Cecile Richards Was the First DNC Speaker to Say the Word ‘Abortion’

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Cecile Richards speaks at the DNC.
Cecile Richards speaks at the DNC.Photo: SAUL LOEB

On Tuesday night, something remarkable happened at the Democratic National Convention: Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, became the first speaker to say the word “abortion.” In fact, she said it three times: >

The word itself isn’t remarkable, but the fact that Richards injected it into political discourse is. Even politicians who are unabashedly pro-choice rarely use the word “abortion” to describe it — they’re much more likely to opt for harmless-sounding euphemisms such as “a woman’s right to make her own health-care decisions,” which is how Hillary Clinton put it in her acceptance speech Thursday night. (In contrast, she was widely praised for using the phrase “systemic racism.”)

And even when she called out debate moderators for failing to ask about abortion, she used phrases like “a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care,” and “women’s rights,” and criticized Donald Trump for saying women should be “punished” — but didn’t say for what. When Sanders jumped in to defend his own record on abortion, he called it “a woman’s right to choose.”

To a certain extent, it’s logical for politicians to couch the medical procedure in euphemisms — who would deny that a woman should be able to “choose” what happens to her own body? It’s the same logic behind the choice to label the anti-abortion movement “pro-life.”

But as Mary Alice Carter, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s vice-president of communication, told ThinkProgress, Richards deliberately chose to include the word to chip away at the stigma associated with it.

“It’s important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she said.

Abortion isn’t some dirty secret. It’s a standard medical procedure that as many as one-third of American women undergo before they turn 45, and it has been under attack by conservatives since Roe v. Wade — in fact, Donald Trump’s vice-presidential pick just promised to abolish it should he land in the White House. Refusing to name it won’t make the procedure more palatable to conservatives — it will only make it more vulnerable.