Loaded Terms: Pro-Life, Anti-Abortion, or just True Believers?

I recently read an amusing article about a LA Times editor who changed a review of an opera which included the sentence “an incomparably glorious and goofy pro-life paean” to read “an incomparably glorious and goofy anti-abortion paean.”

If you didn’t get it the first time around, it may be clearer if you see that the author meant “pro-life” in the sense of “life-affirming,” and that the opera actually had naught to do with abortion.

Someone responding to the report pointed out that he was an LA Times reporter, and understands that the error was made because of an LA Times style guide entry about abortion, reproduced below:


Those who favor maintaining legal access to abortion are abortion rights advocates, supporters of legal abortion or those who favor abortion rights. They should not be called abortion advocates or be characterized as being pro-abortion. Those opposed to abortion may be called opponents of abortion or abortion foes or may be characterized as being anti-abortion. Do not use the term pro-life.

Conservatives immediately lunged a response, claiming for example:

The ban of “pro-life” only makes ethical sense if its part of an even handed treatment of the abortion argument that includes a ban on the equally loaded and misrepresentative term “pro-choice”, for example phrasing the sides as pro- and anti-abortion. It’s very telling that the pro-abortion people are only characterized in positive terms (advocates, supporters, favor) while anti-abortion activists are entirely negative (oppponents, foes).

Here, the conservative missed the point. People who support the right to abortion aren’t “pro-abortion.” To be “pro-abortion” would mean you favor abortion over all other options–such that, for example, you think all pregnancies should end in abortion. Of course, pro-choice people are only focused on the right to abort–they don’t, for example, extol the virtues of aborting a fetus, but only want the option available. Pro-choice people support the right to choose whether to have an abortion, instead of being told one way or the other about it.

To put it another way, though one may support the right one has to murder another man in defense of one’s own life, one would be quite illspoken to call such a right “pro-murder.” The killing may be justified in this or that case, but there almost always exists the riskier and less convenient route, say, to capture the attacker, tie his hands behind his back, and bring him to the police. Likewise, abortion rights advocates believe that when a pregnancy is unwanted, one should not be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, since doing so forces risks and inconveniences upon the woman in question (such as, for example, complications during pregnancy, complications at delivery, being unable to perform in school or work during the ultimate months of the pregnancy, and having to care for a born human being after birth). If the woman was raped and seeks an abortion afterwards, things are even more complicated, as there may be serious psychological issues at play.

Ultimately, the pro-choice crowd sees this issue as a decision only that a woman and her doctor should be allowed to make–not lawmakers or priests or the Vatican. As I will argue in my future article evaluating the ethics surrounding abortion, the decision to abort a fetus who has the potential of becoming a full-grown human-being rests entirely with the creator, and, ironically, this view of the creator’s power over its creation is entirely consistent with Christian scripture (not that it has to be to be morally true, but this just happens to be a nice and elegant if-I-may-say-so-myself consequence of the ethical analysis).

On the other hand, anti-abortion is a completely proper term for the conservative crowd, because they think abortion should not be allowed in any instance (in other words, women shouldn’t be give the choice of abortion), so not only don’t they support the right to have an abortion, but they equate abortion with a kind of murder, and are therefore almost unequivocally against it.

The reason “pro-life,” as a term, is so grossly distorted, is that it equates a love of innocent life with being against a woman’s right to choose to abort a fetus which she created and about which there is no consensus whether it can be considered to be a “human life.” (The only consensus, lest you forget, is that the fetus has the potential at becoming a human life, but as I argued earlier in my blog, so too do my glances at a fertile woman.)

It also equates the morality of abortion with the morality of euthanasia, two issues that are so crazily opposed on the ethical analyst’s scale that it is strange to find them uttered in the same sentence. It also plays into the love that spiritual and religious people have of life, and tries to place them as diametrically opposed to people who are implied to be “anti-life,” or life haters. This is quite a distortion, and as a newspaper editor, I’d leave this term out of the debate as well.

