Abortion lies


In a recent Daily Beast article concerning abortion-related comments between Rand Paul and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Samantha Allen wrote, “By turning late-term abortions into a metonym for the issue as a whole, [Rand] Paul is clearly attempting to challenge the American consensus on the legality of abortion earlier in pregnancy. It’s a tactic as old as Roe: make first-trimester abortions guilty by association with the more easily demonized late-term procedures.” Nothing new was said here about the intent to frame all abortions as happening in the third trimester. “Metonym” is what caught my attention.

It is metonyms that keep the average person confused about abortion. Since most people, politicians and regular voters included, do not go out of their way to educate themselves about abortion and the numerous complexities of the debate, they are influenced by metonyms.

Not to be confused with a metaphor, a metonym is “a word, name, or expression used as a substitute for something else with which it is closely associated.”  We use metonyms all the time. Online sources cite “Washington” as an often used metonym for the federal government, “sweat” for hard work, “plastic” for credit card and so on. Most of us take care in everyday conversation to avoid metonymic usage if it will misinform. That is not the case in politics and, after reading Allen’s article, I realized how pervasive metonyms are in the language used to discuss abortion, primarily by those opposed to abortion.

What is the most destructive are the efforts to present abortion as something it is not. Achieving public policy objectives through false data and building public support by misleading the less passionate into a belief system based on ideology presented through using inaccurate and incorrect word choices is wrong, yet never effectively challenged.Embryos-Human

Responding to the same Rand Paul – Debbie Wasserman-Schultz comments, Casey Mattox shared in the Federalist that Wasserman-Shultz and the Democrat Party support abortion “through all nine months of pregnancy.” He later states, “Democrats are big on abortion euphemisms. When they say, as Wasserman-Shultz did, that abortion should be a woman’s ‘choice’ through all nine months, they want you to focus on something other than the reality of what abortion is. Simply put, there is no clean and humane way to kill a seven-pound, full-term baby.”

I am not sure what specific euphemisms Mattox had in mind, or if he incorrectly thinks that correct terms, such as blastocyst, embryo, or fetus, are euphemisms and that pro-choice advocates should use his preferred set of ideological words or metonyms. All pro-choice people I know would agree that it is inhumane to kill a full-term baby. We also tend to believe it inhumane to have public policies that would force a woman to compromise her health or die in order for a fetus to evolve into a born person. Mattox used the “choice” term in the context of the abortion debate as a metonym for “abortion on demand at all stages of pregnancy for any reason.”  Sadly, the dispassionate all too often believe such rhetoric.

Over the years, many of us have written about the language used to discuss abortion. Often divisive and steeped in emotion, the language is powerful. The terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” have always created barriers to productive discourse about abortion to the point that many people now refuse to be categorized as one or the other.

Decoding Abortion Language imageFetus and unborn baby are frequently used as metonyms for blastocysts and embryos. Abortion opponents use murder metonymically for the abortion procedure itself.  Decoding Abortion Rhetoric: The Communication of Social Change (Celeste Michelle Condit 1990) discussed how metonymic language shaped public policy on abortion. That was 25 years ago and metonyms continue to define each and every facet that leads to abortion-related public policy today. Another book, Lexical and Syntactical Constructions and the Construction of Meaning, published in 1995, also discussed the metonymy of abortion language. When “embryo” is used by abortion opponents, it is as a metonym for stem cells, which has dramatically limited potentially lifesaving research. As author Mark Bracher stated in yet another book, Lacan, Discourse, and Social Change: A Psychoanalytic Cultural Criticism (1993), “Insofar as antiabortionist discourse convinces its audience, through such operations of metaphor and metonymy, that the fetus is an instance of human life, it succeeds in positioning abortion…” (p105).

Metonymy has positioned abortion in public policy outcomes. What it cannot accomplish is altering the experiences so many Americans have had, directly or indirectly, with abortion. Abortion polls that both sides use to claim victories from time to time are not reliable. What is reliable are the personal and family experiences people have with abortion rights and access.  Those experiences reject the metonyms and steer people to the belief that abortion is a personal decision between a woman and her medical provider.

