NRL News

Precision of Language, Please, New York Times

by | Sep 5, 2014


By JoAnna Wahlund

Above: the author's son Noel, who died of natural causes in utero.

Above: the author’s son Noel, who died of natural causes in utero.

I recently saw the movie “The Giver” (and loved it, just as I’ve loved the book since childhood). It’s still fairly fresh in my mind, so perhaps that’s why I kept hearing Jonas’ mother say “Precision of language, please!” while I read this New York Times article, “The Dawn of the Post-Clinic Abortion” by Emily Bazelon.

Aside from the article’s blasé and almost celebratory attitude toward illegal and unsafe abortion procedures (such as importing abortion-inducing pills from countries with no product testing or safety standards and handing them out like Halloween candy to anyone who wanted them, with no attempt to screen for people who were only posing as women in crisis pregnancies so they could slip them to girlfriends or abuse victims without their consent), what I found particularly disturbing was the author’s apparent inability to distinguish between elective abortion and miscarriage. For example, in the very first paragraph (all italics are mine):

In June 2001, under a cloud-streaked sky, Rebecca Gomperts set out from the Dutch port of Scheveningen in a rented 110-foot ship bound for Ireland. Lashed to the deck was a shipping container, freshly painted light blue and stocked with packets of mifepristone (which used to be called RU-486) and misoprostol. The pills are given to women in the first trimester to induce a miscarriage. Medical abortion, as this procedure is called, had recently become available in the Netherlands. But use of misoprostol and mifepristone to end a pregnancy was illegal in Ireland, where abortion by any means remains against the law, with few exceptions.

Right off the bat Bazelon conflates miscarriage with medical abortion, when the two are not the same. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states: “A miscarriage may also be called a ‘spontaneous abortion.’ This refers to naturally occurring events, not medical abortions or surgical abortions” (emphasis mine).

One could perhaps give Bazelon (and the NYT editors) the benefit of the doubt—perhaps they didn’t catch the error because they were too entranced with the romantic image of sailing under a cloud-streaked sky off the misty coast of Ireland (albeit on a ship that should be called the Barge of the Dead)—but it doesn’t happen just once.

Later on in the article, she writes of how Gomperts encourages [women] to lie to medical professionals and claim they’re experiencing a miscarriage instead of a medical abortion, should they need to seek help for complications. “Gomperts says there is no medical reason for women to tell anyone that they’ve used pills. Treatment, if needed, is the same as it would be for a spontaneous miscarriage.”

[Lying to your care providers about the drugs you’ve ingested is always a good idea, right? No one need worry about allergic reactions or potentially dangerous drug interactions. Gomperts obviously has only the purest of motives. It couldn’t possibly be that she wants women to lie so that she doesn’t get arrested, charged, and convicted of drug dealing.]

Ahem. Back to the story.

Further on in the article, Bazelon describes her experience at a training session for “abortion doulas.” “The training included a session on the basics of how misoprostol and mifepristone are administered in clinics and how to help ease the discomfort of miscarriage,” she writes.

Bazelon tells of abortionist Amy Hagstrom Miller, whose Texas clinic is facing closure due to Miller’s refusal to comply with new Texas safety regulations for abortion facilities: “Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder of a network of clinics called Whole Woman’s Health, told me she has been thinking about what might be possible. Facing the closure of her 11-year-old Austin clinic, she was considering whether she might open some sort of ‘miscarriage management’ facility in the Rio Grande Valley.”

I am appalled that neither Bazelon nor her editors at the New York Times either didn’t notice or didn’t bother to correct this shoddy phrasing. As the definition from the National Center for Biotechnology Information clearly states, miscarriage is not the same as medical abortion, yet she uses the two terms interchangeably, as do her interviewees—not just once but multiple times.

Precision of language, please! Abortion and miscarriage are not the same. The biological processes facilitated by the pharmaceuticals may be similar, but they are wholly different in one very important aspect: an abortion is the intentional killing of an unborn child; a miscarriage is when an unborn child dies of natural causes. They are antonyms, not synonyms.

When people such as Emily Bazelon try to imply that my experiences with miscarriage (I’ve lost two children) are no different than those of women who have aborted, it is blatantly offensive. She has no right to lump together abortion and miscarriage because she is essentially equating deliberate murder with natural death. I wouldn’t walk up to someone whose grandmother passed away in her sleep and accuse him of murder any more than I would tell a person who smothered his elderly grandmother with a pillow that it was a good thing his grandma passed away naturally, and why don’t we go ahead and tell the government to subsidize him.

The callousness and insensitively of the false equivalence of abortion and miscarriage—on the part of Bazelon as well as her editors at the New York Times—is a stinging slap to the face of every women who has ever experienced an actual spontaneous miscarriage. It is a gut-wrenching, agonizing, utterly helpless feeling of terrifying impotence when you know that the baby in your womb is dead or dying and there is nothing you can do to save him or her, despite your willingness to do anything in your power to keep him or her alive.

Moreover, this unfortunate comparison has actually inhibited our ability to grieve for the children we have lost, because we’re inundated by abortion propaganda claiming that the children we lost were just insignificant masses of cells not worth caring about. Blogger Becky Thompson explains this cognitive dissonance eloquently in her post “How Abortion Has Changed the Discussion of Miscarriage”:

It is hard for a society to mourn the loss of WANTED unborn life when it is busy calling it “tissue” and discrediting its personhood.

It is hard for a society to embrace a mourning mother for her loss of tissue when it is busy defending another mother’s right to dispose of it.

Bazelon and the NYT’s insidious conflation of miscarriage and abortion is a prime example of this mentality. While women who are threatened with a miscarriage are desperately striving to preserve their child’s life, the women as portrayed by Bazelon are desperately trying to ensure their child’s death. Yet, she attempts to claim there is no difference between the two.

In contrast, blogger Krissi Danielsson at acknowledges, “The elective ending of a pregnancy is a completely different situation than the loss of a wanted pregnancy, both medically and emotionally.” Why is this concept so hard to grasp for the Emily Bazelon and the New York Times.

Editor’s note. This first appeared at secular prolife and is reprinted with permission.

Categories: Abortion Miscarriage