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Are Lazy Reporters Responsible for More Americans Identifying as "Pro-Life"?

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At about this time last year, the folks at Gallup informed us that more Americans identified themselves as "pro-life" than "pro-choice" for the first time (at least since they began tracking the question in 1995).

If you can frame the terms of a debate, you've gone a long way towards winning it, even if your position is weak. And I, at age 40, distinctly remember a time when the mainstream, "objective" media refused to call people who want the state to compel women to bear children against their will "pro-life." They were referred to, accurately and neutrally, as "anti-abortion activists." I'm not sure when the change occurred -- I believe it was gradual -- but I now see the term "pro-life" used frequently in mainstream reporting.

It's obviously not an accurate description. Among the 51 percent who claimed to be pro-life, some large but unknown number favor the death penalty and support "wars of choice." Some of them -- a minority, to be sure -- also oppose abortion in cases when the life of the mother would be endangered by carrying a fetus to term. To call people who obviously place very little value on the lives of women (post-birth anyway) "pro-life" is a perversion of the language. It's pure spin.

I'm staunchly pro-choice, because I believe abortion is a deeply personal decision that must ultimately be decided by women who face an unwanted pregnancy (in consultation with their doctors, of course -- we are talking about a medical procedure after all). I oppose military adventurism for any reason other than true national defense, and I think the death penalty is antiquated, ineffective as a deterrent and, frankly, tacky. It would be far more accurateto describe me as "pro-life" than your typical advocate of state-enforced-childbirth.

Let me take that a step further. How many among that 51 percent who claim to be "pro-life" truly value "life" as an abstract concept? How many believe it's wrong to put out a mousetrap? In this country, 90 percent of abortions occur before the 12th week of pregnancy. At 11 weeks, a fetus the embryo is a vaguely human-like blob of cells without sentience or the capacity to feel pain as we understand it. It weighs, on average, 1/4 of an ounce, or about 1/3rd of the average weight of laboratory mice. Many of the 10 percent of abortions that are performed later are only due to the fact that a woman is diagnosed with a condition that would make carrying the pregnancy to term a threat to her life, or when a fetus is discovered to have serious deformities.

Human beings have always used abortion as a method of controlling family size. By calling those who favor criminalizing the procedure and sending women into the hands of unqualified black-market abortionists "pro-life," the media passively validate their contention that a fetus represents a living human being. One can only speculate what impact that might have in a country in which only one in six adults possess high-level literacy skills (that figure shocked me too!). How many people understand that 90 percent of the time we're talking about aborting a fetus an embryo that weighs 7 grams?

Unfortunately, I don't have the luxury to spend a month researching an article on this topic. But I would love to see some organization that has such a capacity -- a big one with a research department like Mediamatters or the Center for American progress -- go back over the last 20 years or so and do a content analysis to determine the frequency with which neutral reporters use the term "pro-life," and see whether it has in fact become far more common than it used to be. And I'd like to see them take that data and see if reporters' increasing usage of that euphemism correlates with shifting public opinion on the subject. I would hypothesize that it would; that as journalist have increasingly upheld the forced-childbirth crowd's claim that they value "life," public opinion moved toward their direction.

Adding: Consider how ridiculous it was to refer to George W. Bush, who mocked a woman appealing for clemency before signing her death warrant and launched a bloody, wholly unnecessary war that may well have led to the deaths of over a million Iraqis "pro-life."

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