If you wonder why media outlets report abortion debate stories the way they do it is helpful to look at the different stylebooks referenced by and guidance provided to journalists.

My oldest daughter gave me the latest Associated Press Stylebook as a gift for my birthday. It is a helpful reference (the last time I owned one was when I studied journalism at Drake University) and I’ve adapted some of my writing to it in terms of state abbreviations, datelines, political titles, etc. In terms of grammar and style, I consult it frequently.

I don’t utilize it in every instance however.

The AP Stylebook says this about abortion: “Use the modifiers anti-abortion or abortion-rights; don’t use pro-life, pro-choice or pro-abortion unless they are in quotes or proper names. Avoid abortionist, which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions.”

They give the following guidance for embryo, fetus, unborn baby, and unborn child as seen below.

While the terms are essentially interchangeable in many common uses, each has become politicized by the abortion debate even in uses not involving abortion. Anti-abortion advocates say fetus devalues a human life, abortion-rights supporters argue unborn child or baby equate termination of a pregnancy with murder by emphasizing a fetus’s humanity.

Write clearly and sensitively, using any of the terms when appropriate.

Fetus, which refers to the stage in human development from the eighth week of pregnancy to birth, is preferred in many cases, including almost all scientific and medical uses: The virus can be disastrous to a fetus. The lawsuit alleges harm to a fetus that prosecutors claim was viable. The research conducted on fetal tissue.

In scientific uses referring to the first seven weeks of human development after conception, use embryo.

The context or tone of a story can allow for unborn baby or child in cases where fetus could seem clinical or cold: Weiss said her love for her unborn baby was the strongest feeling she had ever felt. The expectant mother lost her baby in the seventh month of pregnancy.

From the perspective of trying to be an unbiased reporter of a particular story on the abortion debate I can understand not using the phrase “pro-life” because the converse of that is “pro-death.” Also, “pro-choice” is inappropriate as those who are against abortion also believe in options.

The converse of being “anti-abortion” is being “pro-abortion.” Yes, I know some people state that they are for “abortion rights,” but personally against abortion (which I believe is a worthless position). The way the AP handles this casts those who are against abortion in a negative light while those who favor abortion sound like they are fighting for liberty instead of defending the ability of mothers to intentionally end the life of a human being inside the womb. Anyway, this leans toward the side of those who support abortion. Frankly, I think using the terms “abortion opponents” and “abortion supporters” is probably about as neutral as one can get.

In terms of whether a reporter uses embryo, fetus, unborn baby, or unborn child tilts toward those who support abortion as fetus “is preferred in many cases.”

NPR, in their on-air guidance, blatantly favors abortion supporters.

The term “unborn” implies that there is a baby inside a pregnant woman, not a fetus. Babies are not babies until they are born. They’re fetuses. Incorrectly calling a fetus a “baby” or “the unborn” is part of the strategy used by antiabortion groups to shift language/legality/public opinion. Use “unborn” only when referring to the title of the bill (and after President Bush signs it, the Unborn Victims of Violence Law). Or qualify the use of “unborn” by saying “what anti-abortion groups call the ‘unborn’ victims of violence.” The most neutral language to refer to the death of a fetus during a crime is “fetal homicide.”

This advice is bad journalism, and it is bad science. While it is not wrong to use the word fetus, I do from time to time, especially when distinguishing between developmental stages or referring to “fetal homicide” laws or “fetal tissue.” It is not incorrect to call a human being who is not yet born “unborn” or even “preborn.” An insistence that reporters do not use the term “unborn” demonstrates bias. Saying a baby who is not born is not a baby is ludicrous. In keeping with developmental stages after a human being is born, they are an “infant” and then a “toddler.” I’d love to see NPR correct an OB/GYN who refers to the baby a mother is carrying. No mother, no doctor, talks about the baby as a fetus.

The AP’s insistence that we not call someone who performs abortions an “abortionist” is silly. That is what they are. All it connotes is a person who performs abortions.

NPR’s guidance, again, is even worse:

NPR doesn’t use the term “abortion clinics.” We say instead, “medical or health clinics that perform abortions.” The point is to not to use abortion before the word clinic. The clinics perform other procedures and not just abortions.

Do not refer to murdered Dr George Tiller as an “Abortion Doctor.” Instead we should say Tiller operated a clinic where abortions are performed. We can also make reference to the fact that Tiller was a doctor who performed late abortions.

The fact is this: the media has followed the lead of abortion advocacy groups in sanitizing the language of abortion to shape public opinion.

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