‘Abortion’: Sloppy Thinking on Filicide in the Womb

In the wake of the Alabama state legislature’s decision to pass what its opponents call an “extreme” or “virtual abortion ban,” the topic of “abortion” is once more in the public eye—where it belongs.

This time, though, the self-proclaimed enemies of this hideous practice would do their cause a good turn by being more studious about the terms in which they cast their position.

And the first term that they must revisit, the most fundamental of them all, is that of abortion itself.

“Abortion” is a term of political convenience for those who value the practice to which the term is applied. “Abortion” is an essentially value-neutral word, one that is more at home within the realm of scientific or medical discourse than within the realm of morality.

Thus, the word by design conceals from view the nature of the act to which it is assigned. “Abortion” makes it sound as impersonal as any other procedure that involves the removal of, say, a tumor, a skin tag, or a rotten tooth.

The truth of the matter, however, is that there has never been a single “abortion” in this country. Rather, there have been tens of millions of instances of mothers killing their children while the latter were still in their wombs.

Whether they realize it or not, when “pro-lifers” refer to this act of killing to which they claim to object as an “abortion,” they minimize its moral significance and reinforce their opponents’ claim that the entity being “aborted” is somehow less human, if it’s human at all, than other members of the human species who are killed.

There are still other terms that the opponents of this ghastly act must jettison. Take pro-life,” for example—a term that is not only vapid, but which obscures the evil to which the “pro-lifer” purportedly objects behind the abstraction of “life,” a term encompassing all species of living organisms.

Remarkably, another term of their enemies that at least some opponents of killing in the womb continue to use is that of “fetus.” That the latter is meant to dehumanize the human whose life is ended before it is born can be gotten readily enough by the fact that no one who welcomes the impending birth of a child ever refers to that child as a “fetus.” When my wife and I found out that she had conceived our son, neither we nor anyone we knew—including her doctors—ever referred to the “fetus” growing within her.

No, we all excitedly anticipated the arrival of the baby.

And our experience is the experience of every parent who does not seek an end to the life of the child who has not yet been born.

But another term that misleads is that of the unborn.” Courtesy of a reader (who is a physician, if I’m not mistaken), it was drawn to my attention that, strictly speaking, the human being in its mother’s womb is not “unborn,” but, rather, pre-born. “Unborn” sounds too much like non-born, or non-being, nothingness. When something is “undone,” for example, it essentially ceases to be.

It is a pre-born child or baby whose life is ended by way of an “abortion.”

Opponents of the killing of the pre-born child in the womb collude with their adversaries in framing the issue in terms of one individual’s “right to life” versus another individual’s right to choose.”  To cast this issue in the terms of liberal individualism is, once again, to veil behind abstractions the concrete reality, a reality that is far more ominous and hideous than a matter of an abuse of “rights.”

The reality is that the act that some of us reject and that we misleadingly refer to as “abortion” is filicide, more specifically, maternal filicide.

When the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Constitution grants women the right to pursue an “abortion,” it announced to the world and to future generations that Americans endorse the right of mothers to kill their children. More specifically, Americans, the world now knows since Roe v. Wade was decided 46 years ago, celebrate as a sacred, constitutional prerogative the “freedom” of some 50 million mothers to kill their children.

This is what “abortion” entails. This is what renders it evil. And this is what makes it the scourge of all national scourges, the most disgraceful of all disgraces.

There remain far too many conservatives, especially Republican politicians and some of their media apologists, who repeatedly say that while they oppose “abortion,” they are willing to grant it in the cases of “rape, incest, and when the mother’s life is at stake.” Once, however, this talking point is translated in terms that are meant not to advance partisan political interests but, rather, to reflect reality, it shouldn’t be difficult to see that it is as logically as it is morally impoverished.

Translation: We “pro-lifers” oppose filicide, the killing by mothers of their children in their wombs, but this otherwise immoral act is morally permissible when these innocent children, uniquely dependent at this stage of human development upon their mothers, threaten their mothers’ physical well-being and/or have fathers who are rapists or relatives of their mothers.

“Pro-lifers” undermine their position when they assign moral relevance to the circumstances in which the conception of a child occurs. If “abortion” is wrong, as its opponents claim, it is wrong because an innocent child is put to death. The circumstances in which that child came into being are as morally irrelevant to the worth of that child as are the circumstances in which any child comes into being morally irrelevant to their worth as human beings.

Suffice to say, given the scandalously sloppy thinking on the part of those who purport to be opposed to filicide in the womb, it is no wonder that “abortion” has managed to become as endemic as it is.

Photo Credit: Michael Thomas/Getty Images

About Jack Kerwick

Jack Kerwick earned his doctorate degree in philosophy from Temple University. His areas of specialization are ethics and political philosophy, with a particular interest in classical conservatism. His work has appeared in both scholarly journals and popular publications, and he recently authored, The American Offensive: Dispatches from the Front. Kerwick has been teaching philosophy for nearly 17 years at a variety of institutions, from Baylor to Temple, Penn State University, the College of New Jersey and elsewhere. His next book, Misguided Guardians: The Conservative Case Against Neoconservatism is pending publication. He is currently an instructor of philosophy at Rowan College at Burlington County.

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