The popular culture was certainly caught off guard by the spate of laws limiting abortion recently passed in several states. When I say popular culture, I’m referring to the mainstream media and popular entertainment. 

There have been calls for boycotts against the offending states by actors, writers, film producers, etc. This raw nerve that has been touched has caused even some in the “pro-life” movement to hesitate. Who wants to be a pariah anyway, or on the other side of an argument with Lady Gaga?

I put “pro-life” in quotes because this article is more about language than abortion. There are plenty of better brains to defend life at all stages of development and I’m happy to leave that work to them, and God bless them for it. But there is another victim in this debate and that has been the English language.

Words matter. Words can uplift people — Shakespeare, Browning, and Dante. Words can destroy — Goebbels, Mao, and Stalin. George Orwell, a man who had no idea how much of a prophet he would become, foretold this present-day reality in the 1930s. 

He was so prescient that even people who care about such things take him for granted. Words like “newspeak,” “doubletalk,” “Big Brother,” “thought police,” and even “Orwellian” itself are said routinely, with many people having no idea of the dire warnings these words were.

Obviously, the warnings went unheeded, as all of these things we have in triplicate in our culture today.

Those who support abortion from the moment of conception up to and, if you’re the governor of Virginia, even after birth, never call themselves “pro-abortion.” 

Way back in the late 1970s they must have had a secret conference or something and worked hard on coming up with language that would sound much better and cloak what the intent was. The “pro-life” movement beat them to the bunch using a positive clarion call. 

So, the proponents of abortion came up with a single word. It is a good word. It is a positive word. It is a word anyone who loves liberty and autonomy would embrace — choice. Who doesn’t want choice? The word speaks to the core of our God-granted free will. 

But this usage has a twist; some could even suggest its usage is twisted, as no one has the right to “choose” what is evil. When the choice involved is the stopping of a heartbeat, then we’re back on Orwell’s Animal Farm. At the very least, the word “choice” in this context violates truth-in-advertising statutes.

The recent fetal heartbeat laws are another example of linguistic malpractice which further hampers the debate, as debate requires logic and honesty … even in disagreement. 

It is obvious there has been another clandestine conference somewhere in the bastions of the popular culture regarding the flurry of new laws popping up that require abortion limitations based on the appearance of fetal heartbeats.

Those who champion any abortion, anywhere and for any reason, don’t seem to like the word “heartbeat.” They have begun using the language “fetal cardiac activity” instead. Sounds more clinical and yes, less human. 

An article by an Adam Rogers on the Wired website insists the “heartbeat” bills go against science by using the very word “heartbeat.” To back up his claim he refers to this quote from a Dr. Jennifer Kerns from UC San Diego: 

“The rhythm specified in the six-week abortion bans is a group of cells with electrical activity.” Now I’m no doctor, but isn’t the heart that is beating inside the chest of every man, woman, and child on planet Earth just a “group of cells with electrical activity?” Orwell strikes again. 

Another turn of a word like it was a kind of lathe being winnowed of all its meaning is “viability.” Science certainly informs us that a 1-month-old fetus is not viable outside the protective environment of her mother’s womb. 

But science also tells us that a 1-month-old baby girl, hopefully one that has escaped the clutches of the governor of Virginia, is also not viable without around-the-clock care from her parents.

Contrary to pro-abortion pundits and most of the members of the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America, science is and always will be on the side of life. The more developed science becomes, the more definitive the evidence in favor of the unborn becomes. 

But what this new frontline of the struggle over abortion in our nation tells more clearly is that the most important battle to come will not be for scientific minds, but for open hearts.


SPECIAL OFFER! 44 issues of Angelus for just $9.95! Get the finest in Catholic journalism with first-rate analysis of the events and trends shaping the Church and the world, plus practical advice from the world’s best spiritual writers on prayer and Catholic living, along with great features about Catholic life in Los Angeles. Subscribe now!