Abortion – Our Lexicon Betrays Us
We addressed the importance of words and lexicon (the terms used to dialog about a subject) in previous blogs. This blog examines how the words used in the debate about abortion determine the outcome of that debate. A table of dictionary definitions is provided at the end.
Demonizing and dehumanizing
We are more likely to come to one conclusion if we use words that tend to dehumanize the victim, but to a completely different conclusion if the victim is presented as a human being. This was a common practice in Nazi Germany with respect to the Jews. They were demonized verbally and depicted as sub-human, as not worthy of respect – in fact as worthy only of annihilation. The result was the holocaust.
So let’s examine the meanings of words typically used in the dialog about abortion. What impact do they have?
There are at least two parties affected by abortion: The mother and the “fetus”. (The father is also affected, but normally ignored.) But what is a “fetus”? The word “fetus” sounds like and presents the connotation of a blob of nothing, virtually something that is not even alive, and certainly not something worthy of second thought, let alone protection! But a careful examination of dictionary definitions shows that a “fetus” is really the same as an unborn young, a developing human, a baby. We know that humans and babies demand our protection; presumably a fetus should enjoy similar rights. Is that the case? Not at all, because a fetus is not perceived to be a baby.
Ah, but how about the early times of gestation, when the unborn is not even a fetus; when it’s only an embryo immediately after fertilization. Isn’t an embryo just a fertilized egg? Isn’t is just a bunch of cells, not a human being? Actually, it is not. According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, an embryo is “a developing human individual!” Again, then, should an embryo not enjoy the same rights that all human individuals enjoy, such as the right to life? Presumably. Is that the case? Not at all, because an embryo is not perceived to be a human being.
If one studies the meanings of the following words, they pretty much describe the same thing – a human being – in different stages of maturation: fetus, embryo, baby, human, human being, person, individual. Interestingly, not a single one of them refers to a blob of tissue, an amorphous group of cells. One would assume, therefore that all should be accorded the rights of a human being. Is that the case? No. In fact, we accord more rights to non-humans such as animals and corporations than we do to humans in the early stages of maturation because of connotations of the terms we use.
Now let’s examine who is making the choice to abort a pregnancy. Is it a woman, or a mother? If it’s just a woman, then there is no implication of significant responsibility. On the other hand, “mother” implies a high level of responsibility. Furthermore, it associated with an acknowledgment of the need to nurture a developing human. No wonder we rarely hear the word “mother” associated with the abortion debate! “Mothers” do not kill their unborn children, but “women” abort pregnancies. What’s the difference?
Lastly, let’s examine the word “abortion.” Abortion is defined as the unnatural termination of a pregnancy and the life of the unborn. Hence abortion always, 100% of the time, results in the killing of a human being (= fetus etc.). This occurs even in the case of the so-called “morning after” pill because that pill terminates the life of the embryo by not allowing it to implant.
The victim of this killing, the baby, has no voice in the mother’s decision. There is no consideration for the victim’s right to life in this killing because the victim is considered sub-human. Therefore it is not a problem.
The woman/mother/perpetrator does have a choice to kill or not to kill. A mother also has the responsibility to care for her baby. “Woman” and “perpetrator” have no such responsibility. Interesting how the word “kill” is missing from the abortion debate! How many fewer deaths would there be if abortion were accurately described as an act of “killing”? Most likely quite a few.
Is abortion murder? Murder is defined as the “illegal” killing of a human. Since we have legalized killing the human in the womb abortion cannot be considered murder. Is that right and just? That discussion is for another blog. (Link to Barbarians)
Social implications of terms we use
Now let’s go back to the original premise: “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words may kill you, heal you, or save you.” Consider how a small change in the way we talk about abortion could affect the outcome of each situation. Consider how much more difficult it would be for a mother (“woman”) to choose abortion if the choice were phrased as, “Mother, do you want to kill the innocent human being in your womb?” instead of, “Woman, do you want to terminate your pregnancy?” Consider how many killings would be averted.
The implications of how the question is phrased also have significant public policy and long term social effects:
If the question is posed in terms of just terminating a pregnancy, then society will be inclined toward an overall social objective of providing as many abortions as cheaply, quickly, effectively, and conveniently as possible. This perspective will inevitably lead to programs facilitating an ever increasing number of abortions; furthermore it encourages undisciplined sexual activity because consequences are deemed “minimal.” This lack of self-discipline will spill over into other areas of behavior, causing additional turmoil in the society.
However, if the question is posed in terms of terminating a human life, then the society will be inclined toward an overall social objective of minimizing the number of abortions. Since the root cause of abortions is unwanted pregnancy resulting from undisciplined sexual activity, this perspective will ultimately focus attention on trying to instill self-discipline into the society to reduce unwanted pregnancies. Learning self-discipline in one area inevitably spills over into other endeavors, leading to a healthier society.
Words lead to concepts. Concepts lead to morals. Morals define acceptable actions. In the end words used to define the situation also define the solution.
Therefore the problem is not abortion. Abortion is merely a symptom of a more fundamental moral problem we reveal about ourselves by the way we ask the question of abortion. Words betray an ugly truth about our society and about us, and actions flow from our words: More abortions. Our words and actions betray our society’s moral breakdown, communication breakdown, and breakdown in self-discipline.
Words do make a difference. Sticks and stones may break some bones, but words can actually kill you. The very words we use to describe abortion betray the truth: It’s the “lawful” killing of one human being by another without consideration or recourse for the victim. That’s commonly called “barbarism.”
All one has to do is study the definitions below. Our very words reveal the truth, no matter how hard we attempt to muzzle it.
|(The Free Dictionary)http://www.thefreedictionary.com…||(Merriam Webster Dictionary)http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary…|
|Fetus||…/fetusthe young of an animal in the womb …In humans, the unborn young from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth, as distinguished from the earlier embryo.||…/fetusa developing human from usually two months after conception to birth|
|Baby||…/babya. A very young child; an infant.b. An unborn child; a fetus.||…/babyan extremely young child; especially : infant|
|Embryo||…/embryoIn humans, the prefetal product of conception from implantation through the eighth week of development.||…/embryothe developing human individual from the time of implantation to the end of the eighth week after conception|
|Human being||…/human+beingA human||…/human%20beingHumanA member of the human raceSyn. Baby|
|Human||…/humanA member of the genus Homo and especially of the species H. sapiens.2. A person||…/humana bipedal primate mammal (Homo sapiens) : man;broadly : hominid Syn. Baby, person|
|Person||…/personA living human||…/personHuman, individual|
|Individual||…/individuala. A single human considered apart from a society or communityb. A human regarded as a unique personalityc. A person distinguished from others
|…/individuala particular being or thing as distinguished from a class, species, or collection;a single human being as contrasted with a social groupa single organism as distinguished from a group|
|Kill||…/killTo put to deathTo deprive of life||…/killTo deprive of lifeCause the death of|
|Murder||…/murder1. To kill (another human) unlawfully.2. To kill brutally or inhumanely.3. To put an end to; destroy||…/murderthe crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought|
|Abortion||…/abortiona. Induced termination of a pregnancy with destruction of the embryo or fetus.b. Any of various procedures resulting in the termination of a pregnancy. Also called induced abortion.||…/abortionthe termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus:|