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In the abortion debate, words matter

Sometimes the devil is in the words.

Terminology used in the pro-abortion battle to protect access to abortion and contraceptives is strategically crafted by advocates.

Last year, Planned Parenthood announced it wanted to shed the decades old term “pro-choice,” commonly used to describe advocates of a woman’s decision to access legal abortion, because it was a label that “placed people in a box,” according to its website.

Debate exploded as media argued to keep pro-choice and others argued for new terms.

Katie Roiphe on Slate.com wrote in January 2013 that pro-choice lacks the charisma and capaciousness of “pro-life,” commonly used to describe those who advocate for protecting the life of the unborn.

“Who does not want to be arguing in favor of life?” she wrote “‘Choice’ sounds, in comparison, cool, flippant, casual, bourgeois.”

EWTN stated in a publication that “pro-abortion” is the preferred term as “pro-choice” only serves to distract from the real issue—abortion.

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Still, the terms and their connotations may be hard to shed in the debate. Pro-abortion was first used in 1975 when Planned Parenthood representative Jeannie Rosoff described the agency as pro-abortion in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. In later years this evolved into pro-choice.

According to leading Catholic thinkers and writers, the terms carry not only connotations but underlying ideologies.

The term “birth control,” which is often linked to discussions on abortion and life, is deceptive, stated the late Bishop Fulton Sheen in a radio broadcast.

Contraception—referring to artificial birth control methods like the pill, intrauterine devices and the condom—should be called “birth prevention” as couples using it are not interested in birth or control. It’s used to ensure there’s not a birth to control.

Couples may say they’re contracepting because they cannot afford children, which Bishop Sheen said is a “terrible principle they are announcing, namely, the primacy of the economy over the human.” Human life, he said, is put below the priority for a career, money or pursuit of interests.

But the great lie of the term “birth control” is that it makes women believe that it grants freedom by separating reproduction from the act of sex.

“Freedom does not mean the right to do whatever you please,” Bishop Sheen explained. “Modern Western civilization has identified freedom with freedom from constraints and it denies goals, purposes and ends.”

True freedom occurs when things are used for their intended design, he said.

“The root principle of birth control is unsound,” he wrote. “It is a glorification of the means and a contempt of the end; it says that the pleasure which is a means to the procreation of children is good, but the children themselves are no good. In other words, to be logical, the philosophy of birth control would commit us to a world in which trees were always blooming but never giving fruit, a world full of sign-posts that were leading nowhere.”

G.K. Chesterton argued in an essay published in the book “The Well and the Shallows” that birth control does not make people free but enslaves them.

“Now a child is the very sign and sacrament of personal freedom,” he wrote. “He is a fresh will added to the wills of the world; he is something that his parents have freely chosen to produce and which they freely agree to protect.”



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