War of words and ‘a certain procedure’
After years of using the term “fetal heartbeat,” the New York Times has decided to expand its abortion debate vocabulary to include the current politically correct term “embryonic pulsing.” NYT writer Alan Blinder introduced the new euphemism in response to the flurry of pro-life “heartbeat bills” recently passed in states like Missouri, Louisiana and our own Mississippi. If you’ve had your head in the sand, let me catch you up: Heartbeat bills are designed to protect babies in the womb at the time a heartbeat can be detected. That’s usually around six weeks gestation.
Here’s part of what Blinder (it’s his name — really) wrote concerning Louisiana’s new law: “The measure would require an ultrasound test for any woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy, and forbid abortion if the test detects embryonic pulsing — which can occur before many women know they are pregnant.”
Embryonic pulsing. Sounds like some sort of punk rock group from my high school years. But really, the linguistical charade begs the question: Who’s really heartless in this matter?
The New York Times isn’t alone in its attempt to put abortion in a more humane light. The media seems to be in full attack mode in the war to woo the American public with words. Don’t believe me? Check out these rules in the style guide given to talking heads at NPR (as in National Public Radio, the media outlet your taxes support.)
“One thing to keep in mind about this law and others like it: Proponents refer to it as a ‘fetal heartbeat’ law. That is their term … As we’ve reported, heartbeat activity can be detected ‘about six weeks into a pregnancy.’ That’s at least a few weeks before an embryo is a fetus.”
They continue to mince words in an attempt to disguise the barbaric:
“Partial birth is not a medical term and has no exact parallel in medical terminology; intact dilation and extraction is the closest description.”
Oh, and they can’t stand it when pro-lifers refer to “late term abortions.”
“It conveys the sense that the fetus is viable when the abortion is performed. It gives the impression that the abortion takes place in the eighth or ninth month. In fact, the procedure called intact dilation and extraction is performed most often in the fifth or sixth month … As an alternative, call it a certain procedure performed after the first trimester of pregnancy …”
NPR doesn’t use the terms “abortion clinics” or “abortion doctors.” Instead, they prefer “medical or health clinics that perform abortions” and “a doctor who operates a clinic where abortions are performed.”
I should note here that I’m a regular contributor to a new organization that doesn’t use those terms either. In their case the thinking is different, though. They won’t join “abortion” with the words “clinic” and “doctor” because the latter ones represent those involved in the life-sustaining business, not the opposite.
But back to NPR. In case any of their journalists were still confused, they brought in a specialist to speak to the issue of unborn victims of violence (a pregnant woman is injured) versus plain old abortion:
“The term ‘unborn’ implies that there is a baby inside a pregnant woman, not a fetus. Babies are not babies until they are born. They’re fetuses. Incorrectly calling a fetus a ‘baby’ or ‘the unborn’ is part of the strategy used by antiabortion groups to shift language/legality/public opinion … The most neutral language to refer to the death of a fetus during a crime is ‘fetal homicide.’”
But NPR isn’t a lone wolf in these coverage mandates. Here’s an example from the Associated Press style guide: Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice. Avoid abortionist, which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions.
Hmmmm. Any of you C.S. Lewis fans reminded of Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood?
Well, writers can finagle and tweak and try to soften all they want, but in the end, one thing’s for sure, and those wise enough to read between the lines know it. Changing words will never change the truth. Abortion is murder.
Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.