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The Power of Language

Andrew C. Thomas

With the incoming shift in the balance of power in this nation’s Capitol, many pertinent political issues will be placed on a legislative conveyor belt and processed by the sausage factory that is the 108th Congress. An effort that is currently being motivated by pro-life activists is the prohibition of Dilation and Extraction, the most humane method of third-trimester abortions that is currently available to medicine.

The procedure also goes by the name “partial-birth abortion,” a non-medical term introduced by pro-life parties in an attempt to discourage its application. And discourage it has done. At least 30 states have banned the procedure after considering it tantamount to infanticide.

The procedure is as follows: the cervix is partially dilated through medication. The fetus then travels down the birth canal, but the head is still too large to pass through. The termination itself is achieved when the doctor makes an incision to the cranium and removes the brain matter. At this point, the aborted fetus is then removed. The woman makes a slow recovery after the operation itself.

So, those of you who label yourselves pro-choice, don’t kid yourselves. This procedure and its consequences are dire, and it is tantamount to taking a life.

However, nothing is absolute in this world. Even if we realize the fact that this procedure is hardly pleasant, there are certainly worse things that could happen if nothing is done.

Here’s one example. Suppose that unless the procedure is performed, the mother and baby could both die in childbirth. There could be several reasons for this, though likely ones could include an illness that the mother has contracted during the pregnancy, or the fact that the child is not expected to survive, and the miscarriage could itself result in serious damage. In this case, it seems clear that ending one life to save another in this situation is, at least, mathematically preferable. In essence, if you wish to think of a fetus as a distinct form of life, the procedure is in fact a form of euthanasia.

But back to black and white. For some, the term “partial-birth abortion” is not extreme enough to describe the procedure, and others will frequently describe it as point-blank infanticide. This is a position I agree with, but if applied with strong ethical fortitude, I argue that we as a society are in fact committing justifiable infanticide. Yes, the term is appalling, but this is likely due to the power of words.

George Carlin has pointed out on many occasions that our thoughts are controlled by our language. In fact, both sides of this debate have used their own rhetoric to control the thoughts of their audience. Those who call themselves “pro-choice” label their opposition as “anti-abortion,” and “pro-lifers” refer to the other side as “pro-abortion.” Ironically, both groups cut past the other’s self-labelling with one cut, but then proceed to pile on the bullshit. In a two-sided debate, discrediting your opposition by any means necessary is often more effective than presenting your own valid platform.

Now, there is one thing that both sides of the debate agree on -- that the number of unwanted pregnancies should be profoundly reduced. Is it therefore possible for this debate to reach bipartisanship? A lot of mud has been slung along the way, so I wouldn’t expect either side to trust the other. Both have been willing to manipulate the debate with their clever use of language, and both seem to prefer the black-and-white terms of the conflict.

As a point of advancement, I would recommend that both sides focus their efforts much more on their common goals, not on antagonizing each other further. Both sides can make a profound difference by changing their focus from what a woman can or cannot do, into what people everywhere can do to achieve their common goals.