(Note: I apologize for the length of this post. I decided to go all-out for two reasons: one, because there’s so much that demands a response, and two, because this will be my last response in the form of a full NRB post. I’ll continue the discussion in the comments and on my blog, but after this, it’ll be time to get back to holding the media accountable for its less bloody offenses.)
Terminating a pregnancy in the first term isn’t murder. You know it, I know it, and anti-abortion activists know it. The difference is that those who campaign against legalized abortion don’t realize they know it.
With such a bold claim opening David Swindle’s latest entry in the great NewsReal abortion debate, one might expect the post that follows to contain truly stunning revelations about the psyche of the pro-life movement.
It’s harder to take Calvin’s use of “murder” as anything more than emotional rhetoric when he actually confesses “does it make a difference?” as though words don’t matter.
My argument was manifestly not that “words don’t matter.” In my last entry, I argued that David’s earlier observation was ultimately irrelevant to the central questions of the abortion debate, chief among them the scientific and moral status of the unborn. As I said:
Because both terms [murder and manslaughter] denote homicide, downgrading abortion to manslaughter doesn’t magically make abortion either ethically sound or legally tolerable.
Granted, I should have elaborated on why “murder” is still a legitimate description of abortion. First, it remains the most accurate descriptor in many cases—as I said, many women “know what they’re destroying, or are callously indifferent,” and the technical & medical knowledge necessary to perform an abortion ensure that every abortionist knows exactly what he’s destroying.
Second, I don’t fully accept that murder’s definition is quite so narrow. Legally, “killing caused by dangerous conduct and the offender’s obvious lack of concern for human life” counts as second-degree murder, so people who simply haven’t bothered to determine their child’s biological status also qualify. Further, while law requires very precise terminology for dispensing punishment, I don’t believe that common usage outside of the criminal justice system needs to be quite so precise. I really don’t think that when most folks hear “murder,” the first thing that comes to mind is an inference about premeditation, but rather killing that is unjust as opposed to killing that is just (like self-defense against an attacker). Anyone who’s ever pondered the meaning of the commandment on the subject should see this distinction as more important to “murder’s” meaning than premeditation.