I suppose linguistic kerfuffles are inevitable when you live in Canada. Or perhaps it’s something special to abortion-related matters, I don’t know. But I do find it difficult to believe how hard it is even to agree on the terms of reference to the debate. Like, what is an abortion?
I’m reasonably new to this stuff; I’ve always been opposed to casual abortion (even though I would not wish to recriminalize the practice) but up until this year I had been pretty much uninvolved in the ongoing public debate. When we launched PWPL in January one of the things Andrea would say in interviews was how much she wanted us to talk openly and freely about what abortion really is and what it does to women. And I remember thinking: “What do you mean, what abortion really is? Isn’t that obvious?” Now I think I know what she meant.
My attention was drawn recently to this website, which is a travelling portrait exhibit of women who have had abortions. “We want people to see the faces of reproductive choice in Canada,” they explain. Which I immediately thought was an awfully weird way to put it; after all, reproductive choice is a whole lot more than just abortion, isn’t it?
Then I realized, reading a few of the stories highlighted on the site, that the person who had sent us the link was right to notice how frequent it was for some of these women to “blame the guilt they experience on the anti-choice movement.” And here I was reminded of a few recent conversations with pro-choicers who seem to think that referring to abortion as “the killing of an unborn baby” is nothing more than a dirty political tool in the ongoing oppression of women by some particularly retrograde patriarchal ideology. Which only goes to show that some people spend way too much time in soi-disant academic seminars.
I don’t care how many euphemisms you wish to use. When all is said and done, abortion results in the death of something that, given a little bit of time, would have been a human baby. Me, I believe that even in the earliest stages of pregnancy we’re talking about someone, not something, who is undeniably human and deserves at least some protection and recognition. I understand many people see things differently – they either think it only turns into someone much later along during a pregnancy, or that it’s not entirely human until it looks the part, that it’s nothing more than unspecified “products of conception”, or that even though it’s human and alive it doesn’t deserve protection until the moment it emerges from the mother’s body. That’s fine; it’s a debate and it’s customary in debates to have disagreements about terminology. But surely it should be possible to agree that, however you define that thing/person/product of conception developing inside a pregnant woman’s body, a successful abortion stops that thing/person/product of conception from continuing to develop into something that is, or will one day become, human.
When you choose to have an abortion, you are choosing to end the development, or life, of something, or someone, that would have grown into a tiny humanoid, which most people call “baby” once it’s out of the mother’s body. Your choice of words to describe it is usually a good indication of how you view the procedure, but it doesn’t change what that procedure is and what it does to someone, or something, other than yourself.