Fetus vs. Baby
 
Fetus vs. Baby
Written By Ecce Verum   |   02.23.23
Reading Time: 4 minutes

If anything G. K. Chesterton wrote is worth quoting once, it’s worth quoting twice. In our recent discussion about the theological and political significance of words, I quoted Chesterton as saying thus:

The next generation of culture warriors hope to make a difference and they are an answer to our prayers. We hope to encourage and mentor these young contributors so they can take the baton from us in the future. God’s gift of liberty and self-government must be fought for and protected. The fundamental principles of faith, virtue, marriage and family must be upheld and taught. Please pray for these bold young culture warriors and extend to them some grace as they hone their skills.
The next generation of culture warriors hope to make a difference and they are an answer to our prayers. We hope to encourage and mentor these young contributors so they can take the baton from us in the future. God’s gift of liberty and self-government must be fought for and protected. The fundamental principles of faith, virtue, marriage and family must be upheld and taught. Please pray for these bold young culture warriors and extend to them some grace as they hone their skills.

“If you’re not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about? Are you
going to convey your meaning to me by moving your ears? The Church and the heresies
always used to fight about words, because they are the only thing worth fighting about.”

And as we’ve seen in the world of academia, the Left has recognized that words are the battleground of the mind and advanced into the fray with weapons swinging. Journalism is not far behind.

The Associated Press Stylebook, a preeminent reference guide for English grammar and journalistic principles and style—used by both educators and journalists—has chosen some eyebrow-raising guidelines for how reporters ought to address the topic of abortion in their reports. These guidelines show us, on a much more subtle level, how fiddling with words is fiddling with minds. Let’s look at one specific example in detail: the difference between “unborn baby” and “fetus.” (While this article won’t be using direct quotes from the AP Stylebook, the full text of the abortion topical guide can be accessed here.)

When referring to a baby before he is born, reporters are warned that terms such as “fetus” or “unborn baby” have been politicized by both sides of the issue (pro-life advocates argue that “fetus” devalues a human life, and pro-abortion-access advocates argue that “unborn child” equates abortion with murder). Therefore, the AP counsels us, we are to write with appropriate clarity and sensitivity. But the AP then provides a little more detail about what “appropriate” means.

“Fetus” is preferred in many instances (especially in scientific and medical contexts) when we are discussing a baby after 10 weeks of the mother’s pregnancy. “Embryo” is the appropriate term for a baby up to 10 weeks of the mother’s pregnancy. So when are we allowed to use “unborn baby?” Ahh, that’s a term that we to be used when “fetus” would seem too clinical for the context. E.g., “Sarah loved her unborn fetus more than anyone else in the world” sounds quite weird. So while the AP doesn’t explicitly say so, the examples they provide us seem to indicate what they think is “appropriate:” use the more clinical terms “fetus” and “embryo” in most cases, except for when they sound too clinical for the context, such as a mother loving her unborn baby. Saying “fetus” in such contexts doesn’t evoke the proper emotional reaction.

Yet that’s the whole point! The reason pro-life advocates insist on using the term “murder of an unborn baby” is precisely because saying “demise of a fetus” sounds too clinical! It doesn’t evoke the proper emotional reaction. Think of the difference between saying “the underdeveloped hominoid life form was severed with a sharp dividing instrument” and saying “the little girl was beheaded with an axe.” The more clinical our language, the less we feel natural emotional responses, which is why the abortion industry insists on “terminating pregnancies” instead of “dismembering unborn babies.”

The AP is onto the right principle: we ought to use “unborn baby” when omitting to do so wouldn’t evoke the right emotional response. However, the AP isn’t applying this principle evenly—they recognize the beauty of maternal affection but not the horror of abortion. By writing a topical guide that suggests we use “embryo” and “fetus” as our default terms when writing about abortion, they are suggesting we “clinicalize” a topic that is anything but clinical.

The AP also presents a few other eyebrow-raising guidelines, such as:

• Use “anti-abortion” instead of “pro-life,”
• Use “abortion-rights” instead of “pro-choice,” and
• Use “anti-abortion counseling center” instead of “crisis pregnancy center.”

Yet again, we have stumbled onto the vocabular battlefield and found pairs of competing words fighting over the same subject. And yet again, the difference lies not in the subject we are referring to (we’re talking about the same clinics and procedures either way); the difference lies in the connotations we pin onto it. We might be tempted to give way and just use the politically correct vocabulary, consoling ourselves in our heart of hearts that “we’re referring to the same thing either way,” but we’re not using the same connotations either way. And thus, in the end, we really aren’t meaning the same thing either way.

“Happy holidays” technically refers to the same time of year as does “Merry Christmas”—but removes Christ from the picture. “Transgender” technically refers to the same condition as the phrase “someone who is confused about their sex”—but acquiesces to the lie that sex is mutable. And “termination of a fetus” technically refers to the same procedure as “murder of an unborn baby”—but implies nothing more than a clinical separation of cells, rather than the horrific death by dismemberment or poisoning it really is. Just like “happy holidays” allows us to talk about Christmas without mentioning Christ, this connotation swap allows us to talk about murder without mentioning its horror. It further cements the idea that abortion is benign, first into our vocabularies, and then into our minds. When a whole generation can grow up talking about Christmas without thinking about Christ, or talking about abortion without thinking about murder, the vocabular battle will finally have been won.

And that world will be a scary place.


 

Ecce Verum
Ecce Verum is passionate about the gospel of Jesus Christ and how God’s redemptive work relates to every aspect of life. His earnest desire is to steward well the resources and abilities that God has given him, in whatever situation God may have him. Currently, Ecce is pursuing a B.A. in classical liberal arts at New Saint Andrews College, with the intention to enter law school after graduation and fight for the truth in the legal and political fields. However, he does enjoy aptly written words regardless of the topic, and has contributed to blogs on apologetics and debate in...
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