National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Battles of Words Carry Deep MeaningIn Abortion Controversies

BY Jim Cosgrove

April 12-18, 1998 Issue | Posted 4/12/98 at 2:00 AM


Three current cases underscore the importance of language usage to the pro-life cause

NEW YORK—What is “enforced pregnancy?” When do state custody laws regarding minors not apply? What is the difference between campaigning for a candidate and informing the public about a candidate's record and expressing opinion about it?

Because each of these questions has to do with abortion and the lives of unborn babies, the issues involve more than mere wordplay. In fact, the meanings of words and the powerful ideas they convey have been at the heart of the abortion controversy since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision created a new category of existence called “potential life,” which the rapidly developing unborn child somehow falls under at every stage before complete delivery.

Never mind that bearing “potential life” in the womb is like being “a little bit pregnant;” the term fit the needs of the court that wanted to make abortion-on-demand the law of the land. Abortion supporters were quick to follow the lead by countering “pro-life” with “pro-choice” and going even further in concocting the awkward-sounding “anti-choice” tag for pro-lifers. In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II warned that a hallmark of the culture of death is a twisting of the meaning of words, so that evil acts or concepts can be covered over with good-sounding words.

Pope John Paul II warned that a hallmark of the culture of death is a twisting of the meaning of words…

‘Enforced Pregnancy'

Now abortion supporters want their curious words and particular views encoded in international law, as the United Nations moves toward the formation of an International Criminal Court (ICC). The mass murders and genocidal tactics perpetrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda have led U.N. officials to conclude that the ICC is needed. Rather than setting up international tribunals to address criminal charges in each war, they propose to establish a permanent court to adjudicate charges as they occur. Whether such an international body with wide-ranging powers will be a victory for freedom is debatable. What is certain is that the same feminist forces that sought to win international recognition for abortion rights at the U.N.

conferences at Cairo and Beijing are once again at work as the ICC moves from draft proposals to reality.

"Enforced pregnancy” appears in the Beijing document and was generally understood to refer to the rape of women by enemy soldiers with the purpose of impregnating them, to demean the women and the people of her ethnic background.

In the draft document of the ICC, radical feminists are seeking to expand the meaning of “enforced pregnancy” to cover any incident in which a woman, whether pregnant from rape or not, is denied access to abortion in time of war, or at any other time. They are pushing for the ICC to prosecute “crimes of sexual and gender violence” even when not perpetrated during armed conflict, and to give the ICC authority to overrule national courts in this area.

Outraged about this effort is Helen AlvarÈ, information director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Office for Pro-Life Activities. She said that the worthy goal of declaring systematic rape a war crime is being debased by the pro-abortion agenda.

"They are turning any country that protects unborn babies into a human rights violator and this is outrageous,” AlvarÈ told the Register. “They are playing deadly games with words about what ought to be for women a dramatic international rights issue"— the use of rape as intimidation and assertion of ethnic superiority.

The Holy See, as it did at Cairo and Beijing, is seeking to override or neutralize the feminist agenda. April 3, near the end of the preparatory commission on the ICC, the Holy See's Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Renato Martino, filed a letter objecting to the expanded meaning of “enforced pregnancy” and asking the term to be bracketed for discussion in the final discussions this June in Rome. The archbishop's letter used the term “enforced impregnation” to better express the consequences of—and the Vatican's objections to—systematic rape in times of war.

Austin Ruse, who monitors the United Nations on life and family issues, said that the issue is vital because the United Nations could not only declare abortion an international right but the ICC could threaten the sovereignty of national governments and the power of people to govern themselves. His efforts to educate delegates about the attempted change in meaning of the term has borne some fruit.

"Some of the delegates are surprised to find out what ‘enforced pregnancy’ means and have second thoughts,” Ruse said.

Formal meetings on the ICC will take place in Rome June 15-July 17.

Parental Consent

When do child custody laws not apply? When minors are transported across state lines by persons other than their parents to procure abortions and avoid the parental-consent laws of their own states. Normally, when someone takes a minor without parental knowledge or consent for a major operation in another state it is considered kidnapping, but the Center for Reproduction Law and Policy argues that such action is sometimes necessary to protect a young girl's “right” to abortion. The center is defending a 12-year-old Pennsylvania girl who was impregnated by a teen-age boy and brought to New York by the boy's mother for an abortion to avoid Pennsylvania's parental consent laws.

