Ethics: December 2006 Archives

Doublespeak and Abortion

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I've been catching up on some really old posts at Language Log, and I noticed one by Bill Poser that I really think misses the boat on a few points. The post is about a general phenomenon of using nicer-sounding words that convey more positive connotations in the place of words that would cast a more negative light. Some of the examples he gives are clear euphemisms that might rightly be called doublespeak. When he comes to the use of language for the abortion issue, however, I think he gets several things wrong. I'll quote the entirety of what he says about abortion rather than summarizing it, because I think in this case the particulars of what he says are important:

It may be true that abortion rights advocates prefer to avoid the term "abortion", but I think there's more to it than that. Describing one's movement as "pro-abortion" suggests that one actually favors abortion, that is, considers that abortions are a fine thing. Few if any advocates of abortion rights take such a position. Their position is, rather, that women should have the right to have an abortion if they consider it the best choice: "pro-choice" really is a more accurate description than "pro-abortion". In the abortion debate if one wants an example of the use of propagandistic use of language, it is the use of the self-designation "pro-life" by opponents of abortion rights. Opponents of abortion rights are not in general advocates of a "pro-life" stance: many of them are quite sympathetic to military activity and favor the death penalty, both of which are considered by many others to be "anti-life" stances. And those who oppose abortion under any circumstances, even when the life of the mother is threatened, are not "pro-life" even in this narrow context. Rather, they take a position that values the life of the foetus over that of the mother. So "anti-abortion" is a much more accurate term than "pro-life".

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