Jonathon Van Maren

From the front lines of the culture wars


Euphemisms are the left’s best friends and the truth’s worst enemies

Winning the culture war requires using specific language.
Fri Apr 6, 2018 - 11:16 am EST
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April 6, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – There is a reason that abortion activists and abortionists almost never use the actual word “abortion,” but instead opt for vaguer, more abstract terms: women’s health, freedom to choose, reproductive rights, or bodily autonomy are all ways of dodging the actual point of contention in the abortion debate. As long as the debate can stay abstract, abortion activists can win by presenting their position not as defending the physical destruction of a human being developing in the womb, but rather as a laundry list of things everyone loves, like choice and freedom and healthcare.

I explained the war over language in detail in my 2017 book Seeing is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion, which takes a look at what happens when we shift the debate away from choice and instead begin to talk about what is being chosen. In response, some abortionists want to do away with the word abortion entirely and begin to refer to the procedure only as “termination of pregnancy.” An article in the British Medical Journal of Sexual and Reproductive health last year described how that phrase had been “recently adopted by a number of British medical institutions as a preferred descriptor of induced abortion.” And why? “The ongoing stigmatisation of abortion may play a role.”

In fact, a questionnaire cited in the article indicated that 28% of respondents found the word “abortion” to be “distressing,” and many abortion workers found that the term caused discomfort with their patients. The word “abortion,” despite the fact that it is itself something of a euphemism for what amounts to gruesome feticide, is still too jarring for the jumpy consciences of those seeking to rid themselves of their offspring, and thus something more soothing, like “termination of pregnancy,” could be used instead.

This indicates a truth that social conservatives should be realizing: When debates remain in the realm of abstraction, the progressives win. But when we respond by getting specific about what we are talking about, suddenly the debate is transformed. Here in Ontario, for example, liberal commentators were having a field day sneering at Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen, who has spent years campaigning against Premier Kathleen Wynne’s radical sex education. Meaningless terms like “modern” and “progressive” were tossed around, with the obvious implication that Granic Allen and her supporters were very much not modern and probably quite regressive.

But then, Granic Allen surprised everyone: In debates and interviews, she calmly made her case by being specific. I listened to one interview on the CBC in my car on the way home from work, and heard her ask the host whether he would be okay with his daughter being told to carry condoms around but never be told that love and sex should be linked. His response indicated a sheepish realization on his part that perhaps the objections of many parents to the sex education curriculum were reasonable, after all. When Granic Allen got specific, suddenly the sex education curriculum was a lot harder to defend.

This is also true in the debate surrounding assisted suicide—a phrase, you’ll notice, that isn’t cropping up much anymore. As Blaise Alleyne and I described in our book How To Discuss Assisted Suicide, most people still have an instinctively negative reaction to the word “suicide.” To most people, the term suicide still carries fundamentally tragic connotations. And so, the suicide activists began to reframe their arguments, borrowing heavily from the abortion activists. They began to talk about “choice,” and “bodily autonomy” and “end of life care,” and shelving the term “suicide” entirely. Now, the official term is Medical Aid in Dying, which is shortened to the harmless-sounding acronym MAiD. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?

But again, when we instead force a discussion about suicide, the discussion changes. Abstractions allow abortionists to pretend that their “termination procedure” isn’t the physical dismembering of a tiny human being, progressive politicians to pretend that their “modern sex-ed” isn’t just promoting hookup culture to teenagers, and suicide activists to pretend that killing someone is healthcare. When we allow them to use these abstractions, we allow them to get away with throwing up smoke and mirrors and selling the public on their agenda with slick euphemisms. When we get specific and force them to defend what they actually promote—then the debate changes. It’s about time we started doing that.

  abortion, assisted suicide, language, tanya granic allen

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