Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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Language is another casualty of abortion.
BY the Editors
Language is another
casualty of abortion.
Two letter writers this week ask
questions about the Register’s treatment of abortion in recent reports. In both
cases, the confusion arises because of our culture’s strange way of speaking
One letter writer takes exception
to the way the Register uses the term ”pro-abortion” instead of
“pro-choice.” The other questions our calling Pennsylvania Senate candidate
Robert Casey Jr., a Democrat, “nominally pro-life” but simply calling his
opponent Senator Rick Santorum “pro-life.”
It’s always difficult to separate
spin from reality in politics. In abortion, the problem goes much deeper.
In opinion polls, most Americans
say they are against most abortions. But America’s voters are basically
divided into three camps. The two smallest camps are the activists for whom
abortion is the major issue — those
who want to ban it on the one hand, or make it unrestricted on the other.
The rest are in the uncommitted
camp. They aren’t always sure what they think of abortion, but they know they
don’t like extremism. The trick for politicians is to signal to whichever
activist camp they want on their side without looking too extreme for the uncommitted
That’s how the terminology
“pro-choice” came to be. “Pro-choice” is meant to suggest that a politician
doesn’t really support abortion, but will leave the issue in the hands of
mothers and abortionists. But this linguistic trick wouldn’t work on almost any
If a city councilman said he was
“pro-choice” on whether or not people should be allowed to use fireworks when
and where they please, it would be clear to all that
he was “pro-fireworks.” Journalists would look into his relationship with the
If a state senator was
“pro-choice” as regards people’s right to do drugs in her state, she would be
“for legalizing drugs.” If a U.S.
senator were “pro-choice” when it came to immigrants staying or leaving, he
would be called “for open borders.”
When it comes to abortion, a
matter of life and death, using honest language is more important, not less.
That’s why we use the term “pro-abortion.”
By the same logic, we use the term
“pro-life” for those who try to preserve the lives of those threatened by
abortion — but not for those who employ violent tactics against abortion
practitioners. For instance, when a website that counsels violence against
abortionists is in the news, we use the term “anti-abortion” to describe it.
Abortion “double-speak” has also
made it more difficult to talk about candidates’ positions. This is true in Pennsylvania’s Senate
We called U.S. Senate candidate
Casey “nominally pro-life” in a recent article because he said he would help
prevent pro-life judges from being confirmed. But a letter writer points out
that Rick Santorum twice campaigned for pro-abortion Sen. Arlen Specter. Why do
we call Santorum simply “pro-life”?
The answer is simple: Because Rick
Santorum has been the indispensable man in the Senate on pro-family issues
throughout his tenure there. Without him, there would be no partial-birth
abortion ban headed to the Supreme Court. He hasn’t simply been an ally, he’s
been the Senate leader defending
marriage, opposing embryonic stem cell research and cloning, and articulating
all aspects of the abortion debate.
There was great concern on the
part of pro-lifers when Santorum campaigned for Specter in 2004. Specter was to
be chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Pro-lifers feared that he might
inhibit the chances of Supreme Court candidates with pro-life records from
being seated on the high court.
But now that Specter has used his
leadership on the committee to seat two Supreme Court Justices pro-lifers love,
we can give Santorum the benefit of the doubt. He said all along that Specter
would support President Bush’s nominees to the court. He was right.
But what about
Many questions remain — questions
Casey has not adequately answered. Why does a pro-lifer want to block pro-life
justices? Why did Casey headline a “bisexual and transgendered rights” event?
Why did a Pennsylvania
pro-lifer choose to run against pro-life Santorum instead of pro-abortion
Specter? Why doesn’t Planned Parenthood oppose Casey? Why did abortion activist
Kate Michelman decide not to run against
Casey, and endorse him instead?
Casey has said (mostly) the right
things in his candidate questionnaires about abortion. But abortion supporters
know that, if Santorum loses, the pro-life movement will be dealt a major blow.
Here, as everywhere, we will stay
on the side on honesty.
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