Talking about Pro-Life: use the right language

communicating effectively

Last year, The New York Times featured an article, ‘Fetal Heartbeat’ vs. ‘Forced Pregnancy’: The Language Wars of the Abortion Debate. For people who have a heart for the unborn, the words they choose are important for protecting women and saving their babies. Even though they want to help, sometimes they can express anger and frustration with people who are pro-abortion. As someone who deals closely with the media to share pro-life news, I have come to appreciate the power of how words are used to get the attention of the sometime callous mainstream news reporters.

First of all, it is important to pay attention to what kind of language is being used in the news when abortion stories are reported and pro-life advocates are described. National Public Radio (NPR) talked about how they’re deciding on abortion coverage in the article, “Reviewing NPR’s Language For Covering Abortion.” They will not use the term “pro-life,” yet pro-lifers will not use the term “pro-choice” because it doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. Listeners may complain that talking about a woman whose baby isn’t born yet shouldn’t be considered a mother, even though it seems obvious to pro-lifers that of course a baby starts his or her life at the moment of conception. So that is why we have to listen carefully about how they are covering that concept.

For instance, there has been a change in how terms are used over the years. At one point, people would not want to say “termination of a pregnancy,” but instead say “abortion, infanticide, killing of the innocent.” In the last few months, the New York Times has used the word “infanticide,” which has a bigger impact on how an audience understands killing a baby, whether the child is in utero or has already been born. Then again, the word “infanticide” can inflame the opposition, and it is more important to rationally discuss the issue of saving children’s lives than end up having a harsh argument where both sides of the issue are pouring gasoline on the fire.

Therefore, consider the audience: abortion legislation discussed in Alabama is different than Illinois. What I have seen is that people are using words like “heartbeat,” and how it is detected within the first six to eight weeks after a woman becomes pregnant. It is an emotional image, and much more powerful than simply yelling at the opposition. In Ohio, when the state’s heartbeat legislation was in process, the ACLU’s press releases did not acknowledge a heartbeat; their response was to not advocate for forced births. They did not want to use the word even though it was the bill. Yet it still had an impact.

Also, it is important to not endorse the opposition by using their language. For instance, Richard Nixon said “I am not a crook” when he was faced with impeachment. That was not effective because the negative idea was put into the public’s mind. In the case of abortion, when someone says a pro-lifer is anti-women or anti-choice, it is best to avoid using those labels because more exposure is given to them and will not help the argument against abortion.

The best words to use are what best describes the pro-life position, and it’s even better to have a powerful image or something that can instantly be shown. I know a case of a woman who was talking with a friend of hers who was considering an abortion, and the woman showed her something on Facebook. When she pulled up an image and a video that talked about why a baby is a baby and showed her friend some ultrasound pictures, she changed her mind. That powerful post was worth more than a thousand words. Even at state fairs, pro-life groups will display models of babies being developed from conception to birth. Even if people do not speak to the members of the pro-life group, they can find out what the consequences are when they encounter those visuals.

So how should you respond in such a way that does not express your anger, even though you might feel like you want to lash out?

Think about why the other person is for abortion. Even though we do not agree with everyone, we can still show compassion instead of anger. Some people are not aware of what is at stake, or they have a worldview that does not value all life. Before I followed Jesus, I thought all the arguments for abortion made absolute sense to me. I thought the baby in the womb was just a clump of cells, and was not a baby until it came out. I also thought it was cruel to make a woman who could not afford to have children give birth to only offer the kids a harsh life. Then when I came to Christ, I understood the Psalm that talks about being knitted in my mother’s womb. Knitting usually starts with some very thin threads that are put together into a bigger thread, and it becomes more and more, which means we literally go back to the point of conception. So, in some cases, it’s a heart issue that is blocking people from understanding.

In Romans 1:21 it says, “for, although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, their foolish hearts were darkened.” And I think we all come from a place of having darkened hearts until we come to know the truth. When talking to people who don’t agree with us–and I have been yelled and sworn at by abortion supporters–we have to go through a process of self-examination. David cried out, “Lord, search me and see if there’s any wicked way within me,” and I think that’s a place to start. We’re believers, but we need to have God search us and say, “God, give me the right attitude. Give me the love for people who are just in the same situation that I was lost in and with without hope, without Messiah.”

We also should listen instead of quickly speaking, as James tells us. I worked with a woman years ago and she was angry at me about how I managed her, and she eventually quit. I wasn’t a Christian then, but when I saw her again after she’d achieved a lot of success, I had come to know Jesus. She told me she had two abortions, and she shared her feelings, and she started to cry. I allowed her to hurt in front of me, and I didn’t show judgement because I thought of what Jesus would do. I was showing her that I was not there to condemn her but to help, and at that moment, she needed someone to listen.

Of course, it is easy to get upset about abortion and want to express our anger and try any means possible to get other people to believe what we are saying and to stop legislation and the pro-abortion messages that are so prevalent in our country. However, we should think higher, think about our witness and how Jesus always loved people who lived the wrong way, though he was there to give them a life-saving message.