Terminology confusion

I keep seeing people claiming that pro-lifers have their own made-up, unscientific definition of “pregnancy”. For a representative example, see “A Christian Intra-Religious Translating Dictionary” at religioustolerance.org.

It goes like this:

  • Pro-choicer points out that pro-lifers say pregnancy begins at conception.
  • Pro-choicer then points out that medical professionals say pregnancy begins at implantation.
  • Presto! Pro-choicer gets to claim that pro-lifers are at odds with medical professionals. All those pro-lifers running around talking about conception are just ignorant.

Seriously, I see this all the time. And people fall for it, because it fits into what they want to believe about pro-lifers — that we’re backwards, anti-science, etc.

I assume anyone reading this who is pro-life has spotted the flaw. In reality, what pro-lifers say is that the life of an individual human being — not pregnancy — begins at conception. I don’t think I’ve ever once heard a pro-lifer actually say “Pregnancy begins at conception.”

Pregnancy is a particular type of relationship between a mother and her child, a relationship in which the child is living inside the mother, physically connected to and dependent upon her. That relationship begins at implantation. But life precedes pregnancy. The embryo that implants is already a living human organism.

The beginning of life is not the same as the beginning of pregnancy. But planting that equivalence in the audience’s mind works in pro-choicers’ favor in a couple of ways. First, it lets them pretend there are no ethical questions about the prevention of implantation.* Second, it lets them distort pro-lifers’ arguments. If life = pregnancy, then discrediting the strawman statement that “pregnancy begins at conception” both makes pro-lifers look bad and prejudices the audience against the true statement that “life begins at conception”.

Where are pro-choicers even getting the notion that pro-lifers say “Pregnancy begins at conception”? Follow the bouncing ball again:

  • (Some) pro-lifers say that hormonal conception is abortifacient, because they believe that it prevents implantation and thus ends the life of the embryo. They’re using a colloquial definition of abortion that means “killing an embryo/fetus”.
  • Medical professionals say that even if it does prevent implantation, it isn’t abortifacient because pregnancy hasn’t begun yet. They’re using a technical definition of abortion that means “the premature ending of a pregnancy”.
  • Pro-choicers ignore the obvious fact that there are two different definitions in play, and conclude that to call something abortifacient is to imply that pregnancy has begun, ergo pro-lifers are claiming that pregnancy begins at conception.

I’d argue that the colloquial usage of the term “abortion” is justifiable in this context, in that it’s closer to the way the word is used by the general public. Still, it might be time to find better terminology when referring to something that might prevent implantation.

* Regardless of what you might have heard, it is not a known fact that hormonal birth control prevents implantation. I’ve just had that argument recently, and I don’t feel like rehashing it right now. But pro-choicers tend to argue that even if it does happen, it doesn’t matter because the pregnancy hasn’t started yet.

2 thoughts on “Terminology confusion

  1. Very nice Jen. The equivocation on life, conception, and pregnancy is a very common one. Just wait until I get to the word “cloning”, which may happen in the next few weeks!

  2. Yes, that should be a good one — I’ve been following the ridiculous attempts to redefine “cloning” that JivinJ has been documenting.

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