Birth Isn’t the Beginning of Life, So Let’s Stop Talking Like It Is

Opinion   |   Alexa Gospodinoff   |   Jun 9, 2014   |   9:41AM   |   Washington, DC

I think most pro-lifers would agree that if one were to examine our current scientific knowledge of the human life cycle from an unbiased perspective, without any cultural baggage, one would immediately see that a human life biologically begins at fertilization and quickly conclude that all human beings are equally worthy of the right to life regardless of level of development.

But it’s clear that that’s not the way most people think.

ultrasound3d8Secular Pro-Life has touched on both obvious and subtle anti-preborn phrases in our language before, and to a large extent those are the kinds of things I’m talking about. But even expressions that only imply birth-as-beginning-of-life—like “born this way, “a born leader,” and “a sucker born every minute”—add up to ensure that without critical thought, people will instead perceive birth as the beginning of life. And the consequences for preborn children are very real.

To me, it’s obvious that discrimination based on birth originates from the fact that birth is when we become visible to born people. It’s a sad but true universal fact that if the dominant, privileged group is not visually exposed to members of a vulnerable population, the culture at large will not consider the needs of that vulnerable population, nor will its members be treated as fully human. A born person is not necessarily more developed, more capable of rational thought, more viable, or even actually older than a person before birth. It is instead through the literal invisibility of preborn children throughout most of human history that birth has become an acceptable criterion for discrimination.

Almost every pro-abortion argument either is explicitly predicated on the idea that human life begins at birth, or depends on its audience to consciously or subconsciously discriminate against preborn persons. That’s how someone can conclude that banning abortion is a more intolerable violation of bodily rights than tearing off someone’s limbs. While it’s true that some people do nominally or actually reject birth as the beginning of human life and yet consider themselves pro-choice, as an industry and an ideology, abortion would quickly wither and die without societal discrimination based on birth status.

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Consider this: despite what certain pundits might have you believe, few women, no matter how poor, scared, or desperate, would agree to have the life of a born human ended in order to escape their circumstances. If every person who self-identifies as “pro-life” or “personally pro-life” were to immediately stop using phrases which contribute to preborn erasure and discrimination based on birth status, and start calling out others when they hear that kind of language, we could make an enormous difference in the number of children who are aborted without passing a single law or winning a single debate. (The laws would follow. The debates would follow.)

In fact, I think it’s more important to avoid preborn erasure outside the context of abortion. So it’s heartening to me to read people’s thoughts about avoiding birth discrimination in language, although it’s frustrating when dehumanization and erasure are described as “poisoning the debate.” Imagine if we denounced the practice of referring to women as “bitches” and “sluts” as “poisoning the equal pay debate”. No matter what the topic of conversation, preborn children deserve to be recognized as human beings for their own sake.

In short, I think a big part of “winning the abortion debate” doesn’t involve debating at all. The next time you hear the word “born” or “birth,” consider whether it’s perpetuating that utterly false dividing line between preborn and born.

LifeNews Note: Alexa Gospodinoff writes for Secular Pro-Life.