Aborting the English language

I guess it had to happen one day that I finally wrote on the issue of abortion. In every emotional political debate (where the wise will tiptoe the tightrope of neutrality) there will always be both intellectuals and idiots on both sides of the issue. The problem with abortion is that there will never be a political solution, compromise, or capitulation. This is because both sides of the fight use different definitions and adhere to different absolutes in dealing with the subject. The very nature of the disagreement includes intolerance to the opposing side, and soon the slogans begin flying on the wind that's as empty as the message.

The only thing that both sides will agree on is that it's justifiable to abort the English language when presenting a particular position.

Abortion, by definition, is either the spontaneous expulsion of a fetus, as in miscarriage, or the deliberate interruption of a pregnancy and removal of a fetus, as in an elective abortion. Miscarriages occur in 20% or more conceptions, and most occur before 12 weeks. Elective abortion can be performed through the second trimester (up to 24 weeks), and in the case of endangerment to the mother it can even be done later. In the issue of what's right or wrong, what should be a person's choice, and when life begins, there is considerable overlap in the positions, which is why a tidy dividing line cannot be drawn between the pro-choice (pro-abortion) and pro-life (anti-abortion) factions. Unfortunately, persons begin to play with language to move this line in the direction that suits their position.

Pro-Choice And Pro-Life

Just using the terms pro-choice and pro-life are equally surreptitious cop-outs.

For instance, when I introduce my oldest son to someone, I don't say, "May I introduce my oldest choice." I don't say, "I have one choice going off to college, another choice in high school, and two choices still in grade school." The reasons my children are children is because they were wanted, because that seems to be the difference between a baby that is born and one that is aborted.

A fetus is not a baby until it is wanted. Until then, it is a choice.

There's something about all of this linguistic card-shuffling that seems to come up with less than 52 cards. If a woman is on her way to an abortion clinic and a drunk driver hits her, causing her to miscarry, he can be charged with manslaughter. According to the pro-choice faction, that miscarried baby was still her choice until she had had the abortion. But the law sees the fetus as an unborn baby until that choice is made. Yet it's the law that also allows her to choose to abort her unborn baby, seeing it, in that case, as a choice. Depending on the situation, which may include the same baby in each, the law sees the fetus as a baby which deserves compensation in one instance, and as a choice, which deserves nothing in the other instance. When it comes to abortion, the contradictions abound.

Pro-life persuasions are equally confusing.

The State of Louisiana, legislatively declaring its moral opposition to abortion, tries time and time again to outlaw it, championing the right of the unborn baby. Except of course if it's a pregnancy from a rape or incest. Herein is another contradiction. To champion the unborn baby, one must take the position that it's not fair for someone else to decide whether that baby lives or dies; this constitutes a "feto-centric" position. Yet in cases of rape or incest, it is surprisingly fair for someone else to decide on abortion, even though the unborn baby has nothing to do with the rape or incest. Yet because the rape or incest has everything to do with the baby, legislators find this reasoning completely reversible–the cart and the horse are completely interchangeable.

Years ago the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), officially taking a pro-choice stance, yanked their income-generating convention from New Orleans when the Louisiana legislature passed the anti-abortion bills. This distinguished organization felt it was unethical to deny a woman a right to decide matters concerning her own body. It's position was emphatic–it not only canceled its convention, but would never return to New Orleans, or anywhere in Louisiana, until this law was rescinded. Yet ACOG saw no problem in Louisiana removing a law it felt morally compelled to enact so that money could be made from convention business. In other words, it would be unconscionable for Louisiana to commit the unethical crime of taking away a woman's right to decide, but ACOG saw no problem in blackmailing a legislature into voting against its own moral fiber. The unethical practice of blackmail, especially in forcing someone to do what they didn't think was right, was not a problem to ACOG because it would be a Louisiana problem. But isn't that what their beef with the Louisiana law was? A law that forced women to suffer a denial of what they thought was right? To me, I see no difference in ACOG's forcing Louisiana to do something against its will and Louisiana forcing women to accept something against their will. This whole business really gets nasty the more one looks into the philosophical implications of the whole abortion issue.

