Fetus Is Latin For Unborn Child | Sojourners

Fetus Is Latin For Unborn Child

The right-to-life person said, "What gives a mother the right to kill her child?"

The right-to-abort person replied, "First of all, it's not a child, it's a fetus. The termination of a pregnancy may involve procedures which some people may deplore, but surely the purported 'life' of a rudimentary conceptus can't be compared to the mature prerogatives of a woman who..."

Notice the inclination to avoid simple, familiar words like "child" and to substitute "conceptus" or "fetus." Of course, "fetus" is Latin for "unborn child," so the problem is not that it's incorrect, just that it's remote. (As if one were to say, "Good heavens, I didn't crack his skull, I merely fractured his cranium.")

The strategy is to make things seem more dehumanized--as when politicians shy away from saying "dead men and women" and speak more airily about the "attrition of unfriendly forces" or even the "tactical reduction of NVA cadre."

Doesn't sound a bit like killing, does it? Neither does "termination of pregnancy."

This technique is usually employed in trying to defend the indefensible. Like igniting villagers who live in free-fire zones with flaming jellied gasoline: pacification. Like building enough nuclear warheads to turn every city on earth into a crematorium: deterrence. Like slicing, poisoning, and flushing away a million little boys and girls every year...

Excuse me, I mean male and female human fetuses...

Such programs (the napalm, the A-bombs, the abortions) can be "defended" only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face. So language is invented which can "name" things without calling up mental pictures of them.

Interestingly, English-speaking people usually refer to their unborn whatchamacallit as a "baby." Consider these familiar expressions:

"Gretchen survived the car crash, but they're afraid she'll lose the baby."

"Cindy knew the baby she was carrying wasn't Tom's."

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