As the Democrats always do, when they can’t win an argument, they try to change the language.
Now that the Supreme Court seems set to overturn Roe v. Wade when it rules on the constitutionality of a Mississippi abortion law in the next few weeks, the battle over the unborn has shifted to Congress — and a group of Democrats wants to redefine the terms of engagement.
According to Politico, a caucus of pro-abortion Democrats circulated a memo Thursday encouraging its members to use different language when discussing the issue, including scuttling the “safe, legal and rare” line that originated with former Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Politico’s Sarah Ferris reported that the House Pro Choice Caucus, which is led by Reps. Diana DeGette of Colorado and Barbara Lee of California, circulated the document, which lists “Harmful Language” and alternative “Helpful Language.”
First: Instead of calling an abortion a “choice,” refer to it as a “decision.”
It’s unclear in Ferris’ report why that particular word choice (or “word decision”) was made, and it’s the least clear of the bunch. Assumedly, “choice” sounds like a more feckless thought process was at play when it comes to ending a human life, like choosing Coke or Pepsi — whereas “decision” implies the mother weighed the pros and cons beforehand.
Granted, “pro-decision” doesn’t sound like a particularly “helpful” euphemism for “pro-abortion” the same way that “pro-choice” does, but there you have it. Expect the group DeGette and Lee lead to be renamed the House Pro Decision Caucus in the coming weeks.
Next on the “Harmful Language” docket: “Reduce abortion” or “safe, legal and rare.”
The latter term was initially coined by Clinton as a convenient way to cloak the Democrats’ pro-abortion agenda as harm reduction. Well, now the cloak is off.
Here’s the “Helpful Language”: “Safe, legal and accessible.” Have as many as you want, birthing parents. The Democrats are behind you.
Also, don’t say that it’s an “‘unwanted’ pregnancy,” which sounds a little callous. Instead: “Unexpected pregnancy.”
When referring to religious health care providers and hospitals that refuse to provide abortions and are shielded under state laws, don’t talk about “conscience clause/protections.” That’s “Harmful Language.” Instead: “Refusal of care/denial of care laws.”
Finally, it’s harmful language to refer to “back-alley abortions/coat hangers.” Instead, call it “criminalizing healthcare.”
It’s worth pointing out, as Ferris did, that the Democratic Party already quietly extirpated “safe, legal and rare” from its official platform 10 years ago.
During her 2016 campaign, Vox noted, Democrat Hillary Clinton merely said abortion should be “safe and legal.”
In the 2020 presidential campaign, former Hawaii Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard came under fire for echoing the “safe, legal and rare” line during a debate; Vice declared “Tulsi Gabbard’s Stance on Abortion Is Stuck in the ‘90s,” and former Planned Parenthood head Dr. Leana Wen was attacked when she tweeted support for Gabbard.
The rest of it is purely Orwellian in more ways than one; beyond the “newspeak” from “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” the clunky terminology brings to mind nothing so much as Orwell’s essay “Politics and the English Language.”
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink,” Orwell wrote.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”
Every one of these words and terms is clunkier than what it aims to replace and is significantly less specific about what it refers to.
The vast majority of abortions are from women who have an “unwanted” pregnancy; while statistics aren’t kept on this sort of thing, it seems unlikely anywhere near a majority of “unexpected” pregnancies are aborted.
Conscience clauses or protections make it clear what these laws do: They protect the religious consciences of individuals or organizations that believe abortion is the sinful termination of a human life. “Refusal of care” or “denial of care” doesn’t state the reason the refusal or denial is deemed to be warranted, or what the care is — and that’s the point.
It’s worth noting this wasn’t greeted with unvarnished enthusiasm.
“Some in the party, however, are privately raising concerns about rebooting the party’s messaging on abortion at such a critical time,” Ferris wrote.
Whatever the case, congressional Democrats don’t have the votes for any kind of move on abortion at present. The Women’s Health Protection Act — which would codify Roe v. Wade on a federal level and then some — failed in a 49-51 vote on Wednesday, with West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin voting against moving it to the floor for debate.
That’s far short of the 60-vote margin needed to overcome the filibuster — and Manchin’s vote against the bill means even the nuclear option, which would eliminate the filibuster on the abortion bill, isn’t on the table.
Talking about “criminalizing healthcare” and being “pro-decision” likely isn’t going to sway Manchin.
It’s not going to sway many voters, either — but when it comes to language corrupting thought, perhaps the House Pro Choice Caucus is playing the long game on this one.