Spend any time talking to defenders of abortion, and pretty soon you’ll notice that more than a few words seem to suddenly change meanings. No, you’re not going crazy; pro-aborts simply find that some … creative …tweaking of the English language is necessary to make their logic work.
Fortunately, we’re here to help. Armed with this guide to Team Abortion’s most common linguistic fictions, you can spend less of your next rhetorical excursion deciphering sophistry, and more time dismantling it. Here we focus on redefinitions surrounding the debate’s basic medical facts; Part 2 will set them straight on ethical terminology.
Human/Human Being—An organism is “a living being,” an “individual constituted to carry on the activities of life by means of organs separate in function but mutually dependent,” and a human or human being is simply an organism that belongs to the human species, Homo sapiens.
The average dictionary admits as much; Merriam-Webster defines a zygote as “the developing individual produced from” the “cell formed by the union of two gametes,” an embryo as a “developing human individual,” and a fetus as “a developing human.” But don’t take my word for it; take that of Princeton bioethics professor Peter Singer, a radical abortion proponent who is notorious in part because he so zealously defends the killing without playing rhetorical games. He says:
It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’. Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.
Abortion defenders routinely deny this by adding various qualifiers to the term, such as dependence/viability, consciousness, pain sensitivity, outward appearance, developmental level, or ability. But “human being’s” definition isn’t contingent on any of them. If even a pro-choicer as zealous as Singer can be honest about this, what excuse do his fellow travelers have?
Alive—Those qualifiers are also frequently cited to deny that an embryo is truly alive. But as Josh Brahm notes, “biologists generally agree that when an organism grows through cellular reproduction, metabolizes food into energy, and reacts to stimuli, it’s biologically alive.” (James Agresti elaborates on how embryos meet all those criteria here.) That’s all it takes to qualify. Nor are they only alive in the sense that your arm or a skin cell is “alive,” i.e., consisting of organic matter. Those are merely the parts that comprise organisms, whereas embryos are full organisms. And when is an organism not alive? Scott Klusendorf explains:
A brain-dead person is in fact dead, meaning he’s suffered (and this is key) an irreversible loss of all coordinated bodily function, including brain function. His bodily systems no longer work together in an integrated manner the way they do in living organisms. The embryo is nothing like the brain-dead person because the embryo, unlike you and I, does not need a brain to live. For the embryo, something else coordinates the bodily systems so that it functions as a coordinated whole.
Baby/Child—We’re constantly told “baby” can only refer to born infants because it’s an informal “term of endearment” rather than a precise medical term. But a quick glance at a real dictionary—which simply defines a baby as a “very young child,” “very young animal,” or “the youngest member of a group”—again debunks their semantic games. Besides, “baby” isn’t the most technical medical term after birth, either. That would be “neonate.” If calling the unborn “babies” is good enough for the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, Johns Hopkins, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, then it’s certainly good enough for pro-lifers.
Similarly vapid are common one-liners such as “No children are involved in abortion” and “All children ever have already been born.” But unfortunately for them, Merriam-Webster’s definition does indeed apply to “an unborn or recently born person.”
Person—While most of us use “person” and “human” interchangeably, pro-aborts argue the two are different—sometimes even mutually exclusive. While there are serious logical and philosophical problemswith that dichotomy, there’s also a much simpler reason to reject it—Merriam Webster treats “person” and “human being” as synonyms.
Pregnancy—In an effort to sow confusion and ambiguity about the abortifacient capacity of certain birth control methods, pro-aborts have taken to arguing that “pregnant” only means carrying an embryo that has successfully implanted in the uterus, and that therefore anything that prevents implantation merely “prevents pregnancy” instead of “causes an abortion.” Leaving aside the fact that this doesn’t change the key issue (whether the embryo dies as a result), they’re short on substance here too.
James Agresti quotes five medical texts declaring that pregnancy begins with fertilization, Merriam-Webster simply defines pregnancy as “the condition of a woman or female animal that is going to have a baby or babies,” and 2011 survey of over a thousand OB/GYNs found 57% agreeing that pregnancy begins at conception, while only 28% said implantation—making pro-aborts’ lectures on “medical facts” little more than wishful thinking.
Parasite—Popular among the angriest pro-aborts, this noxious talking point soars past minimization like “clump of cells” and into outright demonization, casting unborn children as verminous enemies of their own mothers. But biologically, parasitism occurs between “two species of plants or animals in which one benefits at the expense of the other.”
Pregnancy differs in multiple ways. Mother and child are the same species. The former created the “parasite.” The fetus is not a foreign invader but the natural result of the “host’s” own biological processes working correctly. While parasites graft themselves into biological systems designed for one, fetuses merely inhabit the “homes” their mothers’ own biology makes for them. And perhaps most strikingly, the numerous medical benefits pregnancy gives the mother, including decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, fetal stem cells that heal illness and injuries years after birth.
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Click here for Part 2, and please feel free to suggest in the comments additional words or phases you’ve noticed are in desperate need of rescuing. (Updated10/2/14)