The Euphemisms of “Pro-Choice”

The issue of abortion is rarely far from the public consciousness. My own opposition to abortion is well known amongst those who know me, in particular those who have debated the issue with me recently. However, I must confess to a deep disappointment in those I have debated from the “pro-choice” lobby in recent weeks. The arguments in favour of abortion have been virtually non-existent, replaced instead mostly with ad hominem attacks. In 3 cases after I presented a pro-life case or questioned the “pro-choice” position I was immediately attacked for being a man and therefore, somehow, having no right to an opinion on the matter. Seemingly in the minds of these people having a penis somehow impedes my ability to analyse the scientific evidence concerning the beginning and nature of human life. In a further case when I asked for an argument from a “pro-choice” advocate I was told that “there’s no point in arguing with people who are religious so I won’t bother.” This was strange since up to this point nothing in our debate had been religious or spiritual in nature or content.

In almost every case my opponents wrote about abortion in terms which are grossly inaccurate. John Powell once was remarked that, “Language is something like the sugar coating on the ideas which we swallow and digest.” When an idea is repugnant it’s easier to get people to swallow it if we dress it up in language that suggests something else. Way back in America in the 1970’s the abortion debate was raging in the aftermath of the Roe v Wade and Bolton v Doe decisions (which legalised abortion on demand in all 50 States for the full 9 months of pregnancy). When the proponents of abortion were making their case they knew that public opinion would be against them if they spoke of the ending of a human life in the womb; so they needed a vocabulary to speak of abortion that avoided mention of the tiny human killed in each act. One of the terms coined way back then remains in popular usage: “terminating a pregnancy.” Proponents of abortion knew it was easier to gain public acceptance for killing babies in the womb if they called it “terminating a pregnancy,” and avoided mention of the human life altogether.

Occasionally I do meet “pro-choice” advocates who deny that abortion really is the ending of a human life. Such a viewpoint is pure wanton ignorance for which there is no scientific support. Doctor Bernard Nathanson (one of the leading pro-abortion voices in American until converting to the pro-life cause) wrote:

“Why did I change my mind? Well, to begin with, it was not from religious conviction, because as I have stated on many occasions…I am an atheist…In any case, the change of mind began with the realisation, the inescapable reality that the fetus, that embryo, is a person, is a protectable human life.”

Doctor Jerome LeJeune put the matter like so:

“Life has a very, very long history but each individual has a very neat beginning, the moment of its conception. . . To accept that fact that after fertilisation has taken place, a new human has come into being, is no longer a matter of taste or of opinion. The human nature of the human being from conception to old age is not a metaphysical contention, it is plain experimental evidence.”

Or Doctor Matthews-Roth, “…it is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception, when the egg and sperm join to form the zygote, and that this developing human always is a member of our species in all stages of its life.”

To flog the goat a little more, Doctor DeMere says, “From the medical standpoint there are mountains of documents to show that the human embryo is a separate person biologically distinct from the mother.” This human life which exists from conception becomes viable the moment it implants in the mother’s womb. Once it has done so a woman is pregnant, a new human being will grow and develop.

Therefore, owing to the sheer weight of scientific evidence proving beyond any reasonable doubt that human life begins at the moment of conception, most “pro-choice” advocates have no option but to quietly accept that this is so but do all in their power to avoid mention of it publically. Hence “terminating a pregnancy” rather than “terminating a human life.” “Terminating a pregnancy” is a euphemism, the sugar-coating on a horrendous idea that its advocates want us to swallow.

I have discovered that this is often the real reason “pro-choice” advocates complain so aggressively against the kinds of images made public by pro-life advocates. It is true that these pictures are grizzly, greatly disturbing, and deeply saddening. These images have haunted me. They’ve made me sick. They’ve made me shed tears. But they illustrate the horrible truth that in every abortion a human life is ended, either by having his or her body crushed or cut to pieces, or by having his or her skin and internal organs burnt and dissolved by chemical solutions. They expose the “pro-choice” euphemism of “terminating a pregnancy” and show us exactly what that means: the destruction of a human life.

Regrettably the “pro-choice” case is full of this kind of language, this sort of sugar coating to make repugnant ideas more palatable. Another popular form of language is that of the “private choice” of women to do what they want with “their own body.” Again, all mention of the human life being taken is conveniently glossed over in this attempt to close off all discussion and critique under the auspices that abortion is none of our business and should be left to the individual woman to decide what she does with “her own body.” Of course the plain truth is that abortion is not a private moral decision at all. We’re not talking about the right of women to have cancerous growths cut out from their bodies. We’re talking about the destruction of a human life, a life that is biologically distinct from the woman’s own life. The human life in question has his or her own genetic code, blood-type, fingerprints, beating heart, nervous system, and of course can be a completely different sex from the mother altogether. Furthermore, this human life feels pain independently of the mother, can be healthy even when the mother is unwell, can be awake even when his or her mother is sleeping.

For this reason abortion must be seen as more than just a “private decision.” There are two lives – two bodies – involved: not just one.

Amongst the more ridiculous examples of a pro-choice advocate trying to lessen the weight behind the fact that abortion ends a human life came at me a week or two ago during a debate. My opponent’s contention was that abortion kills a foetus but not a baby because a foetus does not become a baby until 24 weeks. When I challenged her on this she made no attempt at a justification, either scientific or ethical. Instead I was told I was a man and therefore had no right to an opinion. This response surprised me as I had merely asked a simple question: what is different between a foetus at 23 weeks and one at 24 that suddenly confers “baby status” on it? Moreover, given that a 4 year old child could in many cases be more advanced than a 5 year could it not also be the case that in many instances a 23 or 22 weeks old “foetus” be more advanced than a 24 week old foetus? What scientific grounds are there for such an arbitrary line between “foetus” and “baby?” “You’re a man, what would you know.” There’s nothing like a good piece of ad hominem when your opponent unmasks your ridiculous position for what it is, eh?

What my opponent conveniently overlooked is that the word “foetus” simply refers to a particular stage of human development, (in fact the word literally means “unborn child”). Throughout our lives we are called by many names: zygote, embryo, foetus, baby, infant, toddler, child, teenager, adult. We are fully human the entire time regardless of what particular stage we’re at. We tend to use the word “foetus” to describe a human being in the womb, and the word “baby” to describe a human being once it has left. From foetus to baby there is absolutely no fundamental biological change.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching my own son grow in the womb of my wife. I’ve seen the scans – more than most people get to see because of certain complications we had to face during the 9 months which required more frequent hospital visits. I still remember him at 12 weeks the very first time I saw him: spinning, moving – frantically moving – twisting, turning and so full of life. Of course everyone – me, my wife, relatives, doctors, midwives, nurses, GPs – referred to him as “baby.” But when a baby is earmarked for destruction the “pro-choice” advocates suddenly adopt a very different language – a language of dehumanisation. Other terms are used: “clump of cells,” “potential life” (a ridiculous term you’ll never hear a biologist use), “product of conception.” But these are words no-one ever uses in any other context. No woman ever says “wow, my clump of cells just moved there,” or “the potential life just kicked,” or “I saw the product of conception sucking its thumb.” We know the truth: there’s a human being in there. “Pro-choice” advocates wish to obscure this truth and once again the tactic of choice is euphemism: get the general public to swallow horrendous ideas by covering them in sugar-coated language that masks reality.

Abortion is an issue that isn’t going to leave the debate scene anytime soon. But whether we are for it or against it we should at least be accurate about what it is: the destruction of a human life.

Stephen J Graham


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