A large number of people do not understand how phrasing, word choice and rhetoric affect the thought process of those discussing abortion. The amount of rhetoric in this debate can be mind boggling. Both sides have a whole different set of vocabulary that frames their views. Many times this can lead to people talking past each other completely because they have not agreed on how they define the terms that they use.
This can be quite counter-productive for abortion discussion and dialogue.
What Pro-Choice People Say
With the caveat that not all pro-choice people are the same and that they do not all have bad motives, here are some ways that rhetoric is employed by the pro-choice movement.
In the media you will be hard pressed to find a source that uses the name that pro-lifers use for themselves. Rather than calling them pro-life they will refer to them as “anti-abortion” or “abortion foes.” Pro-lifers are rarely referred to in a positive light in pro-choice rhetoric. It’s always the negative form.
As a side note, who uses the term ‘foe’ these days? Seriously… For how many other issues is one side of the debate referred to as a foe? We haven’t found any, but if you do please comment below!
The bottom line is no one wants to be ‘anti’ or a ‘foe’ and so this subconsciously biases readers a certain way.
Of course many people accuse pro-lifers of only being anti-abortion. And frankly, in some cases, that’s probably true. But if you really know the movement at all you would recognize that the vast majority of active pro-lifers are just that. Pro-Life.
The worst rhetorical maneuver used by the pro-choice movement is to dehumanize and denigrate the life of the fetus and pregnancy.
For example, the pro-choice side often refers to pregnancy as a condition, while the pro-life life side views it as a natural process. Referring to a pregnancy as a condition removes the idea of it being long-term or natural. Instead it’s seen as a problem that can be taken care of with a medical procedure.
Most people are also familiar with the dehumanizing language used to refer to the preborn human. Clump of cells, tissue, product of conception, etc. These are all ways of talking about a human being in order to dehumanize and completely remove the humanity of the fetal human growing in the womb.
We could go on and on about ways that abortion is nomalized through language.
What Pro-Life People Say
A key strategy of the pro-life movement is to humanize the child. For example, a common term used by pro-lifers is the word preborn. It is used because it emphasizes the ongoing development of the fetus in the womb. It shows that there is a process, which involves a natural progression from when the baby lives inside the womb to when the baby lives outside the womb.
The pro-life movement also refers to pregnant women as mothers. They describe them in this way to emphasize that the preborn child is, in fact, a child. A baby is not just an item that you should be able to throw away. The mother nurturing the preborn before birth is very similar to the nurturing of the baby following birth.
Pro-Lifers also make an effort to use the phrase “committing an abortion”, rather than performing an abortion when talking about abortionists. This reveals that instead of being a simple procedure that will enable a woman to carry on with her life, it is a permanent, serious action that could lead to lifelong suffering and can never be undone.
Referring to a baby in the womb as a fetus is perfectly fine with most pro-lifers, because that is the proper medical term. What a person should be aware of is what words they use when referring to the sex of the fetus. When someone does not know the sex of a fetus, they often refer to is as an “it.” Instead, one should refer to a fetus as him or her; essentially recognizing his or her humanity.
Rhetoric is very important when talking about abortion. Using different terms can result in a very different message.