Monday, 5 December 2011

The Rhetoric of Abortion (v)

My more regular readers (or reader) will have noticed a pattern on this blog. Frequently I start a post, or series of posts, in one direction, and get distracted and end up digressing all over the place.

As on the blog, so in my life...

However, every now and then, I do try to return to my original intentions, so here is part 5 of my occasional series on the Rhetoric of Abortion.

And here is a fine example I came across on Mumsnet: And an aborted foetus is not a casualty. Because it's not a person. Because if it was a person, than its rights would conflict with those of the person carrying it. And so it's not a person until it leaves the woman's body.

I have to admit to being impressed by the elegance of the circular logic employed here. But the bit I want to focus on is that word foetus.

On the Mumsnet pages about dos and don'ts in pregnancy, you read early on: remember that unborn babies are remarkably tenacious. And so it goes on throughout the page. From the moment of conception, right through pregnancy, the (wanted) child is referred to as an unborn baby. Yet on the page debating abortion, it is suddenly a foetus, or an embryo.

This is not unique to Mumsnet, of course. The National Health Service plays the same trick: on the pregnancy advice pages, we read:

there are some foods you shouldn't eat during pregnancy because they could:
  • cause food poisoning, or
  • harm your unborn baby
Yet strangely, when we look at the abortion advice pages, we find:

Vacuum aspiration, or suction termination, is a procedure that uses gentle suction to remove the foetus from the womb.

Note not only the change from unborn baby to foetus, but also from 'your' to 'the.'

What is going on here? In both popular discourse (Mumsnet) and professionally written medical advice (NHS) the way something is described is conditioned entirely according to our intentions towards it.

If we seek to nurture it and look after it, it is your unborn baby. If we seek to kill it, it is the foetus.

How can the status of another life be defined by our attitudes towards it?

People get annoyed when one draws parallels between abortion and the Holocaust or slavery: yet here the parallel is very clear: we deny the humanity of the one we seek to oppress.

When challenged, pro-abortion advocates are quick to point out that embryo and foetus are the correct medical terms for the different stages of development; as indeed they are.

But we don't normally insist on the correct medical terms unless we have a reason to do so. We rarely talk about our cranium; or describe a pain in our abdomen. Head and stomach are the normal modes of discourse. So clearly, something is going on.

And my contention is that it is exactly analagous to the mother being shown an ultrasound of her baby (when it is wanted, and therefore a baby) but not of her foetus (when the intention is to kills it.)

It is what George Orwell so clearly articulated as double-think: the capacity to believe two contradictory things at the same time - and not notice that one is doing so. And that is the necessary piece on mental gymnastics that the medical profession has to perform, day after day: which is why I think that abortion is so profoundly damaging to the profession, as well as to everyone else involved.

So when you hear people talking about an embryo or a foetus, consider stopping the conversation in its tracks and insisting that this point is at least considered. After all, what are they afraid of: seeing the humanity of the unborn child on the ultrasound?...


blondpidge said...

You ought to join Mumsnet under a pseudonymn. Larks aplenty, I can tell you.

Just wait til you get to the outrage about Easter. How dare these teachers spoil the festival of bunnies, chicks & chocolate with frightening, gory & horrific tales of crucifixion!

Larks aplenty I can assure you. ;-)

Ben Trovato said...

Thanks for the idea, but I think I waste enough time online already... And I'm not sure I'm tough enough for Mumsnet.

Ttony said...

I haven't thought this through at all, but is there not mileage in recovering the word "foetus" to mean "conceived and growing but as yet unborn baby"? If we all started using the word with our meaning, it would fox them all!