Embryos and fetuses aren't babies
Jeffery Feldman thinks that Democrats should abandon the pro-choice label because it leaves us open to accusations of baby killing:
Of all the rotten words Republicans like to throw at Democrats, the phrase ‘baby killer’ has to be the worst.
Republicans in Congress like nothing more than to tell the American people that a ‘Holocaust’ is being committed by Liberals in this country, and that over 30 million ‘babies’ have been ‘killed’ since the passage of Roe v. Wade, roughly twenty years ago. ‘Abortion on demand,’ they call it, or worse: a ‘culture of death.’
None of this would matter—and the country might actually be solving some of its serious problems with healthcare, education, or national security—if the Democrats had long ago found a powerful way to respond to the ‘baby killer’ accusation from Republicans. Unfortunately, the only response Democrats have used is the once powerful, but now inadequate phrase: ‘I am for a woman’s right to choose.’
The rest of Feldman's long and insightful post is a discussion of how Democrats should counter accusations of baby-killing. His position is based on his support for Blackmun's position as articulated in his opinion for the court in Roe v. Wade.
Feldman make a good case for abortion despite accepting the faulty premise that the community has a moral right to safeguard "potential life." The "choice" frame looks bad to people who assume that fetuses have moral standing. If you believe that non-viable fetuses have rights, it's less clear why a woman's right to choose should prevail.
The simplest answer is sometimes the best. Abortion is about the a woman's right to choose because fetuses don't have any moral standing, except perhaps towards the very end of pregnancy, and even then their rights pale beside a woman's right to control her own body.
First trimester fetuses have as much moral standing as moles or splinters. They can't think, they can't feel, they can't respond to stimuli. They are lumps of tissue. They should stay or go at the host's* discretion. Hence, the pro-choice line.
Later on in the pregnancy, a non-viable fetus has the same moral standing as animal with a comparable mental life. Being responsive to stimuli or capable of feeling pain gives an entity some moral status. If something can feel, we are obliged not to torture it or kill it capriciously. But if you're prepared to allow people to kill piglets for food, you should accept a woman's right to terminate a non-viable second-trimester fetus. Arguably, the piglet has a stronger claim to be left alone than the fetus. The piglet has a much richer mental life. It is a being actively engaged with its environment with unequivocal cognitive, affective, and social capacities. Besides, it isn't impinging on the integrity of anyone else's body.
The concept of choice is at least as important when we talk about later-term abortions. Even if we accept that a non-viable second trimester fetus is a beautiful little creature with the moral standing of kitten or a puppy, the fact remains that this creature is a guest in the womb of a full-fledged human being. The moral standing of later term fetuses is just too weak to compel anyone to be pregnant if she doesn't want to be. Gestation is a glorious gift, not a moral obligation. Hence, the pro-choice line.
The central irony of the abortion debate is that moderates have the strongest rhetorical position, but the weakest arguments. Religious zealots have undermined the strongest pro-choice arguments by making it socially unacceptable to categorically deny the moral status of fetuses. Feldman may well be right about the framing issue. Frankly, I wouldn't advise any Democratic politician to make my arguments on Meet the Press. I like Feldman's alternative frames a lot: "privacy and protection", "children first", and "the government shouldn't force women to have babies." These are all excellent additions to the moral toolbox. However, I don't think they can replace the core concept of "pro-choice." I'm open to any frames that get that idea across, but the concept itself is indispensable.
**EDIT: "Host's discretion" used to read "mother's discretion." As a commenter observed, "mother" is technically inaccurate and emotionally loaded. Even the most ardent anti-abortionist wouldn't describe a gestating woman with no live children as a mother. We don't ordinarily describe a woman as a mother until she gives birth to at least one live baby.
It's interesting how the anti-choice bias permeates our language. Another commenter noted that a woman carries an embryo for the first two months of her pregnancy, not a fetus. It would be nice to have a neutral non-clinical term for the concept "non-viable fetus or embryo"--something like "pre-viable pregnancy." As in "A pre-viable pregnancy isn't a baby."
In addition to full-fledged frames, we need concise, non-clinical expressions to denote the morally relevant concepts.