Why is it so hard to say ‘abortion?’

There's nothing unusual about this, but about the thousandth time this morning, in reading an editorial from the weekend in The New York Times, I marveled at how long it took to get past all the pro-choice euphemisms ("women's health," "reproductive health and freedom," "safeguard women's lives," "free speech") and get to the one operative word upon which the issue turns:

Women’s Health, Ungagged
    President Obama on Friday began dismantling his predecessor’s broad and damaging assault on women’s reproductive health and freedom. He lifted the odious gag rule that President George W. Bush imposed on international family planning groups and began trying to restore financing to the United Nations Population Fund.
    It was a reassuring message that Mr. Obama takes seriously his duty to safeguard women’s lives and basic rights, including free speech and the choice of whether to bear a child.
    The gag rule was first imposed by President Ronald Reagan. It barred any health care provider receiving American family planning assistance from counseling women on abortion, engaging in political speech on abortion or providing abortions, even with its own money…

By my count (actually, by Microsoft Word's count — what, you think I've got time to sit and count them?), it took 113 words to get to "abortion." Which actually isn't all that bad, I guess, compared to some instances I've seen. But it strikes me as about 100 words, or two paragraphs, late, by any reasonable standard of getting to the point.

But then, I'm a word guy — and specifically, an editorial guy — so I probably notice stuff like that more than most people do. Also, I disagree with the NYT on the issue, so I'm that much more likely to notice how much they feel compelled to dress up the concept, with layer upon layer of rhetorical clothing, before bringing it out.

39 thoughts on “Why is it so hard to say ‘abortion?’

  1. Guero

    Mr. Warthen: Why is it so difficult for you to admit you oppose even the prescribing of contraceptive pills by these same organizations?
    Your “rhetorical clothing” is such you don’t wish to admit the above. Even you have the self-awareness of how radical and extreme the great majority of the American people would consider your personal religious views so you hide your views.
    The NYT is honest enough to articulate their views. And you?

  2. bud

    Brad, abortion wasn’t the only issue affected by the gag order so it’s not inapprorpriate to use the term “reproductive health”.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Actually, I haven’t ever thought about “the prescribing of contraceptive pills by these same organizations,” and wasn’t aware I had an opinion on the subject.
    But one of the great benefits of having a blog is that people will TELL you what your opinion is, which really saves a lot of wear and tear on the ol’ gray matter…
    And bud — do you think we’d be talking about this, and having this tennis match with the policy, with each change of party control of the White House batting the policy back in the opposite direction — if not for abortion?
    Seems doubtful to me.

  4. bud

    Abortion is the big elephant in the room but perhaps it would be a smaller elephant if we didn’t gag the discussion of contraceptives with the third world and in our own classrooms. In any event I stand by my comment. The NYT was merely pointing out the change in policy which included more than just abortion. The verbage was perfectly appropriate.
    At the end of the day the Democrats won the election and it’s perfectly legitimate for them to exercise their right to change the policy. Anything else would be a diservice to the people who elected them.

  5. Doug Ross

    I agree with Bud. The editorial was about the gag rule policy, not specifically about abortion. It’s about the limitations on what can be said about the topic of abortion, contraception, etc.
    I don’t sense a “hidden” agenda in the fact that the word abortion was used in 100 words in. We all know the NYT agenda anyway, don’t we? I’m sure when/if Roe v. Wade comes up again, the NYT will leave little doubt as to its position.
    Guero’s point is valid, also. If you were pro-choice, would the word placement concern you as much?

  6. Hedley

    Keep up the good work. Actually, why do people keep saying abortion as if to say that we are dealing with some kind of scientific experiment? The real truth is that abortion is the horrific murder of innocent children. We should call it what it is. It is murder.

  7. Palin 2012

    What strikes a really sour note with me is that promoting abortion abroad was the first order of business our new president attached himself to.
    Is it a miserly warning to the rest of the world? That our dollars will not be wasted on ‘3rd world citizens’? It seems as if he was immediately placing a lesser value on those precious children being murdered abroad. God doesn’t recognize national borders for of ANY of his children.

