Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Use Your Words

I don't consider myself to be a particularly good writer or blogger, as far as creativity or humor are concerned. I blame it, in part, on my legal training, and on my insistence on a certain level of precision in the language I use.

So it's with much eye-rolling and fist pounding and general frustration that I watch those people and groups who support legal abortion try to label themselves. In a piece on Salon.com today, Lynn Harris asks whether "pro-freedom" should replace the long-(mis)used "pro-choice" in the abortion debates. She theorizes that legalized abortion proponents are losing ground largely because those of us who oppose abortion have long described our position as "pro-life," and she laments her side's inability to come up with a way to be pro-some term that will trump "life."

I'm disgusted on two levels. First, I think it's condescending to assert that the American public is becoming increasingly pro-life because our side chose the better label. It reminds me of Barack Obama's claim that Americans would support his health care reform proposal if only he explained it better, not if he changed it to address their legitimate concerns. It presumes that people are stupid and just need better convincing.

More Americans are opposing abortion, perhaps, because babies born at 24 weeks gestation are surviving, pushing earlier and earlier the time when legal abortion advocates can claim that a baby isn't really a baby. (Earlier this year David, Nate, and I attended a fourth birthday party for a little girl born at 23 weeks, 6 days.) Perhaps the views that early and 3-D ultrasounds are giving us of the tiniest humans are proving to more people that an unborn child truly is a child, and not just some collection of cells. Perhaps it's that more and more of us were born after 1973's Roe v. Wade decision, and we realize it's only by the grace of God and our mothers' "choices" that we were even born at all. (Thanks, Mom!) Who knows? But I don't think it's because people like the word "life" more than they like the word "choice."

Second, though, if we're going to make this about language, I think it's completely disingenuous to try to make the abortion debate about anything other than abortion. Abortion is an ugly word and an ugly procedure, and its proponents know that as long as we're talking about what's really at issue, they'll come out on the bottom.

This isn't a discussion about "choice." I make a hundred little choices every day, and I make huge, life-changing choices now and then, and you know what? Not one single choice I've ever made has been about whether or not to have an abortion.

This isn't about "freedom" or "liberty." A liberal acquaintance once asked me how it is that in so many cases, conservatives are advocating limited government, less interference with personal freedom, but when it comes to abortion, we want the government to step in with restrictions and prohibitions. The fact that he even had to ask demonstrates how completely those who support and oppose legal abortion are talking past one another. The simple fact is that my freedom, my liberty stops where another person's begins. Those of us who oppose abortion recognize that there are two people involved in a pregnancy, and my freedom can't come at the cost of killing another innocent person. My acquaintance simply didn't see the second person, or didn't value him enough to offer him any measure of protection.

This isn't even about "reproductive rights." As a Catholic, I oppose the use of contraception, but I'm not asking the government to step in and ban its sale or use. I oppose the use of reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization, donor egg and sperm, and surrogacy, but I'm not calling for their prohibition. (Although because IVF leads, in many instances, to the destruction of "excess" embryos, I'd love to see some limitations imposed on the number of embryos that clinics can create in a given cycle, and I'd like parents who undergo IVF to transfer back, over time, all of their embryos.) I oppose sterilization, but I'm not asking Congress to ban vasectomies and tubal ligations.

This is about one thing, and one thing only: Whether the government can ban killing an unborn human being where the killing isn't necessary to save the life of or legitimately protect the physical health of the mother. It's about elective abortion, that word the "pro-choicers" or "pro-freedomers" or whatever other nonsensical moniker they come up with next-ers don't want to use.

I won't insist on being called pro-life; I'll proudly embrace the term anti-abortion. Because you know what? I'm opposed to abortion. (The term "anti-choice," however, is both inaccurate and just plain stupid.) Can those who want abortion on demand to remain legal--for any reason or no reason at all--be as intellectually honest in their terminology? Can they call themselves "pro-legal abortion"? "Pro-abortion on demand"? I won't even insist that they call themselves simply "pro-abortion," in deference to those folks who claim that they are "personally opposed" to abortion, but don't want to see it outlawed. (A claim that makes me roll my eyes; how can someone truly oppose killing innocent people and not want the government to step in to protect those innocent people?)

Heck, I'd even take "pro-abortion rights" at this point. I know the term makes some people's skin crawl, because it seems to concede that there actually is a constitutional right to an abortion. I'd consider it a victory, though, just to get abortion advocates to use a term that was on point.

What's it going to be, friends? I'm pro-life. I'm anti-abortion. What are you?


Miriel said...

Aaand she hits it out of the park, ladies and gentlemen. Great point, brilliantly expressed. Thanks, Lauren.

Stacey said...

Well-said Lauren! And you are a great writer...

Arwen said...

I love you, Lauren.

This is a side of you we rarely see online - and I'm so glad you wrote this piece. We need more clear, forceful thinking like this on the Internet. Thanks for writing it!

Also, Stacey is right. Don't sell yourself short! I think you are a great writer. It's not just the cute pictures of Nate that keep people coming back to your blog.

Branwen said...

Lauren, you bring wonderful clarity to a topic that greatly needs it! Love this post.

infertility just sucks said...

My thoughts about abortion have been rapidly evolving and changing over the past 4 years and I can't say with any certainty WHERE I am at this point but it's something that I think about a lot, which is weird, since it's not something that exactly crosses my path very often in real life.

I don't know what to call myself, but I loved this post. I wish abortion was part of the national conversation again, becuase I think it is important. At this point, it feels like the nation has come to an involuntary impasse of "agree to disagree" because of tired-head on the tropic and accepting Roe V Wade (since it's the law and all) and I'm not sure that's quite correct.

This is so weird, because I have a draft on this topic that I've been sitting on for a full 8 months and just maybe I'll finally post it now because of you. MAYBE.

(This is A'Dell, by the way. HI!)