PHILADELPHIA ― It wasn’t until halfway through the second night of the Democratic National Convention that someone finally said the A-word.
In fact, Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said it three times on Tuesday. In a speech that made the case for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a defender of women’s rights and a crusader for access to affordable health care, Richards, whose organization has come under intense fire from Republicans in the last year, said the word that Democrats ― even abortion-rights advocates ― so often avoid.
Clinton, Richards said, “will always stand up for Roe v. Wade and the right of every woman to access a full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, no matter her economic status.”
And then: “Not long ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the Texas laws that forced abortion providers to close their doors are dangerous and unconstitutional.”
And finally: “Donald Trump has called women ‘fat pigs’ and ‘dogs.’ He wants to punish women for having abortions. And he says pregnancy is an “inconvenience” for a woman’s employer.”
Richards said the word is “abortion.” Not “a woman’s right to choose.” Not “women’s health.” Abortion.
It shouldn’t be remarkable to hear the word in the political arena, since it’s such a hotly debated political issue. Richards, whose organization is the largest low-cost provider of abortions in the United States, was the first person at the convention to say the name of the medical procedure that has been the focus of a 40-year culture war. Speakers who preceded her used the gauzy and grey euphemisms that are so often deployed to avoid alienating potential allies.
It’s not just at the DNC, either. In eight Democratic debates this primary season, nine moderators asked not one question about abortion, or even about “women’s health.”
Finally, Clinton called them out, but even then, she used the language of “a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care.” She talked about “defending Planned Parenthood.” She lambasted “governors doing everything they can to restrict women’s rights.” She mentioned Donald Trump’s stated belief that women should “be punished,” but not what he thinks they should be punished for (if you guess “abortion,” congratulations!).
When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) jumped in to defend his own record after Clinton took a swipe at it, he also said he’d defend a “woman’s right to choose.”
The word “abortion” matters. It describes medical procedure that one in three American women will under go before they turn 45. It refers to a form of health care that’s been constitutionally guaranteed since 1973 and that’s been under intense assault from the GOP for the last eight years. There’s a strategic advantage to terming it “women’s health.” That’s what it is, and it’s hard to argue with health care. And who would argue with granting women “the right to choose”?
Though it might be more comfortable and politically palatable to obscure it, that would do little to alleviate the stigma experienced by so many people who have abortions, who feel shame because they’re led to believe that they’re rare, when in fact they are among millions. As long as that stigma and shame are allowed to define the experience of abortion, it will remain an easy political target for those who would argue with a woman’s right to choose.