Burning off the dross

Abortion Language – rights and responsibilities

By way of (Prolifer)ation’s on Jill Stanek’s blog, Big Blue Wave touched on how Reuters works to govern the abortion debate via their Handbook on Journalism:


Unless quoting someone, refer to aborted foetuses rather than unborn babies. Describe those campaigning for a woman’s right to have an abortion as abortion rights campaigners and those campaigning against abortion rights as anti-abortion campaigners. Terms such as pro-choice, pro-life and pro-abortion are open to dispute and should be avoided.

Neutral? Accurate? Or divisive? Christ makes an interesting statement in Matthew 12:30 when he confronted the Pharisees:

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.

Language is not neutral. Those at Reuters chose their language, as we all do. One cannot refer to one group as advocating rights without referring to those diametrically opposed to that position. And “anti” is almost always considered a negative. Absent such distinction, there is no news.

Two sides to love

Still, both sides trumpet rights, including Suzanne of Big Blue Wave, who describes pro-life efforts as advocating “fetal rights”.

Yet, framing the debate solely upon rights misses a very important point. In her comments at Jill’s, Christina Dunigan of RealChoice raises what is so often overlooked by both sides: parental responsibilities. We tend to think of rights as a passive, positive, valuable property, inherent in our being, while we consider responsibilities as negative onerous duties demanded by someone else.

Notice in Mt 12:30 the two parts of Jesus’ statement. Within the passage, the Pharisees right to be guardians of the faith requires them to uphold the faith by gathering more disciples, not dividing the house. One cannot receive the benefits of rights without being accountable for the responsibilities inherent in those rights. People forget that the Declaration of Independence is truly about securing the rights of all, by being responsible to each other. Like assets and liabilities, you cannot have rights without responsibilities.

But what responsibility does a news organization have regarding language? Reuters is far from neutral. Their highest priority regarding abortion is to immediately depersonalize it by using the word fetus – Latin for “offspring” – a child. Notice it’s past-tense, so their first focus is the aborted remains of a child. When viewing a photo of such remains, how would one naturally describe it using sixth grade language? If you weren’t told the age – would you really use the word “fetus” to describe a recognizably shredded baby? So the motive is deliberate depersonalization of a human being.

Owning language is not about self-identification. It’s being accountable to each other, in all aspects of our lives, including sexual outcomes. Human rights begins with a responsibility to all our children in the womb.

Now Reuters is nothing but a piece of paper in some government filing cabinet, a faceless, impersonal corporate entity. Would the human beings working for Reuters seriously object to being depersonalized? Or have they done so already by resorting to propaganda language on such an important issue instead of speaking plainly?

Always bring it back to what it means to be fully human, and never forget the responsibilities that come with the rights. No amount of depersonalization will ever change the human nature of the unborn child. And for those at Reuters, if you can’t own up to a responsible use of language in discussing this issue – then you have no right to call yourself the press.

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