I believe that language plays a huge role in the abortion debate. And while the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” have been analyzed to death (no pun intended) by countless authors, there are many words and phrases, used in everyday life, that affect our cause in more subtle ways. Many are unwittingly used by pro-life advocates who don’t realize how it undermines our message. Without further ado, I present my top life-related linguistic pet peeves.
“First days/weeks/months of life” (referring to newborns)
This one is pervasive, and I’ve heard it from awesome pro-life people who should know better. If a baby boy was born three weeks ago, he is not in the “first weeks” of life; he’s in about the 43rd week of life. The life of a human individual begins at fertilization, and those months in the womb should count.
Fortunately, there’s an easy fix. If you catch yourself about to say this, just change “of life” to “after birth.” Speaking about the first days, weeks, or months after birth is perfectly accurate, doesn’t sound weird, and doesn’t erase the prenatal period of life.
This phrase bothers me in a specific context: “It’s so brave of you to raise your rapist’s child.” Really? Did the rapist help change the child’s diapers? Sing the child to sleep? Take the child to soccer practice? Yes, of course the rapist is a biological father. But the child also has a mother, who is clearly the superior influence. The phrase “rapist’s child” is degrading.
We absolutely should honor women who choose life in the difficult situation of a pregnancy caused by rape. All I’m saying is that we need to do so in a way that does not suggest that the child “belongs” only to the scumbag rapist source of sperm.
“Expectant parent/going to be a parent”
This is a fine phrase for people who are trying to conceive or adopt. It is a very poor phrase for people who are pregnant or whose partner is pregnant. If life begins at fertilization, so does motherhood and fatherhood. This also applies to other family members; siblings are siblings at conception (no “You’re going to be a big brother,” tell him he IS a big brother); aunts and uncles are aunts and uncles at conception, and so on.
Got any more examples of inaccurate language that sabotages the pro-life message? Share them in the comments or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.