What language should we use to address the groups and individuals who are opposed to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)? How should we counter homophobic and/ or anti-choice speech?
Scroll down to check out some handy tips on dealing with the opposition.
(The concept for this article comes from They Say, We Say | Abortion Rights Campaign Ireland)
They Say: Restricting access to abortion maintains population growth.
We Say: Not necessarily. For example, under Ceausescu’s rule in Romania, abortion and contraception were severely restricted, and while this led to a brief population boom at the beginning of his regime, this growth dropped off by the end of the 1980s due to high rates of maternal morbidity (health conditions related to childbearing) and mortality, which came as a result of unsafe abortions and lack of family spacing.
It has been proven time and time again that restricting abortion does not prevent abortion, it just forces women to seek unsafe abortions that put their health and lives at risk.
They Say: Legalising abortion leads to higher demand for abortions.
We Say: Legalising abortion does not appreciably increase demand, rather, it reduces the rate of clandestine abortion which poses a threat to women’s health and lives.
They say: Comprehensive sexuality education leads to higher incidences of teenage sex.
We Say: Scholarly research shows otherwise. In fact, CSE does not increase rates of intercourse among young people, but it increases use of contraceptives and knowledge of risky behaviors among sexually active people.
They Say: Every child deserves a mother and a father (when criticizing same-sex marriage).
We Say: Numerous studies have shown that there are no developmental differences between children raised by homosexual parents and those raised by heterosexual parents. Furthermore, criticisms of same-sex parents’ ability to raise children are likely to have more of a negative impact on these children’s welfare than their parents’ sexuality.
They Say: Domestic violence is a private matter.
We Say: The right to life and to bodily integrity are cornerstones of international human rights law. Domestic violence is a violation of these human rights and can have huge physical and psychological consequences for the family and community of the victim, as well as the victim him/herself.
The need to end domestic violence is recognised in multiple international human rights agreements such as the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Vienna Declaration, and the Istanbul Convention.
In General Recommendation 19, The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, recommends that ‘States parties should take appropriate and effective measures to overcome all forms of gender-based violence, whether by public or private act.’
They Say: Abstinence only sexuality education is the only way to prevent STIs.
We Say: Various studies have shown that abstinence only sexuality education can lead to more risky sexual behaviours later in life. Most people who decide to abstain from sex do not succeed or even intend on doing so 100% of the time for the rest of their lives. This means that they are often ill-equipped to care for their sexual health when they do become sexually active. Furthermore, most abstaining individuals are unaware of the risks involved in sexual acts apart from intercourse, and this can put their health at risk.
They say: Criminalising abortion saves lives.
We Say: There is no such thing as no abortion, only unsafe abortion. Criminalising abortion does not stop it from happening, it only forces women to seek abortion in ways and from places that put their health and lives at risk. Furthermore, going ahead with an unwanted pregnancy can negatively affect women physically, psychologically, socially and economically.
They Say: They are defending traditional values and the family.
We say: Family is the place where an individual feels love, care, support and a sense of belonging. The equality movement aims to ensure that individuals of diverse genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations may enjoy these feelings like everyone else. Furthermore, diverse family structures have existed for years and will continue to do so, it is just a matter of whether society at large and the law decide to accept them and allow familial love and support to be available to all.
They Say: Religious freedom and free speech must be protected from ‘gender ideology.’
We Say: Free speech and religious freedom are core human rights issues that must be protected. However, arguments in defence of free speech are increasingly used by anti-choice and conservative actors as a means to justify homophobic religious speech, and discrimination that is grounded in religious beliefs.
Furthermore, ‘gender ideology’ does not exist, rather, it is a blanket term used by ultra-conservative groups to describe the movements that they are opposed to, namely: feminism, LGBT rights, gender studies, gender mainstreaming, the fight against gender-based violence as well as contraception, abortion, sexual education, civil partnerships and same-sex marriage.
Watch out for the use of the terms ‘fundamental freedoms’ and ‘human dignity,’ as these terms are often used by anti-SRHR actors to justify their attacks on gay rights, gender equality or reproductive rights.
They Say: ‘Pro-life’
We Say: ‘Anti-choice.’
Anti-choice movements have been very successful in presenting themselves as committed defenders of human rights and in using positive language while doing so. Allowing anti-choice actors to claim both the words ‘pro’ and ‘life’ gives them the upperhand linguistically, as it presents their movement as a positive force and distracts from their negative agenda which is not pro-life but opposed to the lives of the women whose freedom they seek to restrict.
They Say: ‘Pro-life’ groups are underfunded, grassroots movements that represent the majority of the population who are not being given a voice.
We Say: Across Europe, nearly 500 anti-choice movements and organisations have been identified in over 30 countries. These organisations are interconnected and tend to be well-funded.
They Say: Abortion is a dangerous procedure.
We Say: Giving birth is more dangerous than safe abortion.
They Say: Medical abortion (using the pills Mifepristone and / or Misoprostol) is dangerous.
We Say: Taking Viagra (a drug used to treat erectile dysfunction) is more dangerous than inducing a medical abortion.
They Say: The pro-choice position does not respect the right to life.
We Say: The right to life is a basic human right that should be defended. However, restrictive abortion legislation does not respect women’s right to life because women with unplanned pregnancies may be forced to procure an unsafe abortion which can put their lives at risk. This is demonstrated by the fact that 47 000 women die from complications of unsafe abortion each year.