Friday, July 12, 2013

Culture of Life Language

I pay a lot of attention to the language about life. Perhaps it's because I worked professionally in the pro-life field for 5 years. Or perhaps it's because of the very early stage of life my children are in when they join my family. Or it might be due to that little rant I went on in my high school classroom against the wishy-washy man running for the State Assembly that got me "gag ordered" for the rest of class and a candidate and an aide who wouldn't look me in the eye as they scurried out.  Whatever the reason, it's an issue I'm highly sensitive to.

Pro-life wars are fought and won or lost over language, much of the time. Petitions, legislation, and arguments have exceptionally nuanced language that either excuse or defend any number of actions on behalf of or in assault of innocent human life. In that spirit, I present a few phrases that I hear tossed around often, and I want to issue a challenge to reevaluate our use of these phrases.

"Soon to be mom/dad/child" I hear this type of language all the time when referring to a couple who is expecting but has not yet given birth. If we believe the unborn child IS an unborn child, then you are already a parent. That child is already your son or daughter. The way you have lovingly taken care of that child and your body (or your wife's body) throughout the pregnancy IS the act of parenting. The way you wait and pray and cheer on a birth mom after you sign those adoption papers IS parenting. Your job changes when the baby is born, but you are a parent now. Parenthood doesn't begin when the child is born. It begins when that child's life begins some 9 months earlier.

"Life begins at conception" Are you reading that and saying, "wait, WHAT? I thought life DID start at conception." This is a mistake that I even see pro-life organizations making on a regular basis. If, when you say this, you mean that life begins when the sperm meets the egg, you are correct. However, something we learned through all our transfers is that in the scientific and medical communities, "conception" means a fertilized egg that has successfully implanted. So by saying "life begins at conception," you're excluding the first 2 ish weeks of life. Now, this subtle difference doesn't mean anything to the average person on the street and they certainly know what you mean when you say it. But lawmakers, politicians, scientists, and doctors know exactly what they're saying when they use this language and laws, policies, and contracts are written accordingly. If you believe that life begins when the sperm pierces the egg, then life begins at fertilization.

"Give the embryo a chance at life" I actually hear this one a lot from embryo adoption parents and advocates. We believe that those tiny little ones are human beings and we believe they deserve the opportunity to grow. The problem with this language though is if we believe this, then those embryos already have a life. That life is suspended, but if we believe they're human beings, they already have life. Again, the average person knows what you mean, but if we want our words to really reflect what we believe about these babies, may I suggest "give them a chance to be born" or "a chance to continue living" or "a chance to grow."

What are your thoughts? Are there other phrases like this that you think we need to evaluate in our effort to build a culture of life?


  1. YES! I whole heartedly agree with everything you said! My hubby wrote a blog post about this same issue a couple of years ago.

  2. Jen - Wow, great minds think alike! I have been thinking a TON about this lately!

    The "life begins at conception" was a surprise to me - I really hadn't thought of that one! You're right, due to re-definition, one really does need to reference fertilization. Awesome. Will remember that.

    "A Chance at Life" - again, absolutely. We need to remember that.

    The pregnancy references are a big one for me, and I notice that they're rife within the Christian community - "I'm a Dad!" (upon birth) or "Let's celebrate the mom-to-be!" etc. etc. etc. Within the church, these things should not be. Parenthood begins at fertilization, not birth.

    Another one that chomps on my conscience is our tendency not to count miscarried babies as real babies (a fact which you know only too well). We within the church simply do not afford early miscarriages the status of personhood that they deserve, and that works itself out in a multitude of ways.

    There are other issues with life ethics in the church, but if I went into that... I'd be here all night (and probably into next year). Suffice it to say that we have a long way to go.

    There are other things I've thought of, but they're hard to think of with Family Movie Night in the background (which I ought to be watching, LOL). I'll write them in later if I remember them!