The gist: The world has changed since Roe v. Wade — culturally, technologically, and demographically. Support for safe, legal abortions has been consistent in the US for three decades. But little by little and state by state, we’ve seen women’s reproductive rights chipped away. The “my body/my choice” messaging that was once so powerful and effective may now shut out certain groups of voters.

How can elected officials and other messengers effectively communicate their position on abortion? What language resonates with voters who are on the fence or conflicted?

Recent messaging research, conducted by the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, gives us a roadmap for navigating the new landscape of choice and helps us build bridges by moving from judgment to empathy.

Sightline Flashcard: Real Opinions, Real Decisions, A Real Woman, Real Solutions:

  1. Real feelings:
    Acknowledge a wide range of different and powerful emotions.
  2. Real decisions:
    Focus on the value we all place on making decisions for ourselves.
  3. A real woman:
    Avoid stereotypes. Reinforce our shared respect for each woman.
  4. Real solutions:
    Help connect a range of viewpoints to shared policy solutions.

How to Say It:

Think of all the women you know. It’s clear that each woman’s circumstances are unique. Ending a pregnancy is a personal, often difficult, decision. But, even if I might not make the same decision myself, it’s not my place to make a decision for another woman. That’s why, when it comes to policy, we can agree it’s important to make sure abortion remains safe and legal.

Research and Resources:

Reproductive Health Technologies Project has developed an extensive set of resources including research updates, sample language, and messaging tips for communicators.

About the Project:

Young women grouped and smiling for the cameraBeginning in 2004, the Reproductive Health Technologies Project (RHTP) has conducted a multi-faceted research project to find the best communications strategies for advocates and policymakers to broaden the appeal of pro-choice messages and to determine the most effective means of reaching out to those who may be conflicted when it comes to policies about reproductive health.

What polls consistently find is that the US is now a “pro-choice but…” country. A large majority of Americans believe abortion either should be legal but restricted, or legal but only in narrow circumstances.

However this “but…” can be seen as both an obstacle and an opportunity. It’s the window left open — even just slightly — that allows some air in to an otherwise closed discussion. As Kirsten Moore, President and CEO, RHTP, puts it:

The bad news for the pro-choice community: a lot of people have a lot of conflicting — even bad feelings about abortion and the reasons to have one. The good news for the pro-choice community: contrary to conventional wisdom, we found that acknowledging those conflicting feelings or even disagreement strengthens our credibility with listeners and strengthens our capacity to bring listeners to a pro-choice position. In fact, we were able to generate a net gain of 12 percent in a pro-choice direction.

More good news: Americans overwhelmingly support birth control (91 percent of voters), comprehensive sex education (86 percent), stem cell research and better end-of-life care. These issues are all part of a larger conversation about important life decisions and how they will be protected.

Click here to register for the communications toolkit developed by the Reproductive Health Technologies Project team.

January 14, 2009