  8. Lee Muller

    Just as his critics predicted, Mr. Obama is veering hard to the left:
    * First call to PLO, then Hamas.
    * Order to close GITMO (in a year). No plans yet on how to handle it.
    * Stopped trials of 9/11 hijackers.
    * Offer negotiations to Iran on how they can have a nuclear program.
    * Millions of dollars to private groups to lobby for and perform abortions in foreign countries.
    * Encouraging states to come up with chaotic tangle of vehicle emissions laws, so feds can step in later and “standardize” on the silliest and most repressive.
    * Encourage unions to not yield on wage hikes. Result is more closing of production and shipping facilities.
    * Trial balloons of open relations with communist Cuba.
    * Trial balloons of legalizing marijuana, or at least stopping enforcement.
    * Free medical care for illegals under SCHIP expansion by dropping proof of ID and citizenship.
    * Tells GOP he doesn’t need them to ram through $850 BILLION in pork spending under guise of an ” urgent Stimulus Package”, which only spends 25% of it this year.

  9. Phillip

    You might be surprised to find out, Brad, that millions of women worldwide do not consider the phrase “women’s health” to be merely a rhetorical euphemism, but something to be taken seriously. As well as all the other unintended (one hopes) consequences of the misguided policies that Obama is rightly reversing.

  10. Guero

    Mr. Warthen is either a cafeteria-plan Roman Catholic practitioner or he is being disingenuous here.
    His church’s position on contraceptive prescriptions is well-defined, in addition to being radical and extreme to the great majority of the citizens of the US. I find it difficult to conceive he is not aware of the same.

  11. Lee Muller

    If Catholics are going to be criticized for not accepting or practicing 100% of the doctrines of the Vatican, such criticism should not come from those who practice none of the morality.
    That is not a n honest criticism, but a dismissal via ad hominem , and evasion of the real issues.

  12. Brad Warthen

    Phillip, “women’s health” means a lot of very fine things to me, too — which is why advocates of abortion-friendly policies use it. “Freedom of speech” is also a very fine concept, but ditto. They haven’t used “Mom” or “Apple Pie” yet, but let me go ahead and say I’m all for them, too, but if somebody uses them in an indirect way of advancing something I strongly disagree with, I will speak out to try to clarify the matter before us. Likewise, I’m all for the American flag, but not in favor of everything that people try to wrap in it.

  13. Brad Warthen

    Actually, what I just said wasn’t 100 percent accurate — I’m all for apple pie in principle, but not on a personal level, since I’m allergic to it.
    As a consequence, my Mom makes something that approximates apple pie, just for me, at family gatherings — a topping of oats and brown sugar and such over what you would think of as apple pie filling. I’m all for that. Which is another way of saying that “Mom’s apple pie” can mean different things to different loyal Americans…

  14. Brad Warthen

    Oh, and thanks to Lee for sticking up for me there.

    I’m riffing here on the “cafeteria Catholic” thing, and thinking, hey, nobody is more selective and careful in a cafeteria than I am, with all my allergies. But I’m being facetious.

    In all seriousness, there are teachings that strike me as fundamental to a basic respect for life which lies at the heart of my faith. With abortion — as with, say, euthanasia — you’re talking about life and death, no bones about it. The whole contraception thing is more subtle, more nuanced, a more “boggy, soggy, squitchy picture” indeed. I can agree with the point the Pope’s making without worrying about whether some secular government program promotes the practice or not.

    The problem with a lot of “pro-choice” folks is that they think it’s about people imposing their specific religious beliefs on other people, and it you can’t see into the issue more deeply than that, there’s probably nothing I can say to move you.

    But a person who believes — because of their religious framework or any other reason — that abortion involves killing human beings is going to react to it in the political, public, secular sphere by wanting government to prevent it, not promote it. And that is a legitimate position that respects differences of faith and belief. When it’s life and death, you’ve entered the realm of things that the state legitimately concerns itself with. Something like contraception does NOT translate that obviously into the secular realm of legitimate state concerns.

    Are you following me at all here? I mean, if the argument is “this is what Catholics believe,” I don’t see how that translates into a concern for the state. But when it’s about killing or not killing, it certainly does. Either you see the difference or you don’t.

