How to talk about abortion rights

Posted on September 8, 2021

According to the latest polling (Sept. 4-7 by YouGov – see page 101), by a margin of 50 to 28 percent, Americans want the Supreme Court to uphold Roe v. Wade. Gallup, which asks the question a bit differently, last found (June 2021) that Americans support Roe v. Wade by 58 to 32 percent.

Americans have never understood abortion rights very well, and pollsters generally do a poor job with the issue. But it has always been clear that an outright ban on abortion has never been popular. Only 14 percent of Americans and just 21 percent of Trump voters think that “it should never be allowed” (YouGov – see page 92).

When talking about the new Texas abortion ban, it is very important to stress that the law contains no exception for rape survivors. Only about 20 percent support such a harsh restriction.

If you are a public official, the most relevant and popular thing you can say about abortion is probably:

Say . . .
I support the constitutional right to an abortion declared by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 48 years ago in the case of Roe v. Wade.

Of course, one of our key principles in message framing is to find a point of agreement. And while Americans generally support Roe, they also hold conflicting feelings about abortion and struggle to resolve the conflict. When it comes to public policy, it is often easy for conservatives to get the public to favor restrictions, such as waiting periods, sonograms, burdensome rules for abortion clinics, parental consent laws, insurance bans, and more. So, agree that the issue can be complex.

Say . . .
I appreciate that abortion is a complex issue for the individuals involved. That’s why I feel that politicians should stay out of the very personal and private decision whether or not to have an abortion.

Another successful tactic is to focus on what a person’s experience should be after she has made the decision to have an abortion, rather than on her decision. Once a person has made the decision to have an abortion, a strong majority want her experience to be positive—that is, non-judgmental, informed by medically-accurate information, supportive, affordable and without pressure or added burdens.

Say . . .
We cannot know all the personal and medical circumstances behind someone’s decision to have an abortion. Every person’s situation is different. [Tell a story, if possible.] So, we should respect that this decision is hers to make, with her family and in accordance with her faith. And once someone has made this very personal and private decision, politicians should not interfere.

Choose the argument that feels most authentic to you. And then, more generally, when talking about reproductive rights:

Don’t say . . . Say . . .
They, them

Women, all women, families

Choice, pro-choice



Listing details or reasons why a woman is having an abortion (e.g., rape, incest, fetal anomalies, etc.)

Abortion should be safe, legal and rare


Using the terms fair, unfair, or discriminatory


We, us

A woman, a person, her family

Personal decision, important life decision

Anti-abortion, abortion opponents

Ability, should be able to, need

Mention her decision-making process: “thinking through her decision,” “talking it over with loved ones”

Legal abortion must be available and affordable

We shouldn’t treat people differently just because… (they receive their insurance through Medicaid, live in a certain zip code)

Why . . .

Personalize the conversation. Don’t let this be about an abstraction, it’s an issue that affects millions of individuals. Unfortunately, the choice frame, which worked for many years, now triggers confirmation bias. So, while pro-choice remains popular with our base, it won’t help you persuade.

Right wing argument: Abortion is immoral/against my beliefs/not what God wants.

Say . . .
Each of us has strong feelings about abortion. Even if we disagree, it’s not my place to make a decision for someone else. It is better that each person be able to make her own decision.

Right wing argument: Too many women use abortion as birth control.

Say . . .
In my own experience, I know women weigh their decision carefully, think it through with their family and loved ones, and rely on their spiritual beliefs. We don’t know every woman’s circumstances. We aren’t in her shoes. I don’t want to make such an important decision for anyone else, that’s not my place.

Right wing argument: Abortion hurts women.

Say . . .
Most important decisions in life trigger complex and conflicting emotions, and abortion is no exception. Some kind of reaction to serious life decisions is normal. Strong feelings are certainly not a reason to take away every person’s ability to make important life decisions based on her own unique circumstances.

Right wing argument: Taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for abortion.

Say . . .
However we feel about abortion, politicians shouldn’t deny a woman’s health care based simply on her inability to pay.