Name Game Goes Too Far

By Matthew Hennessey

It’s the oldest trick in the book: When you’ve got a bad product, you change the name.

But it only works if people don’t know, or can’t see, what you’re up to. Remember the prune industry’s attempt to rebrand the laxative fruit as a dried plum? Nice try.

For decades, the abortion industry has recognized that it has a bad product. Groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL have openly sought to strip the act of abortion of its meaning and power by couching it in the unobjectionable, feel-good jargon of “women’s reproductive rights.”

By changing its name, these groups have hoped to make abortion seem less like the deliberate killing of an unborn baby and more like having a mole removed. Not pleasant, exactly, but not something to be afraid of either.

Abortion clinics became “reproductive health centers” where women could go to “exercise their rights” or engage in “family planning” by undergoing a “medical procedure” to “terminate” a pregnancy. The medical community largely acquiesced in this. Doctors, nurses, technicians, and counselors happily learned and deployed the new vocabulary.

When my daughter received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, a great many medical professionals spoke to us in the gentlest terms about our “options.” Even after we expressed our intention to continue the pregnancy, we were offered “genetic counseling” to help us make an “informed decision.” These sessions amounted to little more than a litany of reasons why Down syndrome babies should be aborted: emotional stress, financial strain, susceptibility to disease, learning disability.

One doctor at a large hospital on the Upper East Side actually offered to help my wife find an abortion provider in a neighboring state after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy, when New York State’s legal window for an abortion would close. We had the distinct impression that he was offering to help us break the law.

Which begs the question: What happened to these people? How did these medical professionals lose touch with the reality of what they were doing? How did they become so blind to the moral and physical brutality of the “treatments” they were recommending?

What happened to “first do no harm?”

Could it be that the transition from healing to harming was enabled by the neologisms of the pro-abortion movement? Surely it’s easier for a doctor, nurse, or counselor to recommend “terminating a pregnancy” than it is to advise having an abortion. It is undoubtedly a gentler burden on the soul to have helped a woman to “plan her family” than it is to have ended the life of an innocent unborn human child.

You may recall the recent battle in the New York City Council over Resolution 371-A, the new law requiring so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), nonprofits run by pro-life groups, to alert clients that they will not be counseled to have an abortion. A 2010 report released by NARAL Pro-Choice New York Foundation accused CPCs of “co-opting the language of the reproductive rights movement” in order to “distance themselves from the incendiary rhetoric of the anti-choice movement.”

This semantic outrage was highly ironic considering NARAL’s own long history of attempting to obscure the essential facts and brutal reality of abortion. But as the prune industry knows all too well, sometimes simply changing the name of a bad product isn’t enough. Shockingly, some people still insist on calling a thing what it actually is.

Recent statistics released by the City Health Department showing an abortion rate of close to 60 percent for African American women elicited barely a peep from the pro-abortion crowd. The howling began only when pro-life group Life Always erected a billboard in Soho claiming that, “The most dangerous place for an African American is the womb.”

Planned Parenthood called the billboard an “offensive and condescending effort to stigmatize and shame African-American women.” New York City Councilwoman Letitia James issued a similar statement saying, “[T]to compare abortion to terrorism and genocide is highly offensive.”

Not wrong, not inaccurate, but offensive. In other words, the councilwoman and Planned Parenthood found the billboard’s claim unpleasant, aggressive, and disagreeable.

Rather like a prune.

From the April 21, 2011 issue of Catholic New York, America’s largest Catholic newspaper.

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