The power of words
Fascinating things, words. Amazing things. They allow us to reveal the otherwise unknowable proceedings of our minds to the minds of others, and they to us. What a lonely, frustrating world it would be if thinking beings should have no means to communicate what was taking place between their ears.
Words are potent things, too, almost magical in their power. By their wizardry we are capable of not only revealing the secret world of our thoughts, but also of molding the thoughts of others. This power can be used for good or ill: to enlighten and instruct, or to confuse and mislead, and the latter never more frequently than in political discourse.
It is a sad fact that politicians often use high-sounding terms to mask the true intent of their aims. Take, as an example, the many euphemisms that are used to justify the killing of children while still in their mother’s womb. The most ridiculous of these—but then again one of the most effective—is “Pro-Choice.” Who in their right mind would be against choice, against freedom? A woman should have the right to do with her body whatever she wants, right?
Well, in a word, no. No one, male or female, has an unrestricted right to use his body however he pleases. As the saying goes, “You have a right to move your fist; but that right ends precisely where my nose begins.” No one has a right to use his body in such a way as to harm his neighbor.
To claim a right to abortion under the term “Pro-Choice” makes no more sense than under that same term to claim a right to rape or murder or steal. Who would be impressed if a rapist should attempt to justify himself by saying, “I was only exercising my right to choose”? The morality, indeed the legality, of a choice depends upon the object chosen.
In this case, everything hinges on what it is that is chosen to be aborted. Here, too, we find euphemisms galore designed to mislead the unwary and/or soothe the conscience of the guilty. The child in the womb is sometimes referred to as the product of conception, a mass of cells, pregnancy tissue, or uterine contents. These nondescript terms make abortion sound like a morally neutral procedure. Having a mass of cells removed doesn't sound any different than having an appendectomy.
Even the technically more accurate terms used by doctors and scientists—zygote, embryo, and fetus—can be misleading. Most people don’t assign different names for the various stages of an unborn child’s development. They just think of the child in the womb as a baby. And so the use of these less familiar and more clinical-sounding terms has a tendency to depersonalize the child. And sometimes these terms are used with just this intention.
In reality, zygote, embryo, and fetus are simply names for human beings in various stages of development, as are infant, toddler, adolescent, adult, and senior. It makes no more sense to say that abortion should be legal because it’s simply the disposing of a fetus, than it does to say killing a teenager is okay because it is only the disposing of an adolescent.
It is helpful to have terms to specify various stages of human development. The important thing to remember is that regardless of the stage, a human being is created in the image of God and has a right to life that cannot be denied, unless he has forfeited the right by committing a crime worthy of death.
Several years ago I listened to a physician testify in a congressional hearing on abortion. I was stunned to hear him refer to the unborn child as a parasite. This moves well beyond attempting to present abortion as a morally neutral procedure. It presents it as a positive moral good. A leech is a parasite, so too are tapeworms and ticks and fleas. No one wants to be afflicted with parasites. The thing to do is to get rid of them.
The thing to remember is that he who defines the terms of the debate wins. This is why we must never tire of (1) insisting that correct terms be used, and (2) pointing out how the terminology of our opponents obfuscates the issue.