This month abortion advocates were dismayed when North Carolina House Bill 465 narrowly passed— a bill which mandates a 72 hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. Included in the bill’s language is the allowance for the state’s medical students to not be forced to learn or observe how to perform an abortion. The protests have been thundering through the online world and a disturbing trend of the Pro-Choice lobby is made more clear than ever.
There is, and always has been, an arrogant attempt to try and control the language in how abortion is discussed; this technique has been sharpened to a finely executed point ever since the grim judgement of Roe vs. Wade in 1973. We’ve always known this about abortion supporters: they have to use euphemisms like “reproductive rights”, “fetal tissue”, “women’s healthcare” and “pregnancy termination” in order to make the horror of abortion palatable to modern ears and to disguise the very real acts of violence committed against babies. And while this is disturbing and damaging in and of itself, there’s not a whole lot of confrontation happening about these terms. By and large, we let it slide. We let them frame the debate and we concede their assumption of the academic high ground, out of silence, if nothing else.
In all the media articles written in defense of the poor med students, language is used and biases assumed that reduce the law to “draconian” or “ignorance.” They say we are just trying to interject politics into medicine, an accusation that makes them the benevolent, intelligent ones and pro-lifers just a bunch of unenlightened bigots. And they know that this is exactly the image that repulses American values. The public is actually generally opposed to the abortion procedure. But when pro-lifers get put into the box of trampling on personal freedom and withholding “rights”: the public’s Revolutionary blood starts to stir and suddenly we are angry with anyone who’d dare to ‘tread on ‘me’. This is the way abortion groups have painted the picture; they know which buttons to push and which words to use to rally the public against us. We hicks are just denying these poor students of a high quality education and forcing “less intelligent” [sic] doctors through the system. I have to hand it to them. We all do. The abortion rights lobby is brilliantly shrewd. They have mastered the language. They have bought and paid for the words they need to create what they see as the academically iron-clad, savvy argument that considers all opponents to be nothing more than mosquitoes to brush off. And we have let them do this. We will protest and cry out for justice and pray for the babies. But we aren’t doing enough to call out the lie. Consider this quote from a senior editor at New Republic from the first article cited above:
“The anti-choice platform survives by propagating one fundamentally flawed truth above all: Conservative politicians know more about medicine than doctors do, because God. That is an explanation that relies upon the ignorance of the persuaded and coerced.”
And this is not uncommon. We are written off as ignorant or spine-less and little is done to confront the lies of the abortion movement.
This is partially why the name of the Anti-Choice Project is distinctive from other excellent and well-meaning pro-life groups: they are taking the language often used against us, and owning it. It’s an interesting tactic really, one that forces a communication confrontation—The Anti-Choice Project name elicits a startled response from people who might wonder who in the world could possibly be proud to be ‘anti-choice’… and then they pause to think, or to ask what that means. The group is forcing the public to consider the message. Words matter. In our fight against this culture of death, I think we would do well to spend a little more time insisting on proper communication or devising ways to at least clarify the conversation.
Another example: I think it’d be brilliantly helpful to stop batting the term “women’s health” back and forth in the political arena. Reject that! Force people to say the words they mean! It makes it too easy for the public: who could possibly be against women’s health after all?! Who doesn’t want there to be access to maternity care and mammograms?! Instead, we have to isolate the term abortion out of the cushy, padded walls provided by the house of “women’s health” and focus with a precise and laser-accurate intention on the words we need to advance the cause for freedom and justice for all. Otherwise we are disregarded as heartless.
I know it feels like there is plenty of ‘communication’ happening in the abortion debate— you can hardly turn on the TV or browse the internet without there being a wide range of news on laws being passed or ‘rights’ being trampled. But in reality, there is very little communication actually happening because the information we receive is so filled with deliberate inaccuracies, omissions, equivocations and downright lies. Philosopher Josef Pieper says that a lie is the opposite of communication: “It means specifically to withhold the other’s share and portion of reality, to prevent his participation in reality. And so: corruption of the relationship to reality, and corruption of communication.” (Pieper: Abuse of Language—Abuse of Power)
There can’t be a normal, respectful discussion on abortion if we do not share the same reality. In some ways, it should come as no surprise to us that we feel like we are shouting into the wind. More often than not, abortion opponents and advocates are not living in the same world. In this world, language has shaped our thought. And while the term “pro-life” has a nice zest to it, that alone won’t be enough. We have to directly stop and confront the way our opponents have used “verbal artistry” to shape the debate. The Anti-Choice Project is just the start of it.