  15. Guero

    Sorry, Spaceman Lee, you make less sense every day you have to try to cope with a Democratic president and Congress. I know your Faux News world-view is not reality based but try to work through some elementary logic.
    Someone who professes a creed and then practices something different is, of course, a hypocrit. I suppose hyprocrisy is trumped by professing ignorance but
    I find it hard to believe a professed practicing Roman Catholic credibly proffers his ignorance of a major tenet of his faith’s beliefs.
    I believe Mr. Warthen simply doesn’t want to respond since he knows how just plain weird and extreme the great majority of the United States would view opposition to contraceptive prescriptions.
    You, on the other hand, have shown your ignorance of many subjects unless NewsMax or your fellow Bilderbergphobes have given you your talking points. Keep up the entertainment, though, Spaceman.
    Exit humming the Internationale…:-)

  16. Guero

    Thank you Mr. Warthen for confirming you oppose even contraceptive prescriptions.
    The “morning-after pill” involves the prescribing of birth control pills. Does not your church see that as “murder”?
    And as such, you would support legislation and other state action to stop your fellow citizens from using such contraceptives?

  17. Is it too soon for a new president?

    Guero, are you putting Brad on trial here? For his beliefs? That is worse than putting someone on trial for speaking their mind. You are prosecuting Brad for a thought crime?!?
    There are other blogs where people will froth at the mouth with you about such things…but I don’t think you will work up much of a lather about it here.
    What a glorious day — Brad and Lee on the same side. Wow.

  18. Capital A

    I doubt that Guero (very Beckian, by the way) is putting anyone on trial. Maybe he’s trying to figure out that part of the Holy Bible that had any explicit comment on abortion? Can’t find it in mine — was it aborted or a part of the hundreds of lost texts?
    Or is it to soon for logical thought and reason as opposed to supporting an institution that imprisoned Galileo for presenting the Copernican (eventually our) truth…and also boarded up limbo?

  19. bud

    But a person who believes — because of their religious framework or any other reason — that abortion involves killing human beings is going to react to it in the political, public, secular sphere by wanting government to prevent it, not promote it.
    Once it’s established that killing is ok under some circumstances then this argument is essentially untenable. For example, any person who accepts the legitimacy of killing in Iraq has no standing to make this argument. People such as the Amish, who steadfastly believe killing is wrong under all circumstances are the only ones with the moral authority to make this claim.

  20. Rich

    Absent religious belief, there probably would be no question concerning contraception and abortion. Women would have a right to these things simply because no one else would have the right to deny them.
    Religion has no place in public policy debates. Dr. King used religion to support his views concerning human rights, but that’s because there was a happy confluence between religious and secular belief.
    That would be the only time such a thing would be acceptable. Otherwise, to deny a woman her right to contraception or to free choice concerning abortion amounts to state-sanctioned imposition of metaphysical beliefs on people who do not accept them.
    The founders were wise to separate religion from the state (remember the first amendment? No establishment of religion. Or Art. 6, Sec. 3, no religious test for office, and the fact that God is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution??).
    The only valid secular basis for morality and positive enactments of law would be utilitarian. The majority have a right to protect themselves against the depredations of the minority.
    I.e., your rights end where my nose begins.

  21. bud

    Otherwise, to deny a woman her right to contraception or to free choice concerning abortion amounts to state-sanctioned imposition of metaphysical beliefs on people who do not accept them.
    Rich, Brad openly supports many ‘state-sanctioned impositions’ so this will carry no weight with him. He’s using the term communitarian, usually with some type of “democratically elected” sweetener, which somehow makes it ok to justify that world-view. Any argument that tries to bring up the dangers inherent in state-sanctioned impositions will be met with a resounding rebuff in the name of communitarianism. Abortion in particular is treated as an area completely off-limits to granting women the final decision. Somehow it is far better for the government to make these important personal decisions.

  22. Lee Muller

    Actually, Rich, only my right to swing my fist ends at your nose.
    But I don’t see anyone trying to infringe on your rights. I see you and your ilk trying to restrict our freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness with your efforts to make us support you financially in a lifestyle which you are either unable or unwilling to earn on your own.
    The socialist mentality is the greatest threat to the liberty of industrialized people, because it retards progress by consuming wealth that would be used by the smarter people who actually produce wealth, to improve living conditions for everyone.

