Last week my office held a baby shower for a coworker and his eight-months-pregnant wife. It is their first baby, and there was lots of conversation about the nursery, the childbirth classes—all the usual things. And there was one of those cutesy baby-shower games: On entering the room, each person received a clothespin, which anyone who uttered the word “baby” had to forfeit.
The game got me thinking about the significance of naming the baby. In the context of the baby shower, of course, “baby” was a natural and welcome word to use. That was the whole point of the game—that it was easy to lose your clothespin because everyone was talking about the baby. The focus of our attention was on the baby, and the couple’s goal—aided by the larger society that we, the partygoers, represented—was first to bring the baby safely into the world and next to successfully bring him to adulthood.
To help accomplish that, we needed to be thinking and feeling and talking about him as a baby—a real human being, a child about to be born to us. Because, four and a half decades after the Supreme Court’s promulgation of Roe v. Wade, we know what happens when a woman is pregnant and she—and the father, and the grandparents, and the friends, and the doctor—all refrain from thinking and speaking the word “baby.” What happens is an abortion.
As Heidi Klum puts it in the reality TV show Project Runway, either you’re in or you’re out. If you’re in, you’re a baby. If you’re out, you’re a fetus or a pregnancy or some other concocted term, whether scientific or journalistic, that excludes you from the society of your fellow humans. After all, the seven justices who ruled that the preservation of unborn human life would henceforth be a matter of choice also shied away from the term “baby.”
When I am praying outside my local abortion clinic, a pregnant woman and her partner, parent, or friend will enter—more often than the uninitiated might think—with a baby or toddler or young child. Although a sign on the door reads “No Children Allowed,” perhaps lacking a sitter, people bring them in anyway. “Turn tail and run!” I feel like telling those old enough to exit under their own steam. “You made it out of your mother alive—don’t give them another chance at you!”—not that the abortionist (or indeed the parents, who surely love and care for these children and would likely mention their welfare as a main motivation for aborting the sibling) intends them any harm.
Still, bringing anyone young and innocent near that place of death seems deeply wrong, even though these siblings are safely in the zone of protection, having been given the crucial title of baby before birth.
“No children allowed.” Aside from protected escapees from the womb like these siblings, truer words were never written. No child that crosses the threshold within the womb of his mother—unless second thoughts move the mother to exit pretty quickly—is allowed to continue in existence here. But before the child dies, he has first been stripped of the talismanic titles of baby, child, human being. Because children don’t exist in abortion clinics.
I think that the staff at the local abortion clinic might be quite good at playing the baby shower game.
There is nothing new about the assault on the meaning of words in pursuit of a kind of confusion, a fog of the mind, within which things clearly wrong can be smudged into rightness, and mental clarity lose its clear edges. We have seen it from the beginning of the push for legalized abortion over 50 years ago, when brazen lies about “blobs of tissue” were used to loosen people’s hold on the reality they—yes, even then, even in the dark ages before sonograms—well knew.
The same love of obscurity, indirection, and mislabeling occurs in all other exercises in redefining reality, from the “happy death” promised by euthanasia to the malleable definition of marriage. It is a well-used tool of every group or society bent on some form of social revolution: They pervert meaning to cause confusion, because confusion makes it easier to upend the social mores that help us to be just to one another, treat one another with dignity and respect, and live within the parameters of our nature.
All tyrants know the power of words to impose their will. All efforts to rapidly and radically alter current human relationships and social constructs, from the French Revolution’s imposition of “citizen” as the fundamental designation of each Frenchman to the Nazi’s obscene treatment of the Jews to the varied Communist attempts to undermine attachments to the components of pre-existing societies, all have incorporated the twisting of language to further their ends by mental misdirection.
And one reason the perversion of language tends to work is that most of us to some degree would like it to work. For example, we all would like to believe we can guarantee for ourselves and suffering loved ones a “happy death.” And many of us have wished that the child conceived in a crisis pregnancy was not really a child, but inhabited some no-man’s-land stage of existence that would permit the elimination of a mere “blob of tissue” without qualms of conscience. On some issue or other, at some time or other, we have all wished we could soften the edges of our personal wrongdoing by judicious rewording, even if our motive is as trivial as excusing a second helping of cake. There is in each of us a hankering for the convenience of Humpty Dumpty’s approach to language: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.”
But words are meant to name things, and a baby’s a baby, whether in a delivery room, an abortion clinic, or an office baby shower.