AP Rejects Historical Characterization of Life-Issues Positions
"Anti-Abortion" preferable to "Pro-Life"
By Leon H Wolf Posted in Culture — Comments (47) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
[Update by Jeff] I happen to have an AP stylebook right here, and Leon is correct -- that is exactly what it says in the "abortion" entry.
I don't really feel like paying the ten bucks for access to the 2006 AP stylebook, so I can't verify whether this is true, but if it is, I can only say that I'm surprised that it took the media this long to come around to NARAL's point-of-view with respect to "framing":
This clip is from the Associated Press stylebook. It is used by newspapers across the country to provide guidelines in how stories should be written. By and large, many guidelines are neutral and simple are matters of style (i.e. capitalization, punctuation, etc). However, in this one entry, standing unique in comparison to the whole guide, the AP picks sides in the abortion debate and insists that the pro-abortion side be the one supported in news coverage:
Abortion: Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice. Avoid abortionist, which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions.
It is important, first of all, to realize that this is a reversal of a decades-old practice. That is not to say that none have ever quibbled with the traditional labels of "pro-life" or "pro-choice"; pro-choice advocates have long accused pro-lifers of inconsistency because they often support the death penalty and/or war, whereas pro-lifers point out that the pro-choicers opposition to legislation mandating ultrasounds, etc. demonstrates that they are really only pro-one-choice. This, however, has always been part of the inevitable partisan and philosophical wrangling that goes with this highly contentious issue; the media has been remarkably restrained and content (with a few exceptions) to refer to the respective sides as "pro-life" and "pro-choice," at least in the context of non-opinion pieces. Despite the fact that the central issue has not changed, apparently now the terminology must.
So what exactly have the folks at Associated Press done? In the first place, they've done a great "framing" favor to the pro-choice side by casting the pro-lifers as the "anti-" side in the debate. As any "framing" person will tell you, labeling any cause as "anti-" anything will make it less appealing than labeling it "pro-" something else, even if they are functionally equivalent (pro-freedom sounds more attractive than anti-slavery; even the Democrats are slowly understanding that just being "anti-Bush" is an electoral loser; almost nobody votes for anyone whose main claim on your vote is being against something.) By contrast, the new AP style manual does the pro-choice side a huge favor; being associated with "rights" is an even greater boon than being the "pro-" side in a debate; the concept of "rights" strikes a powerful chord in the psyche of the average American. The AP could not have created a greater "framing" disparity if they had tried. I sort of gather that that's the point.
Furthermore, if the AP was striving for greater factual accuracy, they failed miserably. In the first place, many people who are opposed to abortion are also opposed to the death penalty and almost all wars. That is, as we are constantly reminded, the official position of the Catholic Church, after all, and there are a small handful of Catholics in this country. Furthermore, the "pro-life" label is not intended to merely convey opposition to abortion; it is also frequently used to describe one side (or the other) in the embryo-destruction debate, and the debate over euthanasia. I myself have sometimes used "anti-abortion" when I wish to clearly distinguish that abortion is the only issue under consideration and avoid a bunch of useless carping about the death penalty; however, to adopt this as the only acceptable description of pro-lifers and what they stand for is to miss a significant part of the picture.
The other ridiculous portion of this "guideline" is the treatment of the word "abortionist." Personally, it seems like a handy word to describe someone who performs abortions, but even if I were to grant that the word has pejorative qualities, the AP's explanation of why it should be avoided is laughable: it connotes someone who performs clandestine abortions?? In case the good folks at the Associated Press haven't been paying attention, there is, as far as I know (and I follow this issue pretty closely) no such person who exists in the United States. Given that current Supreme Court precedent mandates the legality of abortion at literally any stage of pregnancy, the AP has apparently concluded that the use of the most common word for someone who performs abortions connotes a person who doesn't exist and for whom there is no demand. Notably, the Associated Press does not offer a substitute word for "person who performs abortions" as there simply isn't one. I guess that we're all just supposed to forget that there are people in this country who perform abortions. There are people out there fighting for "abortion rights" (notice how they still avoid implying that anyone is pro-abortion per se) but no one actually performing them.
And if that doesn't make sense to you, the Ministry of Truth representatives will be at your door shortly to explain it all.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, I'm not exactly surprised at this news. Given the well-documented pro-choice slant in the media, it's actually surprising tha they've exercised such restraint in their use of terminology up until this point; however, it seems clear that for whatever reason, the AP Stylebook authors believe that it's time to implement an aggressive framing protocol. What is unclear is whether they have done this because they believe the fight is truly over, or because they are worried that they are losing this fight, and desire to help tip the scales.
If they have been paying attention, it's the latter.