13. Reproductive Rights

Begin in agreement, for example: The decision about whether or when to become a parent is a deeply personal and private matter.

Our values: Freedom, liberty, privacy, dignity, respect, personal responsibility

Our vision: Decisions about contraception and abortion should be made by the individuals involved, not by politicians or the government. To make these decisions responsibly, people need access to: (1) complete and medically accurate information; (2) birth control; (3) constitutionally protected abortion services; and (4) protection from discrimination based on a person’s decision to take contraception, give birth, or have an abortion.

A strong majority of Americans favor keeping abortion legal and oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. At the same time, Americans often hold conflicting feelings about abortion and struggle to resolve the conflict. When it comes to public policy, this means that while support for legality remains strong, it is often easy to get the public to favor restrictions on a woman’s right to have an abortion, such as waiting periods, sonograms, burdensome rules for abortion clinics, parental consent laws, insurance bans, and more.

The Public Leadership Institute commissioned Ann Selzer to conduct an in-depth nationwide poll on reproductive rights. That research found that several abortion rights narratives work quite well, but especially this:

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.

Why . . .

By reminding people that they don’t know a woman’s circumstances, it tends to dispel negative stereotypes that your listeners may hold about women choosing abortion. It increases empathy and decreases a rush to judgment.

In addition, some conflicting feelings are resolved when people 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.

This is another simple, effective statement:

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.

Why . . .

Choose the argument that feels right to you. Elected officials and candidates for office may feel that this second version fits best. Note that the first sentence puts you in agreement with persuadable voters by recognizing that they hold conflicting feelings about abortion.

There is another popular way to voice support for abortion rights, but it’s not quite the same as the more generic statements above.

Say . . .
I support the constitutional right to an abortion declared by the U.S. Supreme Court more than 45 years ago in the case of Roe v. Wade.

Why . . .

More than three-quarters of Americans want to uphold Roe v. Wade, so the narrative above is usually the most popular. With a hostile Supreme Court, citing Roe may also be the most relevant. However, because the courts have upheld a variety of abortion restrictions despite Roe, it’s a less sweeping statement of support for the abortion rights movement.

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 coverage for it based simply on her inability to pay.