During World War II, the Nazis referred to the Jews as “rats.” Amidst the Rwandan genocide of the mid 1990’s, the Hutus called the Tutsis “cockroaches.” Written into the US Constitution during the time of slavery, the Three-Fifths Compromise defined each black slave as three-fifths a human being, or put more succinctly, less than fully human.
The same thing has occurred in the modern abortion debate: a human life, a baby, is now unaffectionately referred to as a fetus, removing from it the human connotation and making it appear to be less than what it really is. When one defines their opponent in such a way as to make them appear to be an animal or sub-human, their eventual extermination becomes more palatable to the average person. (For more on this phenomenon read Less Than Human: Why we demean, enslave, and exterminate others by David Livingstone Smith). We see this same tactic used in much of what passes for political discourse these days. Demonize and dehumanize the object of your scorn and you subtly delegitimize their value.
Both sides struggle to frame the abortion debate in ways that make their own positions appear more acceptable. Is a person pro-choice or pro-abortion? Is another pro-life or anti-choice? No matter how one characterizes themselves or their opponents, we can never lose sight of the fact that at the very heart of the issue we are talking about life, not just a clump of developing cells akin to a growth or tumour. To define a baby in such a way is to make it’s termination and extraction seem far more remedial a procedure and far less distasteful to the average person. We are a culture where our personal comfort is the “value” we cherish most, while doing what may be difficult (raising a child of an unplanned pregnancy) proves to be too much of an inconvenience for many.
Words have powerful meanings. Those that have sought to exterminate their enemies in times past have known that and have defined them in ways that questioned their humanness. We must be just as strong in exposing this tactic and calling it what it is: evil. But that assumes one even has the categories of right and wrong, good and evil, in their vocabulary to begin with.
There is much more I will say on this subject over time, but for now I leave you with this:
How can we speak of the termination of a pregnancy when what we really mean is the destruction of a human life? How can we talk of therapeutic abortion when pregnancy is not a disease needing therapy and what abortion effects is not a cure but a killing? How can we talk of abortion as a kind of retroactive contraception when what it does is not prevent conception but destroy the conceptus? We need to have the courage to use accurate language. Abortion is feticide: the destruction of an unborn child. It is the shedding of innocent blood, and any society that can tolerate this, let alone legislate for it, has ceased to be civilized. -John Stott