The reason I, personally, am disgusted by the term “pro-life” is because of how inconsistent (and, sometimes even racist) the people who declare themselves pro-life tend to be. Now, here I am speaking in generalities, so please don’t take the following paragraph as the ultra-serious analysis you come to normally expect from me ;-). Coming from an Italian background, I think speaking in generalities is sometimes important, as often the “stereotypes” arise from somewhere.

There are many “pro-life” people who support the war in Iraq and our general military presence in the world, and there are many “pro-life” people who are very much against this war and all others. But just to point out the general moral inconsistency, I have to say that I find it quite laughable when a person claims he or she is “pro-life” but accepts as a consequence of our war in Iraq “collateral damage,” namely “innocent life lost as a means to an end.” I again am speaking in generalties, but I’m sure you can also find more than a few thousand “pro-life” people who believe we were justified in dropping the atom bombs on Japan (see earlier articles on my blog). The term pro-life only refers to fetuses and euthanasia because ultimately the issue is not at all about practical political or secular philosophical issues for these people. The issues revolve entirely around scripture, the Bible, and moral righteousness, seeing the people who ask for abortions as the same people who also do such evils as having sex for fun, smoking marijuana, and using swear-words.

When I analyze the issue of abortion from a philosophical standpoint (I am currently working on a WordPress draft that does just that), I leave miracles out of it. But these people can’t help but cite the scripture. It’s funny and sad that we see the same trend emerging as they aim to stamp out evolutionary theory, as well.

That said, as a newspaper editor I’d leave the term “intelligent design” out of the evolution debate, preferring instead to refer to those people as “people who believe that the only way to explain the natural diversity of this planet is to say that a higher being–call him “God”–designed each and every species on this planet, and on all the other planets in this universe that may have life forms. But those who support this view have no explanation for who created this higher being, or where he may have come from.”

As Bill Maher recently said in his wonderful New Rules from last show:

And the reason there is no real debate, is that intelligent design isn’t real science. It’s the equivalent of saying that the thermos keeps hot things hot and cold things cold… because it’s a god. It’s so willfully ignorant you might as well worship the U.S. Mail. It came again! Praise, Jesus!

No, stupidity isn’t a form of knowing things. Thunder is high pressure air meeting low pressure air. It’s not God bowling. “Babies come from storks” is not a competing school of thought. In medical school, we shouldn’t teach both. The media shouldn’t equate both. If Thomas Jefferson knew we were blurring the line this much between church and state, he would turn over in his slave.

Perhaps the grossest distortion of views ever engaged by the “pro-life” crowd was related to Terri Schiavo. I’m glad that even after that woman finally got to rest in peace, a Roman Catholic University will continue to mourn her death with a scholarship for priests in her name.

Right after my Mom had me, she had an aneurysm of her brain. The operation that had to be performed on her had a 30% chance of success, with a high chance of intense brain damage (leading to a vegetative state).

When my Dad found the doctor to perform the surgery, he spoke with him in confidence, and said to him something to the effect of, “My wife has told me she doesn’t want to end up a vegetable. Either she survives the operation, or she doesn’t–understand?”

My Mom survived the operation, thank goodness. But if the operation had failed, and my Mom would have been left there in a vegetative state, I would have thanked anyone who gave my father the right to end her life as someone who truly understands humanity, and the morality of life and death. Since then, my Mom has said the same thing to me. She was utterly disgusted by the Terri Schiavo case, and how so-called religious people’s could support keeping alive a woman who was clearly suffering so much, just to push forward their biological-life-obsessed agenda. But perhaps the concurrence between intelligent design theorists and “pro-life” people isn’t so far-fetched. After all, it’s quite hard to get so very excited about saving embryos, 1- or 3-month-old fetuses, or braindead human bodies, if you don’t believe that “God” had a hand in creating each of them, if you don’t believe that each of those configurations of cells are works of art from an Almighty Creator.

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