Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
The New York Times' jarring habit of employing the term, "fetus," to describe all pre-born children testifies to its ideological commitment to abortion-rights without restriction. Yet the Times, along with other news organizations, has reported on the "royal baby" throughout Kate's pregnancy.
Now, following the long-awaited arrival of George Alexanber Louis, Owen Strachan, a professor of theology and history at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, writes in The Atlantic about the media's practice of using the word "fetus"---except when it involves the royal baby---to withhold the rights that accompany full personhood from pre-born children. Strachan takes note of the profusion of headlines channelling public excitement about imminent arrival of the "royal baby."
Why was this noteworthy? Because this term, to get exegetical for a moment, was not used to describe the future state of the child—once born and outside of the womb, that is. No, the American media used this phrase “royal baby” to describe the pre-born infant. It’s not strange for leading pro-life thinkers likeEric Metaxas and Denny Burk to refer to a fetus as a “baby.” It's not strange, either, for people to refer to a child they're expecting as a "baby," regardless of where they stand on the issue of abortion. It is strange, though, for outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post and Boston Globe--which purport to be neutral on the issue--to use this seemingly explosive phrase without so much as a qualification. And why is this strange? Because it codes a pro-life position into their description of the unborn child.
He notes that media outlets, like the Times or the Washington Post, typically echo the language of various court decisions that have reaffirmed Roe, and use the term "fetus" to distinguish between unborn children and those who have safely made the transition from their mother's body.
Pre-born beings are to be called fetuses, and post-birth beings are to be called babies. Here’s the New York Times referring to aborted babies as fetuses in the Kermit Gosnell trial, for example; NPR follows the same logic, as does CNN. Fetuses, it seems, are essentially subhuman. Outside of the mainstream media, the rhetoric builds from this impersonal foundation. Not only are pre-born children subhuman; they are considered “clumps of cells,” in fact, or pre-human "seeds."...To kill them is not to kill a human, but something not-yet human.
Yet these same media outlets that reliably employ the term "fetus," consitently reported on Kate and William's "baby," well before George greeted the world. The anticeptic terms that dismiss the personhood of pre-born children were set aside. There were no headlines proclaiming
"Subhuman Royal Fetus Soon to Become Human!” No, over and over again, one after another, from the top of the media food chain to the bottom, Kate’s “fetus” was called, simply and pre-committedly, a baby. Why was this? Because, as I see it, the royal baby was a baby before birth. The media was right; gloriously, happily right.
All good points, but the writer, I think, could added another reason or two for the suspension of the politicized terminology. First, "royal babies" sell papers, and second, sentimentality has always been a part of the abortion-rights argument--sentimentality about feelings that ultimately result in death sentences for the unborn child.