The battle over human dignity is waged not just at the local abortion clinic or crisis pregnancy center, nor merely in the halls of Congress or the Supreme Court. It is also carried out in our choice of words.
The war on the sanctity of human life relies on bullets of deception and warheads of untruth — in short, on what George Orwell called “political language,” which he said “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Those who support the legal killing of unborn human beings in the womb have used political language for decades, cloaking their morally indefensible position in innocuous-sounding terms such as “choice” and “women’s health” — hoping the rest of us will forget about the status and rights of the other person directly affected in the abortion transaction — namely the fetus.
For any who express the slightest qualms about the unborn, these political language manipulators are quick to deny the humanity or personhood of the fetus, calling it a “lump of tissue,” a “product of conception,” or even a “potential person”! Thus, by their choice of vocabulary, they attempt to subvert thought and the normal human compassion we would feel for the 50 million defenseless human beings legally aborted — make that snuffed out — in their mothers’ wombs since Roe v. Wade in 1973.
But it’s hard to keep up the verbal sleight of hand all the time. A case in point is the considerable elation over the news that Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, is carrying a child. That’s right, a child, not a “product of conception”!
We are told that her “baby” will be third in line to the throne, behind only Prince William and Prince Charles. I’m not the only one to have noticed the unusual descriptions of the royal baby in the press.
One bemused observer is a British blogger who goes by the tongue-in-cheek pseudonym “Archbishop Cranmer,” referencing the 16th-century Protestant divine who was executed during the reign of Queen Mary on the charge of heresy.
Noting the excitement in British society about the child who is “destined to ascend the throne,” the modern “Archbishop Cranmer” points out the slip of so many tongues. “Surely such ‘pro-choice’ newspapers and journals (and people) should be talking about a bunch of pluripotent stem cells, an embryo or a foetus?” he asks. “For reports suggest that the Duchess is still in her first trimester, so this is not yet a baby; and certainly nothing with any kind of destiny. At this stage, surely, it is a non-person, just like the other 201,931 non-persons who last year were evacuated from wombs in England, Scotland and Wales.”
The Brits are clearly — and rightly — treating the royal baby not as a clump of cells to be disposed of for any reason but as fully human, as a person. Yes, friends, the language we use matters. Is the life in the womb a “product of conception” or a person, maybe even a prince in waiting?
Philosopher Peter Kreeft says that the “personhood of the fetus is clearly the crucial issue for abortion, for if the fetus is not a person, abortion is not the deliberate killing of an innocent person.” Kreeft adds, “Persons have a ‘right to life’ but non-persons (e.g., cells, tissues, organs, and animals) do not.”
Friends, our greatest weapon in the defense of human dignity is not bombs or bullets but the truth. Let’s wield it. For as Orwell also said, “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: December 18, 2012