Planned Parenthood Abandoning ‘Pro-Choice’ Label for ‘No-Labels’ Message

By Donald A. Collins | 16 January 2013
Church and State

Planned Parenthood Action, the public policy advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood, has posted a meme to its Facebook page indicating what the new messaging might look like.

In June 2012, a famous women’s rights advocate, whom I met many years ago, Joan Banks Dunlop, died of cancer. Her NY Times obituary told of her sterling efforts to bring human rights to women and about her fearless confrontation of the Catholic Church for its stand against family planning.

She and I both attended the major 1994 United Nations conference on population and development in Cairo, where she came with a manifesto on women’s rights which was ultimately adopted by the UN.

Bravo, you must be inclined to say! Me too. Except that her efforts also fostered a policy of ignoring the burgeoning growth of our human population. In fact, what emerged from that 1994 meeting was a strong sense that this issue of population growth would somehow fix itself when women took charge.

A very laudable objective, which if it had been true, would have been good, but as events have shown and will continue to show, this view represents a dangerous fantasy recent credible research disproves. The demographic transition argument which saw human numbers stabilizing this century is wrong. World population now at over 7 billion will likely rise to 9 by 2050 and 10 by 2100!

Now I, as a founding board member of Ipas, FHI360, and the Guttmacher Institute, am a huge supporter of empowering women and in so doing working toward their capacity to receive full reproductive rights, including getting an abortion anytime they wish.

But that demographic transition timetable which projects population stability coming on automatic pilot without serious confrontation by world leadership needs adjusted and given much more high level attention immediately.

On January 15, 2013, I attended Population Institute’s 33rd Annual Global Media Awards which this year honored as usual several worthy people. Among them was the Honorable Richard Ottaway, a member of the British Parliament with whom I chatted about his seminal award winning paper, “Sex, Ideology, Religion”. This masterful document offers totally confirming evidence about my above statements on population growth.

When his award was announced by PI, it read

“Richard Ottaway, a British Member of Parliament, will receive the award for Best Essay for his piece Sex, Ideology and Religion: 10 myths about world population growth. This essay challenges common misunderstandings surrounding family planning and population growth, and provides illuminating insights into family planning successes and challenges. Ottaway is the Chairman of the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee and the former Chairman and current Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health. Genevieve Hutchinson, Ottway’s research assistant, co-authored the report.”

I told Mr. Ottaway how delighted I was to have such a distinguished leader present these deeply relevant facts to what hopefully will be an attentive audience far beyond the UK. If you have not read his highly troubling analysis, please contact Director of Public Policy, Jeannie Wetter, at PI at and she will be delighted to forward it to you.

In addition, Mr Ottaway and I briefly compared the forces of religion in his nation which have little impact on such controversial matters in the US as abortion. This issue has for too long skewed and embattled the rights of American women to obtain such services promptly, safely and inexpensively despite the Roe vs Wade decision 40 years ago this month, allowing abortion on demand from the US Supreme Court.

Much to my surprise and dismay, almost on the 40th anniversary of Roe, we learn in an email from Joe Bish of the Population Media Center that our major early abortion provider and the bellwether of reproductive rights in the US, “as of yesterday, January 15th, 2013, Planned Parenthood has officially decided to drop the “label” of pro-choice. They have decided, based on polling, that their mission will be better served using a “no-labels” strategy.”

I have very strong views about this apparent backing down from the pro choice principle! It is a decision which I compare to Joan Dunlop’s utterly ill advised 1994 strategy of turning away from the obvious imperative to keep stressing population growth, something developing country leaders were keenly aware of and trying to deal with. Her strategy infected the decision making of countless donors and political leaders about the importance of this unprecedented growth in human numbers.

Now don’t think I am unmindful of the fact that one American consumer equates to several or more consumers in less developed countries. Yes, high tech societies use up resources, renewable and non renewable at an alarmingly wasteful rate.

However another of this year’s PI award winners with whom I chatted at this ceremony, Dave Gardner, the producer and director of his film “Growthbusters” takes on the US growth industry in a highly provocative and engaging manner. He raises profound questions about America’s obsession with economic growth.

He makes the vital and much broader point as he warns that the scale of the human enterprise has outgrown the planet and that we ignore at our peril the negative impacts of ever-expanding population and consumption.

Thus, PPFA, now is not the time to back down for so called “political strategy” reasons. Who are those among your consumers who would not use your services because you are PRO CHOICE and proud of it?

The people you serve need you for a lot of other things besides abortion and being ready to serve them also is vital.

My long time colleague, Jack Lippes, the famous inventor of the Lippes loop IUD, emailed me upon reading the recent Time magazine cover story about America’s eroding abortion rights,

“Isn’t it time for all the pro choice organizations to join forces and use legal procedures, i.e., suits against states and local governments for constitutional infringements on women’s rights, e.g. forcing women to watch sonograms or have a sonograms, or nitpicking architectural so called necessities of having 5 foot wide halls in our clinics, 24 hour waiting periods and all other such anti-choice nonsense. YES!–PPFA, N4CM, NARAL, NOW, ACLU and others get together and mass a legal assault against these anti choice groups, even if they are sincere in their beliefs. Let us carry this fight to the courts. At least this would expose their unreasonable positions. Lets go!!!”

Did a bunch of weak or ideologically motivated politicians tell PPFA that if you backed down on PRO CHOICE it would be easier to restore funding lost as in Texas or cause less worry about their continuing to fund Title X if budget cuts are coming–and of course some cuts to all programs are coming.

I would have thought the last Presidential election would have more than confirmed PPFA’s standing with women, just as the unprincipled attack by the Komen Foundation backfired on its plan to eliminate PPFA funding. This is indeed a season for standing on principles!!

One article quotes PPFA’s reasons for this decision:

“Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions and a pro-abortion advocacy organization, has decided to abandon the “pro-choice” label in favor of a “no-labels” strategy. In surveys and focus group research, the organization found that a significant number of voters the organization would like to reach with its message feel uncomfortable with the pro-choice and pro-life labels.

Polling commissioned by Planned Parenthood found that 43 percent of recent voters identify as pro-choice and 33 percent identify as pro-life.

The remainder, 24 percent, was equally divided between those who say they are both pro-life and pro-choice (12 percent) and those who would not accept either label (12 percent). Planned Parenthood’s new strategy is aimed at reaching this group.

“It’s a complicated topic and one in which labels don’t reflect the complexity,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards said at a Wednesday press briefing, according to Buzzfeed.

Planned Parenthood Action, the public policy advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood, posted a meme to its Facebook page Thursday indicating what the new messaging might look like.

It says, “the labels of being pro-choice and pro-life are not so cut and dry. There is a lot of gray area for people who classify themselves in either category.””

PRO CHOICE is clearly cut and dried as a political, practical and proper label of where this iconic bastion of women’s rights has long been and should continue to be even more so now as the attacks described in the 1/17/13 Time Magazine escalate.

I implore, and I hope its traditional supporters will implore, PPFA’s leadership to say even more strongly than ever that they are PRO CHOICE!

I recall when another organization that once had a blue ribbon icon brand name, ZPG, decided to go for its present name Population Connection. PPFA and all of us should realize we live on a finite planet, presently trammeled with human numbers which will have gone from 2 billion in 1930 to 10 billion in 2100, if meantime an apocalypse, which could occur for multiple reasons, doesn’t give Mother Nature a horrible turn at bat!

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

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