On the Semantics of Abortion

Abortion is, hands down, the most emotionally-charged and contentious issue in the public square today, and semantics is at the very heart of the debate.  The intent of the semantics game is usually to obscure or obfuscate.  I was reminded of this fact this morning when I read an article entitled “Boxer compares denying women abortion coverage to denying men Viagra.”

It’s an astounding headline, and one that reveals a great deal.

Sen. Barbara Boxer was reacting, the article informs us, to “an amendment offered by Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., that would greatly restrict abortion services for women buying individual insurance through a new health care insurance exchange.”

This is what Boxer said:

“Why are women being singled out here? It’s so unfair.  We don’t tell men that if they want to … buy insurance coverage through their pharmaceutical plan for Viagra that they can’t do it.”

Now, Boxer’s views on abortion are, in my opinion, lamentable and ethically bankrupt, but are nontheless par for the course for her.  What is interesting here, though, is how the pro-choice side of the abortion debate seems to have successfully (a) couched the issue of abortion singularly in terms of “women’s health” and (b) therefore drawn analogies between abortion rights and any medical option a man may want as if the issues are qualitatively the same simply by virtue of their both being medical options.

But this is a profoundly deceptive if extremely effective non sequitur.

Certainly clear-thinking people on both sides can agree that the primary argument of those who oppose abortion is that life is being exterminated in the womb.  In other words, it is precisely at the point where pro-choice advocates seek to reduce the debate to an issue of “women’s health” that they are being most disingenuous.  Should not charity dictate that the central argument of the opposing view be articulated with fairness, even if disagreed with?  Doing so would not demand that pro-choice people agree, it would simply insure that the debate be held on the right field of play.

For instance, I oppose abortion on the grounds that abortion is the taking of innocent life.  So, on that basis, when I read Boxer’s statement, I have thoughts like this:

  • Why do you say women are being “singled out” when the issue of abortion involves and affects both men and women?
  • Why do you say women are being “singled out” when pro-life advocates are arguing that countless baby girls not be killed?
  • Why are you singling out the unborn?
  • Why are you denying the unborn the legal right of protection?
  • Sen. Boxer, how do you feel about the unborn baby girls being killed in the womb?
  • By “women” you cannot mean the untold numbers of women who vehemently oppose abortion, so could you be more specific in expressing which women you think are being singled out?
  • Deep down, do you really see a moral (or any other) equivalence between taking Viagra and having an abortion?

The article goes on to quote Boxer as saying, “”What have women done to deserve this?”

To which I say, “My question exactly!”

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