This great battle of linguistics involves some pretty amazing rationalizations, depending on which side one takes. If it truly is wrong to stop life, then why do the stereotypical conservatives and liberals contradict themselves regarding abortion when compared with capital punishment. Conservatives are traditionally against abortion, but see no problem in capital punishment. They are quick to say that the fetus, however, didn't murder anyone; but this really isn't good enough. They are taking a position that they have no right to stop a process that is a person; but when a person has done something bad enough, suddenly they become qualified to make this decision.

On the other hand, liberals traditionally accept abortion but decry capital punishment. It has always seemed to me that we should either be qualified to take life or unqualified to take life. Yet people who take such a consistent position on both abortion and capital punishment are in the minority. Dr. Kevorkian's attorney argued that it's ludicrous for abortion of the unheard fetus to be acceptable while out-lawing euthanasia requested by reasoning, thinking, people who want the same right to choose for themselves.

And at what point does the armor of choice begin to get a few dings in it? Soon there may be a maternal blood test in which parents can determine the sex of their child. Is aborting a girl because you want a boy O.K.? Is choice acceptable under all circumstances?

Regardless of one's definition of when life begins, it is definite that a pregnancy is interrupted with abortion. Herein lies a another fundamental controversy.

When Does Life Begin?

One thing the courts cannot decide upon is this sensitive issue.

As mentioned above, it ends up depending on whether a baby is wanted or not. In today's world, being wanted is when life begins. Purists then wonder whether this may apply one day to those already born. Certainly it applies to those on death row. Purists hope they will always be wanted.

RU-486, the abortion pill, was expected to privatize a woman's choice in abortion. Here was a medication which could be offered from her doctor, and the results could be handled by him or her as well, preventing the invasion of privacy that pro-life groups use to great advantage in picket lines, "chains of life, " etc. But RU-486 didn't turn out to be as easy as expected. It turns out that this procedure still involved several visits to the doctor and no guarantee that a surgical abortion would be averted anyway. Emphasis has instead focused on the "morning-after" pill.

In today's world of remedies for almost anything, you can take a little pill to prevent pregnancy, much like you can take a little pill to prevent gonorrhea. Once again word choice plays a major role in euphemising the situation. Gynetics, the company which makes the morning-after pill, PREVEN, states its mission as "the developing and marketing of unique pharmaceutical products and medical devices that will advance the healthcare of women." Dr. James Knill, the medical director, sends e-mail to gynecologists stating that PREVEN is "emergency contraception," and "acts before pregnancy begins." He goes on to state that "fertilization is not pregnancy" and "medical experts agree that pregnancy starts at implantation."

But the word contraception means anti-conception, so emergency contraception is misleading. The information being disseminated at Planned Parenthood, ObGyn offices, emergency rooms, and sex chats on M-TV is that the morning-after pill is not, they emphasize, an abortion pill. Right out of their mouths come phrases that imply PREVEN will not cause an abortion. This is because the phrasing is carefully worded. Yes, it will prevent a pregnancy by either preventing an ovulation or by making the lining of the uterus (womb) so unstable that a fertilized egg cannot implant successfully. If you press the question, the truth is that this rhetoric is based on the assumption that life begins at implantation and on the certainty that this is accepted by anyone who knows such things. (Remember, "medical experts agree that pregnancy starts at implantation.")

This disclosure does two things:

It is dishonest by exclusion–those not savvy enough to question further will be in violation of their own morality if they feel life begins at conception and they then use this drug; secondly,

It is a presumption that is a self-appointed dogma–certainly anyone who's anyone knows that life begins at implantation, they say, right?

This is like the DeBeers people declaring, as if it's intuitively obvious, that an engagement ring should cost two months' salary. Of course it should, right?

Let's not forget the pro-life side, who can be just as confusing as the pro-choice faction. Contraception gets muddled with abortion and then God is thrown in, too. It is just as presumptuous to declare one's own interpretation of God's law as the only true way as it is for declaring that pregnancy must begin at implantation.

But in this country there is freedom of religion, so you can't use theology to defend your political position. On the other hand, the pro-choice side finds it absolutely impossible to believe that you can intellectually come up with a position against abortion. They will lump all pro-life supporters as Bible-thumping idiots just as fast as the pro-lifers will label the pro-choice supporters as self-indulgent murderers of convenience.

Yes, it really might be time to admit that there is no political solution in the abortion debate because of the nature of the disagreement. It is also time to recognize the fallacies of euphemisms and double-talk from both sides so blindly dedicated to their particular positions that the only thing that can be agreed upon is that it's O.K. to abort the English language.

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