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April 19, 2007
Plain Talk

It took the slimmest of Supreme Court margins to afford states the right to stop the practice of seizing the skull of a partially-born infant and either crushing or puncturing it. I used to think that people just didn't know, but when even The New York Times accurately describes the procedure, it's safe to say that people who don't know about this practice are willfully ignorant, and they probably prefer to keep it that way.

It's not clear that the latest ruling will reduce the rate of infanticide, despite the gnashing of teeth among pro-abortion spokesmen and corresponding celebration by anti-abortion spokesmen. Deprived of the relative convenience of murdering the infant outside the womb, abortionists will return to severing its limbs and head inside the womb.

Does the language offend? Shall I refer to that creature with eyelashes and grasping fingers and the capacity to feel the sun on his face, were he wanted, as a fetus? Shall I call the act of hacking him apart late-term intact dilation and extraction? I'm not one of those who indulges in the fantasy that every abortion-rights advocate is profoundly evil, but there is something distinctly wicked about this mangling of language, all in an effort to disguise precisely what goes on when a woman who believes she has no more options puts her feet in the stirrups.

I remember in The Silence of the Lambs, how the author has one of his characters inform us that the psychopathic killer needs to refer to his victim as it rather than you. Even the cold-blooded often need to dehumanize their victims before they can take to slaughtering them. Haven't we done the same, every one of us who indulges in the fiction that calling a baby by the Latin word for "young one" somehow makes it a bundle of tissue rather than a human being?

I believe there are noble and well-intentioned people on both sides of this war over abortion rights. Regardless of one's position, the very least we can do is be honest about what is taking place, not just on that bloody table, but in the lives of these women who have been driven to end a life. Pro-abortion advocates too often clinicalize and dehumanize the child to be murdered, and anti-abortion protestors too often dehumanize the woman who consents to the killing. Perhaps a little plainer talk, a little more honest talk, might do us all some good.

In that regard, I'm afraid, the Supreme Court decision may ultimately prove counter-productive. At least when blood was spilling directly from tiny skulls to linoleum floors, the crime was in plain sight. Now we have forced it back into the darkness of the womb, where the millions of us who are uncomfortable with abortion, but who also haven't the stomach for doing much about it, can rest easier at night. There will be no fewer killings, but at least we'll no longer have to hear the splatter.

Posted by Woodlief on April 19, 2007 at 08:00 AM


I agree; referring to the innocent as "pre-born" is far more humanizing and recognizing them as individuals-to-be. And while I appreciate your perspective that the decision is counter-productive, I think after all these years of losses that a small victory is better than nothing at all. At least a few victims are saved.

Horrible is the reaction of the "pro-choice" individuals like Harry Reid, who voted for the ban on this procedure, yet denounced the Supreme Court for not finding it unconstitutional. Unmitigated, galling hypocrisy.

Posted by: Michael at April 20, 2007 10:00 AM

Well, normally I agree with you, but this time I think you've got a bit of a double standard going here. You call for "a little plainer talk, a little more honest talk," but then you go for the emotionally charged "the child to be murdered." If you want plain and honest talk then don't interject your emotional/moral standings by introducing the legal term of murder when they are not doing anything illegal.

You're not being as impartial are as you are trying to seem.

Posted by: Joe at April 20, 2007 10:52 AM

Joe -

There was a letter to the editor in the NYT that read:

The bottom line is that Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision values the potential life of a fetus over that of a woman. This is a profoundly troubling fact.

My question to you and the writer is:

How far out of the woman's body does the potential human life need to be in order to call it murder?

Posted by: David Andersen at April 20, 2007 11:46 AM

And wasn't "murder" a moral term long before it was a legal term? Should Tony have used "exterminated" instead, perhaps? Would that have been less offensive? The fact is that the unborn child IS being murdered, whether or not the abortionist or even the mother acknowledges that fact.

Posted by: Julia at April 20, 2007 12:25 PM

I once got into a debate with a nurse who refused to call an unborn child or baby anything but fetus. I suppose that term makes it easier to accept excising a mass of unwanted cells, a clump of inconvenient growth.

Not that I'm trying to change the tone or anything, for a little more humorous attempt at defending the lives of the unborn, the Opinion Journal has a pretty good article from a woman taking a slightly different angle on the debate.

Posted by: Marc V at April 20, 2007 2:53 PM

My point was not whether or not this decision was right or wrong. My point was that Tony was requesting the pro-choice people use fair, unbiased, and honest language to describe things, and yet he is not willing to do that himself.

And to answer your question, it's not about whether the fetus/infant/child is inside or outside of the mother's body, it's about whether or not it's legal. Abortions are currently legal, therefore it's not murder. I'm not denying that it's not killing a living thing, but I thought this argument was about "plain talk." Claiming that something is murder when it is not, is not plain talk.

Posted by: Joe at April 20, 2007 2:56 PM

I disagree. By "plain talk," I mean to say what is true. The fact that governments from time to time legalize the taking of innocent life does not make it less than murder. Surely you can admit that the concept of "murder" is rooted in something deeper than current legislative (or judicial, in this case) fiat. The six million exterminated under Hitler were murdered, no?

We could descend into a philosophical debate about when murder is murder, or we could resort to plain talk, and call the purposeful crushing of an infant's head murder.

What's more, I don't see how telling the truth obligates one to engage in some sort of Point/Counterpoint monologue. I don't think it obligates one to be impartial. This is not a journalistic exercise any more than it is an exercise in sophistry. Many things are true that are absolutely abhorrent, and to call them less than such, for fear of "lacking objectivity," is to engage in exactly the prevarication that has defined the abortion debate from the beginning.

Posted by: Tony at April 20, 2007 3:19 PM

So it's OK for you to demand that they speak about things openly, honestly, and frankly, but you don't have to because you're "right?"

Clearly there is no longer any point in discussing this with you.

Posted by: Joe at April 20, 2007 3:39 PM

I'm hard pressed to see how you draw that conclusion from my comment. At what point have I been less than open, honest, or frank?

Posted by: Tony at April 20, 2007 3:56 PM

Joe, if you're going to hinge your entire definition of murder on only its legal sense, fine, we get your point, pedantic as it is. Legally, abortion is not murder, as defined by the law. But clearly there are those of us here who have a more expansive definition of the term and stating that is also plain honest talk. Call it what you want, ending the life of a child sticking part way out of the birth canal is something I'll call murder. What would you call it?

Posted by: David Andersen at April 20, 2007 4:52 PM

Good God, Tony. You do offend. Compliments on well employed shock value.

Still, your pitch for plain talk is more than called for. I'm not educated in politics, but I clearly see that clinical descriptions and scientific nomenclature in the wrong hands certainly perpetuate ignorance. And when human lives--no, CHILDREN'S lives--are the subject, this just amounts to something terrible and morally misshapen.

Posted by: Lincoln S. at May 7, 2007 11:51 AM

Powerful column and I agree about plain talk. A very good friend of the family was ultimately convinced of the pro life position because of the horrible pictures of abortion aftermath, plain talk in visual form. As a pro-lifer and life-long member of evangelical churches, I know plenty of pro-life folks who don't value the woman who "puts her feet in the stirrups." However, there are also those who very much value that woman and care about her. Crisis pregnancy centers and post abortion counseling are the domain of the pro-life. The very nature of the pro-choice argument puts these area off limits to that crowd. As a matter of fact, the right to choice has become so sacred, that the wellbeing of women is secondary to that right. So who values that woman more? Not to mention the very real but hidden economic side of the debate. Does an abortion doctor care more about his Mercedes or his patients?

Posted by: Brian Hulbert at June 23, 2007 4:55 PM

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