medical care and counsel — my political viewpoint is firmly “pro-choice.” Yet if I were to choose one of these two terms to best describe my emotional point of view? I would pick “pro-life.”

For these young Americans, abortion is personal — and complicated

I identify as someone who values life, both the quality of the mother’s and the future child’s. I wish the need to face choices around abortion on no one.

The heart of this issue is in a realm greater than politics. It’s an emotion-based, religious, spiritual, moral quandary, with both sides fighting to uphold their values surrounding life. The question is, are we capable of allowing room in our conversations and policies for how those values express differently in people?

Disorienting terminology fragments self and country. Confused voters are lost voters. But if we can begin to speak using phrases that don’t manipulate and disorient, I believe political progress stands a chance.

What exactly are those words and phrases? I wish I could tell you. I have hope that as a nation we’ll find them. It’s imperative we try. Because what I do know is: The snow is coming in sideways from the east.

Roe v. Wade and abortion access in America

Roe v. Wade overturned: The Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years has protected the right to abortion. Read the full decision here.

What happens next?: The legality of abortion will be left to individual states. That likely will mean 52 percent of women of childbearing age would face new abortion limits. Thirteen states with “trigger bans” will ban abortion within 30 days. Several other states where recent antiabortion legislation has been blocked by the courts are expected to act next.

State legislation: As Republican-led states move to restrict abortion, The Post is tracking legislation across the country on 15-week bans, Texas-style bans, trigger laws and abortion pill bans, as well as Democratic-dominated states that are moving to protect abortion rights enshrined in Roe v. Wade.

How our readers feel: In the hours that followed the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Washington Post readers responded in droves to a callout asking how they felt — and why.

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