A Deadly Word Game

By John M. Grondelski | November 6th 2023The New Oxford Review

White lab coats seem to make people believe their wearers cannot engage in sophistry

David Hackney is a Cleveland medical professor who is pushing Issue 1, the proposed Ohio state constitutional amendment to legalize abortion through birth, on the ballot tomorrow, November 7. He penned an article in the November 5 New York Times defending the amendment.

He claims the State of Ohio is promoting “disinformation” by how it framed and summarized Issue 1. The hackneyed arguments Hackney puts forward are, however, the only disinformation out there. [A link to his article is here.]

First, Hackney claims that the proposed amendment is “short (just over 200 words), easy to understand and written to specifically reflect the beliefs of our state.” That sentence deserves three Pinocchios.

Issue 1 is written to engage in abortion obfuscation. It pretends to allow restrictions on abortion after “viability” because most voters are ambivalent about allowing abortion in the sixth to ninth months, when a mother can feel her baby move and the child can survive outside the womb. The abortion lobby would not want to alarm people with what they really want. So, they insert window dressing language about “viability,” a limit that they promptly eviscerate in three ways:

  1. They do not include any definition of “viability.”
  2. They say that “viability” is determined by the abortionist (in other words, a person regulated by the limit is entitled to waive it) on a “case-by-case basis” (so, no general rule that fetuses are generally viable nowadays at 20 weeks’ gestation).
  3. In case you can’t use the determination-of-“viability” escape clause, don’t worry: there’s a fallback! Even “viability” does not trump a pregnancy the abortionist think is detrimental to a woman’s “health.” And, since “health” is also undefined (and we know from 50 years of federal jurisprudence since Doe v. Bolton that the definition of “health” is extremely elastic and expansive), claiming an abortion is necessary to a woman’s “health” is your get-out-of-jail-free card, courtesy of Issue 1.

Hackney wants us to believe that late-term abortions “are not part of standard medical care in the United States and never will be.” But even Planned Parenthood admitted, after Congress finally enacted the Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003, that third trimester abortions occur at least as much for socio-economic as for “medical” reasons. The abortionists of America don’t want to admit that, which is why they conflate “health” with psychological and emotional contentment so as to medicalize late-term abortions procured for socio-economic reasons. One hundred years ago, the AMA — which was campaigning against legalized abortion — would also have declared 60,000,000 abortions “are not part of standard medical care in the United States and never will be.” Don’t predict the future!

Talking about “easy to understand” language, Issue 1 never says pregnant “woman” or pregnant “mother,” only “patient” or “individual.” This construction serves a twofold purpose: (i) prevents the law from speaking of a pregnant woman as a “mother” (lest we humanize the fetus) and (ii) silently inserts gender ideology language into the Ohio constitution, establishing the legal fiction/biological fraud that “men” can be pregnant.

Second, Hackney is upset that the Ohio elections board uses the term “unborn child” in its summary of Issue 1, which he believes is “biased” language. “Fetal” is “scientific” and “standard medical.” It’s even sewn on to his medical jacket!

“Fetal” is also dehumanizing. It seeks to substitute an antiseptic term for a reality that, in a rare moment of honesty, Hackney’s article admits. Answering the objection whether a doctor ever speaks of an unborn “child,” the professor writes: “Do maternal fetal medicine specialists ever say “child” in reference to someone’s pregnancy? Of course we do, informally, all the time, in concert with our patients.”

Let’s unpack that sentence. If a “maternal fetal medicine” specialist like Dr. Hackney condescends to say “child” in reference to someone’s pregnancy, is he lying or telling the truth? Hackney’s answer is curious: he admits he uses the term “in concert with our patients.”

In other words, if mom wants the baby, it’s a “child.” If she doesn’t, it isn’t. He admits as much; he uses “child” because “these are the patients who have chosen to continue their pregnancies and have chosen to frame them as such.”

So, either childhood depends on another person conferring that status — a curious scientific phenomenon undocumented to the best of my knowledge in the “textbooks, lectures, and research publications” to which Hackney appeals — or his use of terminology is not “scientific” but polemical, a pretense of clinical objectivity in the service of a political outcome he prefers.

Back in 1970 in a prophetic editorial [see here], California Medicine admitted that the only way to justify abortion-on-demand was to have medical specialists engage in “semantic gymnastics,” because white medical jackets seem to make people believe their wearers cannot engage in sophistry. But the abortion establishment has been built on a house of semantic cards for five-plus decades. Ohio voters should not fall for its latest edition, especially when trafficked as “scientific.”

John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey.