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A note on terminology in abortion debates

I’ve noticed a consistent pattern from both sides of the abortion debate in the specific terminology chosen to refer to the target of the abortion:

  • Those in the pro-abortion camp invariably refer to it as a “fetus”.
  • Those in the anti-abortion camp invariably refer to it as a “baby”, or sometimes “child”, often with “unborn” tacked in front.

This actually exposes the fundamental disagreement at the root of the abortion debate: one side doesn’t think of them as human. (Or at least, tries not to.)

Abortion supporters will go out of their way to correct people: “we don’t abort a baby, we abort a fetus.” This is a clear attempt to dehumanize the baby/fetus; everyone would feel bad about killing a baby, but “fetus” is a dry clinical term that doesn’t usually conjure up people’s protective instincts. It’s the only way they can win, because those protective instincts are really strong. Humans as a whole are hardwired to go to virtually any length to protect our offspring.

Abortion opponents use the opposite tactic: we do our absolute best to humanize the baby/fetus. After all, nobody would kill a baby.

It’s pretty obvious which side of this I’m on, but I thought this observation on terminology might be interesting to people.

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When does abortion become murder?

I almost always see pro-abortion arguments framed in terms of the rights and desires of the mother. The argument is essentially that a woman should be allowed to have an abortion because it’s her body and she should have exclusive control over her body.

But at what point during pregnancy does a baby get its own rights? (And is the baby actually part of her body?)

Washington state law on abortion allows a woman to have an abortion at any time in her pregnancy before the fetus is deemed “viable”.  This is the definition of “viability” provided in the statute:

“Viability” means the point in the pregnancy when, in the judgment of the physician on the particular facts of the case before such physician, there is a reasonable likelihood of the fetus’s sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.

Unfortunately, “extraordinary medical measures” are not defined in the statute.

So if a 38-week pregnant mother is told that her child will need to be in intensive care for several months after birth, and will require several expensive surgeries, but the mother can’t afford to pay for it, she could claim those are “extraordinary measures” and therefore an abortion at 38 weeks might very well be legal in her case.

Now, what if that very same woman is attacked, and that causes the baby to die. Should the attacker be charged with murdering the baby? What if the mother was on her way to the abortion clinic, to kill that very same baby? Should we just charge him with assaulting the mother and leave it at that? At what point in a pregnancy does a baby change such that a murder charge would be appropriate?

At what point during pregnancy does a baby deserve the protection extended to all already-born humans?

I read a New York Times op-ed earlier today that had some interesting things to say. In particular, the authors give several examples of women who were unjustly imprisoned or apparently unjustly charged with fetal homicide or attempted fetal homicide. Other examples involve women being forced either by doctors or by a judge to undergo a cesarean in an attempt to save the baby.

Some of these stories clearly involve some injustice being inflicted on the women involved, but some of the examples ring hollow to me.  Let’s look at one of them:

A 22-year-old in South Carolina who was eight months pregnant attempted suicide by jumping out a window. She survived despite suffering severe injuries. Because she lost the pregnancy, she was arrested and jailed for the crime of homicide by child abuse.

If she had waited until ten minutes after giving birth to jump out of the window with the baby in her arms, nobody on either side of the abortion issue would have thought it strange to charge her with murdering her child, regardless of whether she was suffering from depression. Depression is serious – I take anti-depressants myself – but depression does not excuse a person from responsibility for their actions.

There seems to be no evidence that the woman would have been legally allowed to have an abortion, so why are the authors of this op-ed horrified that this woman was charged with murdering the baby? The last line of the op-ed makes the reason clear:

We should be able to work across the spectrum of opinion about abortion to unite in the defense of one basic principle: at no point in her pregnancy should a woman lose her civil and human rights.

They believe a mother’s rights, wishes, and desires always trump the rights of the baby, even in cases where abortion would not be legal anyway. Therefore, the woman should be allowed to kill her nearly-to-term baby without consequences.

Yes, a mother has rights. But a mother also has responsibilities. That is why a mother would be rightly charged with murder if her actions caused the death of her 1-month-old baby: specifically, her rights, wishes, and desires don’t trump those of her children. Having a child imposes restrictions on what the parents are allowed to do. Abortion supporters would have us believe that that responsibility begins once the child is born. I would say, instead, that that responsibility begins with the decision to have sex.

My question for anyone who agrees with the op-ed is this:

Why should a mother be charged with murder for killing her child ten minutes after birth, but should be left alone if she kills her otherwise healthy child four weeks earlier? Eight weeks earlier? Twenty? Laws aside, at what moment should it become immoral to kill an unborn baby?

Here’s the deal, America: either we value the lives of our children, or we don’t. We can’t have it both ways.

Edit: also see my note on terminology in abortion debates.

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People will do it anyway, so let’s make it legal

A few minutes ago, I read a comment that said, “a woman who wants to abort a child will find a way even if it’s in back alleys.” She didn’t outright say it, but she seemed to be arguing that it’s not worth going to the effort of making abortion illegal, because people will do it anyway, and we should instead “educate, prophesize and love those who are in a situation of having to choose abortion or not.”

This logic strikes me as, well, not logical. A man who wants to murder his neighbor will find a way, even if it’s in back alleys, but surely we shouldn’t make that legal! Granted, she is not arguing for making something legal, simply for *not* making something *illegal*, but I think that’s a distinction without a difference.


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Time for a rename

Well, I finally got tired of the weird looks people have been giving me for the last few years when I tell them my email address or website URL.  For now I’m going with, and we’ll see in a few weeks whether I like this or if I want to try or  Of course, I still own, and all the old URLs still work, so it’s not a one-way street if I get crazy and decide to go back…

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Sex and violence

I mentioned on Twitter a few hours ago that I can’t rely on movie ratings anymore, because I don’t really mind violence in movies, but I want to avoid sexual content. The response was, “that doesn’t seem backwards to you?”


There were two parts to the question; I answered the first half by linking to the post I wrote in January about how I think movie ratings aren’t granular enough. However, I didn’t answer the second half of his question: doesn’t it seem backward that I mind sex but not violence? After all, as he pointed out elsewhere in that twitter conversation:

Most of my sexual memories are fond ones. None of my violent memories are. That should be the ideal.

I almost replied with “well it’s because of my religion”, but the more I thought about it the less I liked that answer. I don’t know if it’s because I felt like it dismissed the question, or because I felt like it wasn’t a real reason (or not enough of a reason). I ended up writing the following post as a way to explore my own thoughts on the subject, and figure how to articulate why I feel the way I do.

I want to mention up front that I don’t think anyone else is wrong for feeling different than me; I’m just exploring my own mind here.


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