Jewish World Review May 3, 2013/ 23 Iyar, 5773
The euphemism imperative
By Rich Lowry
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | President Barack Obama was proud to become the first sitting president to address Planned Parenthood last Friday. But not proud enough to utter the word “abortion.”
The right to abortion is the sneakiest, most shame-faced of all American rights. Its most devoted supporters don’t dare speak its name. They hide behind evasion and euphemism and cant.
So Obama sang a hymn of praise to Planned Parenthood at the organization’s annual conference without mentioning what makes it so distinctive and controversial. He said it is a group women “count on for so many important services.” He said its core principle is “that women should be allowed to make their own decisions about their own health.” He excoriated opponents involved “in an orchestrated and historic effort to roll back basic rights when it comes to women’s health.”
Listening to him, you could be forgiven for thinking that the country is riven by a fierce dispute over whether women should be allowed to choose their own ob-gyns or decide whether to take contraceptives or to get cancer screenings. One side is pro-women’s health, the other anti. In his speech, the president said the word “cancer” seven times. About that he is happy to be straightforward.
Imagine if he had been similarly frank about the rest of Planned Parenthood’s work: “In 2011, according to your annual report, your clinics or affiliates performed 330,000 abortions. That’s a lot of abortion. Over 10 years more than 3 million. Thank you, Planned Parenthood. Think of all those women who wanted to terminate their pregnancies and you were there for them. That’s what you do. That’s what you are about. And that’s what this country is about.”
Before that crowd, he might have gotten rousing applause, but talking in such honest terms would have been a gross faux pas. Planned Parenthood’s image is dependent on averting eyes from its central purpose. According to a poll commissioned by the National Right to Life Committee, fifty-five percent of people don’t realize that Planned Parenthood performs abortions. In the past, Obama has said Planned Parenthood does mammograms, when it doesn’t.
The unwritten rule is that when the left discusses abortion it is never called “abortion,” but always referred to as “health” or, more specifically “reproductive health” — although abortion is the opposite of reproduction and for one party involved, the opposite of health. The former National Abortion Rights Action League, and then the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, finally settled on the name NARAL Pro-Choice America, effacing all reference to the procedure that it holds in such high esteem.
This is a strange reticence. The National Rifle Association doesn’t get defensive when it is pointed out that it protects the right to bear arms which allows people to buy guns. Charlton Heston, in the famous photo-op, didn’t hesitate to lift a musket over his head. The organization isn’t about to remove the word “rifle” from its name. The NRA conducts courses on how to handle guns safely, but Wayne LaPierre doesn’t try to pass himself off as concerned only with “munitions safety.”
The trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell has been an exercise in stripping away euphemism. He is accused of murdering babies because he allegedly didn’t manage to kill them in the womb and had to finish the job outside the womb. His case is so discomfiting for liberals not only because it is such a stark picture of the seamy, money-grubbing side of abortion, but because it illustrates how slight the difference is between late-term abortion — or late-term “health” — and what nearly everyone recognizes as a crime.
Before it was shamed into covering the case largely by the work of journalists Kirsten Powers and Mollie Hemingway, the press ignored the case as an uninteresting disagreement between a doctor and prosecutors over a matter of reproductive health. Even when the media began to write about it, some outlets couldn’t quite face it.
In a story about the case, The New York Times referred to the newborns killed by Gosnell as “fetuses.” The definition of a fetus according to Merriam-Webster is “an unborn or unhatched vertebrate.” By definition, the newborns weren’t fetuses; they weren’t unborn. But the Times couldn’t bring itself to use the word “baby,” which has so many positive connotations and problematic implications.
This is the crux of the matter: If it is a baby outside the womb, why not inside the womb? If a procedure to end its life is wrong outside the womb, why isn’t it wrong inside the womb? Or conversely, if it is acceptable in the womb, why not outside?
Two “bio-ethicists” took the latter position in an article last year in the Journal of Medical Ethics aptly titled, “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?” So did Planned Parenthood official Alisa LaPolt Snow in recent legislative testimony in Florida in which she said even a baby surviving a late-term abortion should receive no medical care if his or her mother so chooses. And so did Barack Obama when he opposed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act in the Illinois state Legislature.
The essence of abortion is that there are two lives when you start and one when you finish. If it were your business to perform them and fight all restrictions on them, no matter how slight, you wouldn’t want to be forthright and honest about it, either.
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