By Erik Whittington
As personhood advocates, it is critically important that we use the correct terminology to describe preborn babies, their mothers, the very act of abortion and even the facilities in which abortions are committed. It doesn’t matter if you are a full time pro-life advocate or a “normal” person who works, goes to school, takes care of your family, etc. We must all watch what we say in daily life—even in casual conversation.
So, the words we use are very powerful and can make the difference between life and death. You might be surprised to realize that even we pro-lifers often use terms and phrases that can be dehumanizing to the very people we are trying to save. That can cause confusion and can hamper our efforts to obtain recognition of the human rights of all human persons. As we educate the public and advocate for the rights of all human persons, born and preborn, we must seriously examine the language we use and make some changes, if necessary.
With that in mind, I am going to share with you this short list of terms and phrases that we should drop from our pro-life vocabulary:
1. Fetus, embryo—These terms are generally used by abortion supporters, but I also notice pro-lifers using these terms often. Fetus and embryo are actually terms referring to stages of development. Their use begs the question, which animal species, during its embryonic or fetal development, are you referring to? For human beings, embryo describes human development from the very beginning of a human being’s life through their eighth week of development. Fetus describes a human being’s biological development from the beginning of their ninth week of development until birth. We should replace these terms with “human embryo,” “human fetus” or “human being during their embryonic (or fetal) development.”
2. Fertilized egg—This is a dehumanizing term used as a form of pro-abortion propaganda. It is not a legitimate term, since it isn’t scientifically accurate. Women don’t carry eggs; they have oocytes. Upon first contact of a human sperm and a human oocyte, a newly created human person now exists who is in his/her first embryonic stage of development. This term has become popular with abortion advocates these days, in response to the state personhood initiatives cropping up around the country. We need to correct this whenever we see or hear it. Use correct terminology in its place, such as “human embryo.”
3. Mistake, accident, unwanted, unplanned— These terms have very negative connotations and are very demeaning, especially for the child who happens to overhear some mention of the circumstances in which he or she came into being. Every child is wanted by someone and no one is an accident. God creates every single person with a special purpose in life. A positive-sounding term such as “surprise” should be used instead of terms or phrases that imply that God’s creation of a baby is an unfortunate event.
4. Pro-choice—This term was developed by a marketing firm employed by the abortion lobby before abortion became decriminalized on January 22, 1973. It has been and still is a very effective term, but is very misleading. It begs the question, what is the choice? The child has no choice when threatened with an abortionist’s suction device, knives and forceps. Replace this term with “pro-abortion” or “abortion advocate.”
5. Pregnant woman—This term takes the child out of the equation and can make pregnancy sound like a disease. Abortion is often referred to as “terminating a pregnancy.” Instead, use terms such as “mother,” “pregnant mom” or “expectant mother.”
6. Health clinic/abortion clinic—“Health” gives the impression that health is being restored to an individual. Similarly, “clinic” normally denotes a respectable, morally legitimate health care facility. Abortion is murder, not health care, so we should not dignify it with such terms. Replace such terms with “abortion business,” “abortion mill,” “abortion facility,” “abortion center” and so forth.
7. The abortion issue—Taxes are an issue. Paying for education is an issue. Abortion is not an issue; it’s a tragedy. Abortion is a violent crime that kills a human person and leaves his/her mother scarred for life. You can also replace issue with terms such as “question,” “matter,” etc.
8. It—A baby boy or baby girl is not an it. Yet that is how many of us refer to children in utero or even at the moment of their birth. I hear this so often: “It’s a (boy/girl)!” Instead, say, “He is a boy” or “She is a girl” or “My/our/their/his/her/the baby is a (boy/girl).”
9. I’m going to be a ___!—This phrase usually ends with “mother,” “father,” “grandparent,” “aunt,” “uncle,” etc., But it’s inaccurate and dehumanizes the baby, because actually, it’s a done deal! The person speaking is already a mother (or father, grandparent, etc.). If you catch someone (or yourself) saying this, quickly correct it by reminding them (or yourself) that the child already exists, so they (or you) are already a mother (or father, grandparent, etc.).
This is in no way an exhaustive list. It has been compiled to get you thinking and to start a conversation that will hopefully result in pro-life advocates being more effective in changing minds and hearts, which will eventually result in legal recognition of human personhood for all, born and preborn. Let me know what you think!
Erik Whittington is director of Rock for Life, a project of American Life League. RFL is a network of bands, musicians, artists (over 800!) and their fans, who use their talents to provide life-affirming solutions to counter assaults on the right to life. RFL works to educate, activate, mobilize and unite pro-life youth to fight against the attacks made against the most innocent of all human beings. This commentary was originally published as a Rock for Life blog on November 4, 2009.