The Abortion Distortion
From the July 12, 2004, issue of NATIONAL REVIEW


For all the perversion of law and of medicine, the most transparent distortion is found in the language the abortion industry uses to shield itself from public scrutiny. Supporters of abortion rights can never bring themselves to admit that their opponents are “pro” anything, and consequently label the pro-life movement “anti-choice.” At the same time, abortion advocates will tell you that they are not “pro-abortion” at all. Instead, they believe in the “freedom to choose,” as if that choice had nothing to do with the fate of a human life.

When it came to the partial-birth-abortion lawsuits, the manner in which the proponents of abortion spoke in defense of the “procedure” was telling in its clinical sterility. Lawyers for the National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood avoided certain terminology to a point that would be comical were it not so serious. When questioning one of the plaintiff doctors about her views on the abortion technique, one National Abortion Federation lawyer accidentally referred to the practice as “partial-birth abortion,” but quickly corrected himself by substituting the medical terminology regularly used by the abortion lobby (“intact dilation and evacuation”), which prompted this response from the judge: “You won’t get sick if you say the words.”

More disturbing, however, was the cold manner in which practitioners of partial-birth abortion described how they accomplished their objective of killing the unborn child. Careful to avoid admitting that they crushed the partially born infant’s skull and removed the brain, doctors instead testified that they “reduced” the “fetal calvarium” to allow “completion of delivery.” One doctor testified that in performing the abortion he “separated” the “fetal calvarium” from the body, which, one must admit, does sound less disturbing than “decapitated a partially born child with a pair of scissors.” Doctors, describing the most common mid- to late-term abortion method, in which an unborn child is pulled apart piece by piece, spoke of “disarticulation,” but avoided any mention of “dismemberment,” since that might discomfort middle-of-the-road abortion-rights supporters.

The war of words is important in the struggle over abortion rights. Doctors who have performed thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of abortions among them testified in horrifying detail to the manner in which they bring about “termination of pregnancy.” One said that his objective was to “safely and efficiently empty the uterine cavity, rendering the woman unpregnant.” By using terms like “unpregnant,” “evacuating the uterus,” or “disarticulation of the fetus,” these doctors succeed in concealing the fact that they are in the killing business. But just as sterile, clinical language can protect and preserve abortion, language — plain and simple language — can expose the truth of these abhorrent practices, as one of the Justice Department lawyers eloquently demonstrated in his closing arguments. In answering the charge that having a ban on partial-birth abortion was like having an “elephant in the room” when a doctor is performing an abortion, he responded that there is no “elephant in the room. . . . There is a baby.”

With the assistance of an informed public, the practices of law and medicine can likely recover from the last 30 years of distortion. First, though, the pro-life movement has to recapture the language. At the recent “March for Women’s Lives” in Washington, D.C., supporters of abortion rights, when confronted with the most ardent of their political opposition, chanted, “Lies! Lies! Lies!” But as the recent legal battles demonstrate, the abortion-rights movement is not afraid of distortion of the truth, but of the truth itself.

— Mr. Coffin, a Washington, D.C., lawyer, is a former deputy assistant attorney general for the civil division of the Justice Department.


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