Hillary Clinton was on Meet the Press on Sunday, and a surprising amount of time was devoted to asking her about abortion (usually Republicans get those questions, not Democrats). Clinton was making the point that her position is in line with Roe, women have a constitutional right to abortion but there are reasonable restrictions. But the language she used in articulating this position was quite surprising.
When asked when the unborn have constitutional rights, Clinton responded: “The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights. Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possible can, in the vast majority of instances, you know, to help a mother who is carrying a child …”
An “unborn person”, “carrying a child”? I imagine that Planned Parenthood and pro choice lobbies were less than pleased with Clinton screwing up the language that is customary for pro-choice talking points. Pro-choicers are usually slavishly attached to impersonal jargon like “fetus”, “blastocyst”, “blog of tissue” or “clump of cells”.
This episode illuminates something interesting. In talking about abortion in his encyclical letter Evangelium Vitae, Saint John Paul II remarked that we need to “call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception.” He was warning against referring to abortion as a “procedure” or an “interruption of pregnancy”, noting this sort of “linguistic phenomenon is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience.”
Those who support abortion typically cannot speak about pregnancy in ordinary language. When women (whether they are pro-choice or pro-life) have a desired pregnancy, they quite naturally refer to that which is in the womb as a “baby” or a “child” or a “person”. They’ll ask things like, “When is your baby due?” or “What name will you give your child?” Or the expectant mother will excitedly show pictures from the ultrasound, “Look at my baby!” In every wanted pregnancy I have ever heard of, this is how mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles, siblings, and friends speak about the unborn. Understandably, then, this is how Hillary herself spoke (calling things their proper name) during Chelsea’s first and now second pregnancy. It is also quite common for expectant mothers to cultivate and feel an interpersonal bond with their unborn child.
But in case this is not obvious, let’s remind ourselves that the metaphysical and personal status of the unborn is not contingent on whether the pregnancy is wanted or unwanted. We all know that what grows in the womb is not merely a “blob of tissue” or a “clump of cells”. It has never made any sense to me how a pro-choice person can feel bonded to her unborn child, or talk about “the baby” in her womb when the pregnancy was desired but use entirely different terms when the pregnancy was unwanted. Of course, it doesn’t make sense, given that it is completely unprincipled and incoherent. And it is to deceive oneself so as to hide this incoherence that pro-choice folks cannot call things by their proper name, for if they do, the obvious moral horror of their pro-abortion position becomes clear.
This is what makes Hillary Clinton’s language on Meet the Press so interesting. The mask came off, inadvertently I am sure, for just a moment on Sunday. This is a dangerous slip-up for pro-choice folks, for they cannot afford to call things by their proper name.