GOP out of bedroomA US News and World Report article (12/31/14), What the Battle Over Abortion Will Look Like in 2015, should remind all of us concerned about reproductive justice that Republicans will control the Senate and the House of Representatives beginning this month. As much as Republicans claim to favor small and less government, we all know that when it comes to issues relative to human sexuality, they espouse as much government intrusion and regulation as possible. Although many Republicans are pro-choice, the party continues to allow its extreme right wing and Tea Party darlings to steer the votes and priorities. Reproductive decisions, sexual orientation, and even personal sexual activity preferences are of greater concern to John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and friends than ensuring that every child has food to eat, that people are working and earning a fair wage, or that the U.S. government is protecting business from cyber-attacks, and so on. It makes no sense, but it is a reality.  It is reasonable to expect more attacks on reproductive rights in 2015.

Rick BrattinThe Republicans are on a roll. Just last month Missouri Republican Rick Brattin reintroduced a bill to require women seeking abortion to get permission from the father of the zygote/embryo/fetus.  According to Mother Jones, Brattin’s bill would exempt “legitimate rape” victims. For a pregnancy resulting from rape to be exempted and the claim of rape “legitimate,” a police report must have been filed immediately after the rape. Oh yes, the Republicans are on a roll, seemingly even including distinctions about rape – Todd Akin style. Always claiming that the legislation is to “protect women,” these mostly male representatives apparently believe they know more about what is best for women’s health than, well, legitimate women.

Thomas State legis LoCPro-choice Americans have got to step up to the plate in 2015.  They must resolve to at least let their elected
representatives know their views. As fellow blogger and former lobbyist Pat Richards can confirm, it is very easy to contact members of Congress.  One website that provides direct contact information of each congressional member is https://www.congress.gov/members. For state and local legislative representatives, The Library of Congress Thomas website provides links to each state legislature. Pro-choice people need to take a page from the playbook of the zealously anti-choice organizations like violence-promoting Operation Rescue and the various evangelical groups that pressure church members to attend sessions to write emails and make phone calls en masse. It can make a difference in the extent to which a member of Congress maintains interest in sponsoring or defending restrictive anti-abortion or other family planning legislation.

During my years directing a clinic, countless state and federal legislators shared with me that the primary reason they hesitated to have a stronger public pro-choice position was because they seldom heard from their pro-choice constituents, but they constantly heard from the anti-abortion groups. That needs to finally change – there is too much to lose if it does not.  While NARAL and Planned Parenthood supporters often initiate outreach activities, they simply cannot compete with the church-sanctioned and sponsored groups in terms of numbers. It is also worth noting that politicians actually like to hear the views of individuals speaking from the heart instead of an organized script.

minds changeAs much as we may see reproductive rights as an issue in which people do not change their positions, there are studies that illustrate that people do change their minds about polarizing issues such as abortion and gay rights. Minds change through personal experience or learning about the firsthand experience of someone they know, love, or in some way care for. Minds can change when we interact with others with whom we share general values and recognize that on polarizing issues with which we disagree, things are not so black and white, all or none propositions. No one should be fooled into believing that when minds change about abortion it is only to the anti-choice position. National Right to Life has done some great messaging in that regard. In fact, pro-choice groups could do the same.

Maria Rivera

Maria Rivera/Photo from Trust.org

In 2015 we can probably expect to see more legislation proposed to ban abortion as early as 12 weeks, more verbatim scripting for medical professionals to impose on patients regardless if true, and more unnecessary and invasive ultrasound or other testing. Before you know it, every woman who miscarries will be subjected to a law enforcement report and inquiry. Think that sounds extreme? Just take a few minutes to learn about Maria Teresa Rivera in El Salvador where all abortion is banned. She did not even know she was pregnant when she miscarried, but the judge did not believe her and sentenced Rivera to 40 years in prison for aggravated murder. Each and every anti-abortion bill proposed in the U.S. under the guise of women’s health is another step towards a total ban.

Time is of the essence for reproductive justice. When and whether to have children is a personal choice. Abortion is a personal choice in which women do not benefit from, and can be harmed by, governmental interference. Medical professionals do not need the input of politicians in the private relationships they have with patients. Please, be it resolved that you will share your pro-choice position and dedication to reproductive justice with your elected representatives beginning this first month of 2015.

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