I’m pleased to publish this guest post by Samuel D. James. You can learn more about him in his bio at the end of this post.

George Orwell once said that if it’s possible for bad thinking to corrupt language, it’s also possible for bad language to corrupt thinking. Orwell wasn’t talking about the American abortion lobby, but he might as well have been.

It doesn’t take much effort to see. Abortion-on-demand advocacy has enjoyed a steady stream of philological victories since Roe v Wade speciously classified fetal death as a “right to privacy.” Catchphrases like “reproductive freedom” and “safe, legal, and rare” have (mostly) served their intended purpose: To cast the moral question of abortion as an issue of common liberty vs oppressive ideology. 

But euphemism cuts both ways. For some members of the abortion lobby, the abundance of the heart has poured forth a little too revealingly.

Consider first this article, written by Hannah Smothers and published in Cosmopolitan. The article concerns itself with “dismal numbers” from the state of Texas. You’d be forgiven for assuming “dismal numbers” mentioned here are in reference to poverty statistics, or violent crime, or evangelicals who support Donald Trump. You’d be mistaken.

They’re a reference to babies. Not the number of babies who haven’t been born due to declining fertility, mind you, nor the number of babies born with disease. No, the “dismal numbers” of Ms. Smothers’ article are the numbers of babies who have been born in Texas since the state moved to defund Planned Parenthood.

In other words, the “dismal numbers” are people. 

I doubt any politician could get the American electorate behind a platform of controlling the “dismal numbers” people who exist. But before we get carried away in our criticism, it would only be fair to consider that Ms. Smothers may only be picking up the talking points that have been set down for her already by the pro-choice lobby.

There are the comments of Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards, in response to the same data. “This new research shows the devastating consequences for women when politicians block access to care at Planned Parenthood,” Richards proclaimed. “Devastating consequences” sounds frightening enough, but in reality, it’s just a shorthand for “more people.” What exactly is the moral defense for this kind of talk? Would the response of culture makers to this lingo be different if, say, the “devastating consequences” were not babies in general but, say, minority babies in particular?

And there’s NARAL’s Super Bowl Twitter-rant. The abortion group apparently took umbrage with the Doritos company for broadcasting an ad in which an unborn infant—depicted on sonogram—craves her dad’s bag of snacks. “#NotBuyingIt,” the abortion group intoned, chastising Doritos for “using antichoice [sic] tactic of humanizing  fetuses & sexist tropes of dads as clueless & moms as uptight.” NARAL sadly did not explain how an inhuman fetus could have clueless dads or uptight moms, but the rhetorical gist of the Tweet was clear enough: Unborn people are not people at all, and not even a comedic, apolitical  (but to the impure all things are impure) Super Bowl commercial should dare suggest otherwise.

You see the pattern? “Dismal numbers,” “devastating consequences,” “humanizing a fetus.” This is the vocabulary of a culture of death. This is the lexical currency for a human economy of convenience, utility, and materialism, not of inherent human dignity or inalienable human rights.

It’s precisely this ethos that was seeping through every frame of that Planned Parenthood video expose. Most of us, if we’re being honest, would admit that what made our skin crawl and our stomach drop was not the idea of money being made, nor of business deals between abortion clinics and medical researchers. True, such a human piracy operation is contemptible on every level. But the monetary side of David Daleiden’s expose was ethereal, more suggested than actual. It felt evil but hypothetical.

What wasn’t hypothetical was the vicious emotional disregard for human life. The “tissue harvesters” regarded their human petri dishes with icy stoicism. Words like “baby” were devoid of any warmth, life or even meaning; thus, we get the sight of an expert harvester using forceps to evaluate a tiny hand, or sift through an assortment of severed anatomy and say, almost sarcastically, “Yeah, it’s a boy.”

This kind of denial of humanity right in front of our eyes is jarring, but it’s not novel. “No one is well served,” popular feminist writer Amanda Marcotte recently wrote, “when children with disabilities are forced on families that know they don’t have the emotional or financial resources to help them.” The phrase “children with disabilities are forced on families” isn’t an argument for choice, it’s an argument against disabled children.

What’s happening for the abortion lobby is that its political myths are falling apart. “Safe, legal, and rare” was a carefully crafted slogan, built to elicit both protective instincts from activists and empathy from those unsure about it all. But a fault line ran through the very heart of this kind of rhetoric: If abortion should be legal and safe, why should we want it to be rare? It sounded as if abortion were being compared to alcoholism and divorce—regrettable ailments of a society that nonetheless cannot be legislated out of it.

But this “lesser of two evils” ethic is not what the architects of legal abortion had in mind. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, certainly had more ambitious aims for her legacy when she said that her followers were “seeking to assist the race toward the elimination of the unfit.” More recently, abortion activists like Katha Pollitt are acknowledging this, and calling their peers to drop a hypocritical façade of regret and proclaim that abortion is a “positive social good.”

Pro-life individuals should hope that Mrs. Pollitt’s challenge falls on listening ears. Turning the abortion debate away from the caricatures of years past—religious ideology vs. liberty—is something that will, I believe, bear out in favor of pro-life. What the abortion debate in the US needs is a moment of moral and philosophical nakedness, where the transcendent claims of Sanger and NARAL are contrasted to those of Genesis 2 and William Wilberforce.

This will take us beyond undercover video stings and graphic photographs of dismembered infants. Remember that many of Wilberforce’s gentry who wretched at the odor aboard the slave ships couldn’t carry the stench with them into the voting session. The pro-life movement must do more than shock, it must captivate.

The most salient political question for pro-life is often whether Roe v. Wade will ever be overturned, but this is not necessarily the most important question. The death of Antonin Scalia probably has ensured the survival of Roe v. Wade at least for another generation. But this isn’t the same as saying that abortion law in the country will be left unbothered. It won’t be, if for no other reason than the collapse of pro-choice’s pretenses is the collapse of its most important asset.

“Jargon, not argument,” said Screwtape to Wormwood, “is your best tool in keeping the patient away from the Enemy.” As goes the jargon, so goes the demon.

Samuel D. James serves in the office of the President at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Read his personal blog and follow him on Twitter.

Feature image via: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dreamsjung/6143376184

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Posted by Samuel James

Samuel D. James is associate acquisitions editor for Crossway Books.