Twenty years before Roe v. Wade rocked American culture those two names were extremely important to me. In 1953, Elwin Preacher Roe and Benjamin Wade were stalwarts on the Brooklyn Dodgers’ pitching staff. In the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, Norma McCorvey, the real Roe, and Texas Executive Assistant Attorney General Henry Wade, made historic headlines. As a result, an unborn child now has fewer legal protections than the bald eagle or the snail darter.
On that ill-fated January morning, Jan. 22nd, when the infamous decision was officially announced, no one realized the impact it would have on American morals and family life. Roe was not even the lead story that day. Lyndon B. Johnson, the nation’s 36th president, who succumbed to a heart attack at age 64, garnered more coverage. No one knew then that abortion would become the most divisive political and moral issue the country had seen since slavery.
Like slavery, abortion became the linchpin in a Culture War that still drags on. Abortion is such a gruesome subject, affecting millions of people, not to mention the loss of more than 53 million unborn Americans that politeness dictates this elephant in the room must never be mentioned. This attitude has created a wall of indifference that still deeply divides Americans, including millions of Catholics.
Part of the collateral damage in this war has been the English language. The most flagrant abuse of language focuses on a woman’s choice. For a democracy founded on the freedom to choose its leaders, choice was the perfect antidote to the pro-life arguments about the sanctity of human life. Sadly, too few people ever make it past the slogan and the inevitable questions about the consequences of what was chosen. Abortion is the choice that dare not speak its name. Its advocates avoid its use with the verbal acrobatics of a circus performer.
To avoid nomenclatural stain they shroud themselves in the twisted semantics of women’s health care, medical procedure, choice and rights. They also use powerful but pejorative slogans, such as pregnancy is a disease, and a fetus sounds like a fungus or a parasitic growth. Their verbal legerdemain is comparable to the use of chattel by ante-bellum slave owners and Untermenschen by the Nazis.
To be pro-choice, that is personally opposed but…is another clever dodge, which owes its origins to the late Governor of New York Mario Cuomo. I often wonder why no one ever asks what is it about abortion that one could personally oppose and implicitly sanction its performance in others? In a world of moral illogic, could not someone have reasonably substituted murder, rape, robbery, genocide, or child abuse? Would this not expose the absurdity of choice? Or would people continue to mire themselves in a Machiavellian mind game that blinds them to the ugly reality of what is chosen?
In reality abortion has little to do with a woman’s choice and everything to do with political power. If abortion were about real choice, its advocates would not obstruct every attempt to educate women about the humanity of their unborn children so that they could make an informed choice. Sonograms, for example, have proven very effective in enlightening mothers about the humanity of the potential victims of their choice. They have opened a miraculous window to the womb that scientifically demonstrates what is at work in God’s laboratory. Yet Planned Parenthood calls sonograms vile propaganda.
Its champions say that abortion is a woman’s right. Why is it no one ever challenges the use of the word right? How can women have a right that men do not have? How can rights be gender-specific? Free speech, religion, and assembly are all rights that theoretically both men and women can enjoy and practice.
While American law outlaws slander, human sacrifice and looting, to its partisans the abortion right must be absolute and inviolate. Genuine human rights come from God by virtue of the fact of being human. A right that comes from government is not a right but a privilege that can be rescinded by government at any time. As George Orwell wrote, if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
Millions of Americans are still troubled by abortion. In their hearts, they know its wrong but it is legal and so they do not protest. The 2015 revelations about fetal body parts trafficking have penetrated the mental barriers of apathy in countless other Americans. This could be the chance for Catholics and others to take back the language and with that the narrative that has so twisted the historic debate on the side of the Culture of Death.