Laura K. Chapin
If there’s a thing happening in D.C., like say a vote on an abortion rights bill in the Senate, you can rest assured that the D.C. pundit bros will assume they are eminently qualified to speak on it and must share their opinion.
Politico was shocked — shocked I tell you — to discover a messaging document shared with Democratic women before the Women’s Health Protection Act vote on May 11. Among other revelations it recommended using “decision” instead of “choice” and dropping “safe, legal, and rare.” None of this is new, and frankly it would have been a staffing fail if someone hadn’t given them talking points.
And here’s a big one — use the word “abortion,” not euphemisms. It’s a perfectly good word, accurate and to the point. And not using it is stigmatizing. People don’t have “reproductive freedoms” or “health care choices.” They have abortions.
Let me spell this out for you, as I did on Twitter: Most Beltway types, especially men, don’t know anything about messaging on abortion or how to win on it because the real battles are in the states. Those of us in the Colorado reproductive and abortion rights advocacy community do. Feel free to give us a call instead of retweeting each other. We’ve been winning on abortion rights for a long time now.
Our abortion and reproductive rights advocacy coalition has beaten four abortion bans on the ballot since 2008, most recently a later-abortion ban, Proposition 115, in 2020. Not only did we beat Prop 115, we outperformed President Joe Biden and Sen. John Hickenlooper statewide. There were about 55,000 more no-on-115 votes than there were for Biden, and 125,000 more no-on-115 votes than there were for Hickenlooper. There were seven Trump/no-on-115 counties, including Douglas County.
We’ve also beaten 44 attempts at the Colorado General Assembly since 2010 to ban or restrict abortion, including three this year. And most notably, this year reproductive rights organization Cobalt and reproductive justice organization COLOR, or Colorado Organization for Latina Advocacy and Reproductive Rights, partnered to pass the Reproductive Health Equity Act, a groundbreaking bill putting the fundamental right to abortion in Colorado.
There’s no big secret to effective messaging on abortion rights: use plain language — including the word abortion — tell stories, and build empathy. Abortion is a deeply personal issue. Talk about it in those terms. As I put it, 1 in 4 reproductive-age American women have had an abortion. And the rest of us have, at some point, peed on a stick in the bathroom and bargained with God. And nobody wants to be the person in the room who, after your 20-week ultrasound, the doctor comes in, gets very quiet, and then says, “We need to talk about your legal options.”
There’s no big secret to effective messaging on abortion rights: use plain language — including the word abortion — tell stories, and build empathy.
The most effective ad we ran for No on 115 was Rabbi Black of Denver’s Temple Emanuel and his wife, Sue, talking about having an abortion after the pregnancy was diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease. The most effective news story was about Christina Taylor, now a mom of four, telling the story of how she and her husband, Roy, had an abortion at 21 weeks after their son Gene was diagnosed with no kidneys or bladder.
And for the Reproductive Health Equity Act, a Colorado physician testified that she gave an abortion to a woman from Texas whose water broke at 4 1/2 months. Because the fetus still technically had a heartbeat, under the Texas abortion ban the hospital refused to treat her until she went into labor or became septic. So somehow this woman got on a plane and flew to Colorado, to a state where the abortion care she needed was available, politically and practically.
You know someone who has had an abortion, whether you know it or not. Stigma is why they don’t tell you. And at least among my friends, most of them have been pregnant more times than they have living children. Human reproduction is still massively complex, and when a pregnancy ends via termination, either by choice or by tragedy, it’s an abortion. Saying that is not a political risk.
Colorado occupies a unique place in the national landscape on abortion rights because we were the first state to decriminalize abortion — in 1967, six years before Roe v. Wade. It is an embedded part of our western DNA that government and politicians should stay out of our most personal, private decisions, including abortion. I’ve seen polling showing support for that statement topping 80%.
And current polling show abortion rights motivate the Democratic base in year when we need it.
We can say that word, abortion. We can love and embrace people who have abortions — that includes self-love, which is very important — and the ObGyns and medical professionals who provide them with compassion and expertise. And win can win elections by using the word.
Want to know how? Give us a call here in the Centennial State.
Laura K. Chapin is a Democratic communications strategist who works with progressive causes and candidates in the Rocky Mountain West. This article is republished from Colorado Newsline under a Creative Commons license.
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