Let’s Be Honest

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 about abortion.

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 camp.

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 other issue.

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 fireworks industry.

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 race.

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 Casey?

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.

In Advent, we await the coming of Jesus at Christmastime.

What Is Advent Anyway?

EXPLAINER: Advent is a season in the Church’s life intended to renew the experience of waiting and longing for the Messiah.