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Style choices on abortion talk

regretIt would be hard to write a more angry, snarky headline than the one atop that piece by Ken Shepherd that the Newsbusters crew shot over the bow of the nation's best known evangelical magazine. Here it is:

Christianity Today Favors 'Anti-abortion' Over 'Pro-life' Label?

Are you upset yet? Let's note the crucial part of this report:

Evangelical magazine Christianity Today is using the term "anti-abortion," rather than "pro-life," to refer to a CatholicVote.com ad which NBC has refused to air during the Super Bowl. ...

By using "anti-abortion" in its headline, Christianity Today appears to be following the lead of the Associated Press. The AP calls for the term "anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice" in its Stylebook. AP goes further and frowns on the term "abortionist," saying it "connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions," so a reporter should "use a term such as abortion doctor or abortion practitioner," it counsels.

While many journalists and news agencies outside the AP follow the Stylebook, including (for the most part) this organization, they are free to supercede the manual where they see fit. For example, our very own NewsBusters Style Guide has this mandate for our contributors:

Refer to both sides [of the abortion debate] using their preferred language, pro-life and pro-choice.

OK, I'll bite. This is a really strange item. What Newsbusters is saying is accurate. Associated Press style uses the terms anti-abortion and pro-abortion rights. Of course, it is always appropriate to allow, in direct quotes, activists to define themselves. Thus, you often see "pro-life" and "pro-choice" in news reports.

All of this replaced an older, very biased set of terms that dominated MSM news reports back in the 1980s, when I was working in mainstream newsrooms. Most newspapers used anti-abortion on one side and pro-choice on the other, granting the left its slanted label of choice while making the other side accept a label that it hated.

Now it is still, sadly, common to see the loaded, spin label pro-choice floating around. One hardly ever sees pro-life used, other than in direct quotes. But, frankly, there has been progress on this language issue.

So what did Christianity Today do wrong? I guess I am biased, in that I think the current style guidelines are acceptable -- or, at least, equally awkward for activists on both sides. There is no solution that will please everyone or anyone. Also, Sarah Pulliam is a sibling of this blog, a fact that should be mentioned in this kind of dispute.

What's the point of all of this? It seems to me that the question is whether Newsbusters thinks that CT is a news magazine or a movement magazine -- an advocacy publication -- for those who oppose abortion. My reading is that CT's news pieces, especially in its online operation, are written in a fairly traditional news style. It's essays and features are, well, essays and features.

Is it wrong for CT to use AP style? I think not. Besides, there are plenty of progressive evangelicals -- many of whom no doubt subscribe to Christianity Today -- who are now pro-abortion rights. Correct?

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