  23. Herb Brasher

    Wow, does Rich have a one-track mind and agenda, or what?
    Brad, sometime we gotta spend some time taking apart Rich’s presuppositions and exposing his world view for what it is: a religion based on faith that he wants to impose on all the rest of us. Not that he will necessarily learn from it, but the myth of the neutral world view has got to be deconstructed for the sake of others who read this blog. He has some valid points about imposing morality upon others, but cannot see that he is intent on imposing his morality on the rest of us.
    And it is a morality constructed of very shaky moral relativism. It hangs entirely upon what the definition of utilitarian is, and of course it is going to be his definition. No one else need apply for input.
    Does anyone else see the totalitarianism behind Rich’s doctrines? He is willing to admit “a happy confluence” with religion when it shares his views. When it doesn’t, it is cold-blooded elimination. He is the Decider.
    P.S. This has nothing to do with Lee’s point, I think, which is entirely in defense of individualism and me-first thinking.

  24. Herb Brasher

    Well, of course Lee’s point has something to do with it, for individual liberty is a significant part of the stream that feeds the democratic process. Lee just wants to cut off the stream of corporate responsibility, which would in effect dam up the river entirely.

  25. Herb Brasher

    Bud, do you not make any distinction between enemy combatants whose business it is to try and kill me, and infants who, though a lot of people are proclaiming pro-choice, are given no choice? I find it total legalism to want to lump all of these together and talk about “all or nothing.”
    The Amish-Mennonite position on war is obviously one legitimate position, but I think I would jettison this position if someone were to try to break into my home and rape my wife or daughters. For this reason, I don’t hold to it, though that should be no free ticket to apply the just war theory willy-nilly.

  26. bud

    No Herb, I’m not saying that. I’m saying you can’t use as a necessary and sufficient condition that you oppose abortion because you believe in the sanctity of life IF support other actions that result in killing. The only people that can use that argument are people that oppose ALL killing. Once you start making exceptions then you have to rely on a new line of reasoning.

  27. Rich

    Herb and Other True Believers:
    Listen up! Neutrality is not a myth when it comes to beliefs lacking empirical evidence, whether those beliefs are metaphysical or grounded in reality. A J Ayer in “Language, truth, and logic” (1960) long ago banished metaphysics from American philosophy by simply demanding empirical evidence for all propositions and insisting that all propositions must be potentially falsifiable in order to be considered as plausible statements about reality. I.e., all propositions must be contingent. Furthermore, no one is obligated to believe anything for which empirical evidence has not been advanced.
    That does not mean that you don’t want to believe things that cannot be proven empirically (e.g., democracy is the best form of government), merely that you are under no moral or intellectual obligation to do so.
    More on this later. Got kids to deal with here; break over!!

  28. Herb Brasher

    Will someone please tell me where Bud gets his logic?
    And didn’t A. J. Ayer eventually repudiate logical positivism and the absurdity of having to empirically verify everything, and in the end, not being able to say anything? Not sure; I’ll have to go back and read the relevant literature when I have time. Regardless of that, Ayer is not the final authority on what is true.
    Whether Rich will accept it or not, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is empirically verifiable in the sense that any historical event is empirically verifiable, and as a result, open to verification in personal experience. (See N. T. Wright’s discussion, for example, at http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm )
    I suppose no one is under any intellectual obligation to believe it, but he or she ought to ask themselves why they don’t believe it–could it be because they don’t want to believe it because of the implications of believing it?
    More later.

  29. Rich

    Your swing would end far short of my nose. I weigh 210 and bench 275.
    Being tough doesn’t mean having to be a cold-hearted, right-wing bully!

