Commentary Abortion

Why the Pro-Choice Movement Needs to Talk About Children

Sarah Erdreich

The pro-choice movement's shift in attention, messaging, and resources away from a focus on family means that the anti-choice movement has been able to make the idea of family, specifically unborn children, central to its emotional power and success.

I was recently reminded of the old pro-choice slogan, “Every Child a Wanted Child.” Along with my personal favorite slogan, “Pro-Child, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice,” this decades-old mantra succinctly sums up a powerful pro-choice argument: that supporting reproductive rights is also supporting families, children, and choice.

Yet in large part, the mainstream pro-choice movement seems to have moved away from this focus on the family in favor of concentrating on the arenas of courtrooms and state houses. While the urgency of fighting increasingly severe challenges to abortion care is hard to understate, this shift in attention, messaging, and resources means that the anti-choice movement has been able to make the idea of family, specifically unborn children, central to its emotional power and success. As a result, the pro-choice movement has been left open to charges that it is anti-child and anti-family.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Look at the name of the best-known pro-choice organization—Planned Parenthood. In these words is embedded the very idea of healthy families and children: the idea that people can and should plan their families. Being deliberate and thoughtful about when to have children ensures that every parent is as prepared as possible for the responsibility of raising a child. This is a message that any compassionate person would respond to.

Talking about family planning also places abortion care firmly on a larger continuum, along with contraception, access to good prenatal care, and the right of any woman to have a child. This also allows abortion to be correctly discussed as one part of the larger issue of reproductive rights and justice, rather than as an exotic medical procedure deserving of judgment and stigma.

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The majority of women who have abortions are mothers. Millions of women and men have been able to plan their families through access to contraception. There are hundreds of thousands of women like myself, whose own experiences with pregnancy and parenting have made them more pro-choice than they were before they had children.

Our stories and experiences stand as a visceral rebuttal to the anti-choice movement’s desired narrative, which is that every pregnancy should be continued and no one should have a choice after a certain, arbitrary point in gestation.

How to change the national discussion is a big question with many valid answers. For my part, I’d like to see organizations and individual activists alike engage with the idea of respecting the desire of many people to have children while at the same time fiercely advocating for reproductive rights. More tangibly, I would love to see even one of the mainstream pro-choice groups launch a campaign of collecting and highlighting the stories of pro-choice parents—mothers and fathers—that directly affirm the idea of being both pro-choice and pro-family.

Until then, it’s once again on us in the grassroots and online community to be the innovators. And no, I don’t mean that I’m going to start scouring Etsy for tasteful abortion-themed toddler clothing. As I learned through dozens of interviews for my book on the future of the pro-choice movement, one of the most effective ways to increase support for reproductive rights is by doing so one conversation at a time. Emphasizing the pro-family roots and goals of abortion activism is an excellent way to keep these conversations open. If the conversation isn’t so much about abortion per se, but rather abortion’s role in protecting the rights of each family, it can avoid the feeling of discussing a “third rail” and perhaps illustrate that ever-elusive common ground. I’ve lost track of how many times even my most conservative friends have told me that they’re having X number of children, no more. And the next time they do, they’ll be sure to get a gentle, friendly reminder that they can thank the countless pro-choice Americans who are defending their right to make those plans.

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