The case has led more than 100 lawmakers in the House of Representatives to cosponsor the “Child Custody Protection Act” introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). The act would make it a federal misdemeanor for an adult to circumvent state parental-consent or parental-notification laws by bringing a minor across state lines for an abortion. A similar bill is going through the Senate. Currently, thousands of minors are brought across state lines each year.

The issue has a particular urgency for Ros-Lehtinen. She is the mother of two girls, ages 12 and 10, and by her own description “a staunch Catholic.’ She called the relationship between a parent a child “sacred.’

"Would you want to know if your 13-year-old daughter was going to be transported to another state to have a potentially threatening operation?” she said in a statement. “We do not believe that Roe v. Wade takes away the basic right of parents to be involved in major medical decisions for their child. Parents are the ones who are most keenly aware of the minor's medical history and who will be responsible for care of the minor should complications occur as a result of the abortion.’

Parental-notification or consent laws for minors seeking abortion have been passed in 22 states. The federal statute would cover only minors in these states, in what is more a protection of parental rights than a law against abortion, she said.

Campaign Finance Reform

Disagreement about words has pitted against one another two parties that normally are on the same side— Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a reliable pro-life vote, and the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). The controverted words are found in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

According to NRLC legislative director Douglas Johnson, in seeking to limit “soft money” campaigns by organizations supporting a particular candidate, McCain-Feingold violates the First Amendment speech rights of private organizations to educate the public on a candidate's views and voting record. McCain has accused Johnson of misrepresenting the bill for his own purposes and placing other priorities ahead of the defense of life.

McCain, an Episcopalian, wrote the nation's Catholic bishops, explaining the bill and asking for their support in informing Catholics that McCainFeingold does not threaten the right of pro-lifers to speak about candidates. Johnson wrote an open letter to the bishops defending his stance and McCain responded with another letter to the Church hierarchy. The bishops as a body have declined to take a stand on the issue. (See Register March 22-28 page 2)

The bill seeks to restrict the amount of money that can benefit a candidate through government campaign support, political action committees or independent advocacy groups, expenditures by the latter being termed “soft money” because it currently is not under legal restriction. The NRLC argues that the bill inhibits the activities and expenditures of independent issue-oriented groups who seek to inform the public of candidates’ stands through voter guides, advertisements and other media. Johnson states that the bill would restrict speech not only about candidates involved in an election but any elected official at any time who at some point may face reelection.

The restriction would affect not only pro-life groups, but pro-abortion groups and any organization that comments on candidates or elections. In addition to the Christian Coalition, the NRLC has been joined in its objection to the bill by unlikely bedfellows: the American Civil Liberties Union and Concerned Women for America.

A similar campaign finance bill in the House was overwhelmingly rejected earlier this month by both Democrats and Republicans.

"Opposition against these type of bills has become more cohesive among legislators,” Johnson said in a Register interview. “We are especially concerned that such a bill will have the effect of severely reducing the amount of commentary during an election with the result that issues disfavored by the major media, such as pro-life issues, will not be represented.’

He said that the voter guides produced by NRLC would be banned under McCain-Feingold. McCain claims that voter guides are explicitly exempt in the bill as long as they simply give information and do not explicitly advocate the election or defeat of a particular candidate.

In his letter to the bishops McCain stated that all non-profit advocacy groups “would be totally unfettered in their ability to sponsor ads up to the day of the election that mention a candidate's name so long as the communication does not expressly say ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against,’ phrases that are prohibited by current law.’

Johnson claims that the bill would require financial disclosures by nonprofit groups that would be so complex that they would in effect inhibit the activities of advocacy groups. He told the Register that past lawsuits have shown that the courts are on his side. They have been “strong to assert that the First Amendment protects rights to comment on positions of candidates, with the exception of express advocacy as opposed to general education on issues. You can say what you want, when you want, and as much as you want. Given the news media bias against our views, we felt it essential that we talk directly to the public.’

Brian Caulfield writes from New York.