  30. Herb Brasher

    Ah yes, Ayer. In the final analysis, (please correct me if I am wrong), I believe he is a regurgitation of David Hume. (We had to refute various attacks on Christianity when I was in seminary, but I didn’t do Ayer–I tried to deal with B. F. Skinner, which was probably a mistake, since I didn’t have the undergraduate work in psychology that I needed–but Ayer, B. Russell, etc. were considered light-weights and there was no way to get beyond a C+ if we took them up. As it was, I only got a C+ anyway, and that dogged my records for years.) We ought to get beyond this. Hume’s argumentation was built on Newtonian physics, that nothing can take place outside of that which is observed in the so-called laws of nature. A ridiculous statement from the get-go, but especially since Einstein came along. Historical phenomena have to be evaluated in their own right, otherwise you end up in a circular argument, only proving your a priori assumptions. The so-called “laws of nature” are a description of what happens, not a handbook of rules about what cannot happen.
    In any case, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ blows away your categories and besieges your anti-supernatural statements at every juncture. Of course it is not 100% provable, but neither is anything else. 80% is pretty good for any phenomenon, the rest of the 20% has to be jumped by faith. So do your beliefs.
    As to the relevance of this to the original topic here, a quote by Lord Devlin to the British Psycho-Analytic Society:

    One does not need to be a Christian to discern that, in the western world, there is not even a discernable sign of anything capable of replacing Christianity in the mind of the populace as the provider of a moral force, vital for the maintenance of good order.

    Think of Devlin what you may, this point is valid. Or at least, if you intend to replace Christian values with what you call “utilitarian,” then look carefully first. You might just end up opening Pandora’s box again. We’ve had this kind of attempt at re-definition before—in the 20th century, and the experiment was not pretty. I hope we do not see a mass re-definition of the “sanctity of life” by a utilitarian rule—the results of putting it into practice will be catastrophic.

  31. Lee Muller

    Herb is quite right about the totalitarianism core of the ‘Rich’ world view. Rich is intolerant of the ideas of others, and not content to just defend his own lifestyle; he is a crusader who wants to stamp out the diversity in the way everyone else acts, thinks, and believes.
    I would like to have a discussion about Herb’s weak smear that I don’t want any “corporate responsibility”, whatever that means to him. Big Business is a boogeyman to a lot of people, especially those unfamiliar with how business, economics and law work.

  32. Lee Muller

    And Rich, I was not trying to bully you.
    You misused Oliver Wendell Holmes’ phrase to support your misconception of individual rights. I was merely correcting that.
    “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” – Oliver W. Holmes
    P.S. Your claims of 210-lbs of body mass and bench pressing 275 lbs are not very intimidating, either.

  33. Rich

    A woman has a right to choose whether to have an abortion or not, and the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has stood the test of time and is now “settled law.”
    The fact is that there would probably be little or no objection to abortion without religion. Since the US is a secular, democratic republic, public policy may not legally be based on religion without compelling secular purpose.
    Anti-abortionists believe that a fetus is a god-given life with an immortal soul. And those of us, like myself, who are non-believers do not accept this religious proposition and do not want it crammed down our throats by the government.
    Preach all you want, ye fundies! I drive by your shrines on Sunday mornings to a good breakfast in a local restaurant and copies of the State and the New York Times under my arm.
    Oddly enough, I see so many people out and about at the 11 a.m. hour on Sunday!!
    Or are we all going to your imaginary hell!

  34. Lee Muller

    There are lots of atheists who oppose abortion under some circumstances, and some who oppose it under any circumstance.
    It may be difficult for the uneducated amoral individual to comprehend that the concept of morality derived from natural rights is not founded on any religious belief.

  35. Rich

    The concept of “natural rights” is metaphysical and therefore is not susceptible to empirical verification. In the absence of a deity, there are no natural rights, only positive law enacted on a utilitarian basis. Restrictions on liberty imposed by the community upon unwilling members rests upon the need for social self-protection and the furtherance of the goals of prosperity and safety, thereby maintaining the species within the ecosystem within which it finds itself as long as possible.

  36. Lee Muller

    Rich provides a good example of how modern liberalism, socialism and totalitarianism share a common foundation of disregard for individual liberty.
    The problem with this assertion is, if individuals have no rights, then they have no rights to aggregate, and no group authority to dictate to individuals and minorities outside the dominant group, whose common bond is usually theft and enslavement of non-members.
    America is founded on the concept of natural rights and individual liberty, of government with no rights except those explicitly granted to it by The People for the benefit of all.
    Positivism is a reactionary attempt to return to the authoritarianism of Old Europe. It is on the wrong side of history, and intellectual progress.

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