Abortion and War: Breaking through the Euphemism Barrier
by Sarah Field
Have you ever noticed the similarities between pro-abortion and pro-war arguments? It seems that whenever we want to justify killing people, we just automatically adopt similar conversational rules in order to maintain a veneer of respectability.
Of course, it’s important to be clear that one is not supporting killing in general. For example, it is important for abortion to be safe for the mother. It is important to minimize casualties on our side of a war. One doesn’t talk about the healthy, viable babies that are aborted, nor the civilians killed as part of certain strategies. One always talks about the lives saved – never the lives taken – unless they are rape babies, babies that appear to have disabilities, an established enemy leader, or terrorists. Other victims of violence, for whom we cannot establish a sense of fear, are simply erased.
One way to accomplish this is to avoid talking about those who will be killed as fellow humans. They are a vague “fetus” or “blob of cells” in one case, a vague “enemy” or “collateral damage” in the other. The conversation must never be allowed to drift in the direction of their shared humanity. For example, when we talk about those who “died for our freedom” we only mean those who fought on our side – not those who died at their hands. We leave abortion figures out of statistics like “leading causes of death.” Certainly the lives that they were living or might have hoped to live in the future are meaningless.
In both cases, absolutely horrible atrocities are committed, be it blowing homes and families to smithereens or dismembering viable unborn babies alive, but the rules of polite conversation forbid us to talk about them. Focus on the inspiring goal, not the ugly methods used to get there.
So naturally, the emphasis is on maintaining the status quo for – or better yet “liberating” – those for whom one kills. After all, how can a woman pursue a career if she can’t control when she has kids? (Abstaining from sex is never mentioned as an option – it is simply assumed that men and women alike must be free to have sex without consequences!) Or how can a country continue to be powerful on a world level if it can’t prevent other countries from getting in the way? (But never mind whether we were running into difficulties because we were in someone else’s territory to begin with.) How can we expect to spread democracy – let alone American notions of human rights – around the world without using the military to “take out” those who resist our efforts? (All the good guys really want to be just like us, right?)
So we wave flags, praise the heroism of those who take our side, and talk about everything that someone in our preferred demographic might suffer if the right to kill is taken away. But again, it’s never the right to kill. It’s just the right to defend the status quo. By violence, if necessary, but we don’t talk about that.
And finally, it is extremely important when having such conversation to never talk about the suffering your position has caused people on your own side. Don’t talk about PTSD and people who feel guilty for being part of unspeakable atrocities –talk about heroes. Don’t talk about abortion regrets – talk about people (female or male) who are happy they sacrificed the life of their unborn child on the altar of their career. If someone mentions that not everyone feels good about hastening the death of a fellow human being, simply imply that “judgmentalism” is the reason these people suffer, not the deeds themselves.
And if all else fails, remind everyone that people who disagree with you are not really defending human life. They are merely anti-woman or unpatriotic.
Now that I have drawn this analogy between two of the evils addressed by the Consistent Life Ethic, I would like to point out one other snare to avoid. As important as it is to recognize how these rules and euphemisms are used to stifle conversation, it is also important not to make similarly stifling rules on the other side. Can pro-life people talk about what to do when a woman’s life is actually in danger? Can those who want to see the end of war talk about what to do when there is a real holocaust going on? Can we ever find common ground with people with different views on abortion and/or war in areas like the need to better support mothers or to cultivate responsible diplomacy to prevent conflict?
I believe that the Consistent Life movement can and does attempt to address these concerns. But let’s be sure to hold each other accountable.
For similar posts on the dynamics of violence, see: