Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Language key to the debate over abortion

Language is all-important in the current debate about abortion. Subtle changes in the use of terms can gradually help to bring about and even justify ways of looking at ethical issues that previously were not acceptable.

A famous example of this comes from an editorial in the September 1970 issue of California Medicine, which referred to changing attitudes to abortion in Western society. It refers to the need for a linguistic strategy if abortion was to gain acceptance.

"Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced, it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing.

"The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact that human life begins at conception and is continuous until death.

"The semantic gymnastics required to rationalise abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices."

It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary, because while a new ethic is being accepted, the old one has not yet been rejected.

This is a stark reminder not to allow slippage in our use of language which transforms our society to facilitate the taking of life in an unjustifiable manner.

We can see how far the US has moved down that road of destruction since that editorial of 1970. We are on the edge of that precipice just now.

SEAMUS GRIMES

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