When words are used to hide the truth (continued)

our lady

In August I wrote a post suggesting that the use of language to hide rather than to communicate was growing. This morning’s ‘Today’ programme on Radio reinforces my point.

Without a trace of irony, the presenter Evan Davis introduced an item on ‘post-fertilisation contraception’, which, he suggested, might be used for up to two weeks after ‘fertilisation’. The discussion which followed concerned the difficulties faced by scientists, the reaction of the press, and the need for ‘public debate’ at an early stage if such discoveries are to be communicated.

What a curious term is ‘post-fertilisation contraception’. The word ‘contraception’ has always been used to mean the prevention of conception. Once conception has taken place we use the word ‘abortion’. The use of ‘fertilisation’ too, is significant. It has a clinical feel; we remember it being used of plants in biology class. ‘Conception’ is what happens in humans when a woman conceives a child. It is the word Christians use of Mary every time they recite the Angelus: ‘And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.’

So what if Evan Davis had described this new technique in the words we normally use: ‘post-conception abortion’. Yes, it sounds and feels very different, doesn’t it. And immediately I hear the objection that he was trying not to pre-empt the moral discussion. In which case let us continue the debate about abortion, about the moral basis for a practice against which Christians have always stood firm. By all means let us force the question, ‘Why two weeks – why not a month, or six months or ….’

It is simply not true that all moral questions nowadays are open: we frequently use words and phrases which express society’s moral disapproval. What once we called ‘risky jokes’ we now call ‘racist language’.  ‘Office banter’ is now ‘unacceptable sexism’. Packets of cigarettes  bear the slogan ‘Smoking kills’: when the scientific evidence is that ‘Smoking kills some people’.

I am not hopeful about such a ‘public debate’ over this new scientific discovery. It sounds too easy and convenient as a way of getting rid of an ‘unwanted little problem’ for people to resist. Will anyone have the courage to sell them as ‘Home Abortion Kits’? I doubt it.


About Scott Anderson

Formerly an Anglican priest (ordained 1975) received into the Catholic Church in February 2012, and ordained to the Diaconate on 27th July 2013. I took early retirement, and divide my time between London and northern France. I am deeply committed to the Ordinariate as a gift of the Holy Spirit in the search for unity. Like many Ordinariate members I feel a personal gratitude to Pope Emeritus Benedict, together with loyalty to our Holy Father, Pope Francis. My blog tries to make a small contribution to the growth of the Ordinariate by asking questions (and proposing some answers) about the 'Anglican Patrimony'. I have always been fascinated by the whole issue of growth and decline, and therefore concerned for appropriate means of evangelisation in western Europe. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly renewing the People of God and that we must be open to him. My love of music and motorcycles will occasionally surface in my posts. On Saturday 19th October 2013, I was ordained to the Priesthood at Most Precious Blood, Borough, by the Most Revd Peter Smith, Archbishop of Southwark, for the service of the Ordinariate of our Lady of Walsingham. I continued to serve the Ordinariate group and Parish at Most Precious Blood until the end of 2014. Subsequently, I helped in the care of the Ordinariate Groups at Hemel Hempstead and Croydon, and in the Archdiocese of Southwark, until the beginning of September 2015. With the agreement of my Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton, the Bishop of Amiens appointed me Administrator of the Parish of Notre Dame des Etangs (Pont Remy) in Picardie, France. This appointment is to last for a year, to give the Bishop the opportunity to assess the future of the parish.
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One Response to When words are used to hide the truth (continued)

  1. Harry says:

    I agree entirely with your idea that language can be used to conceal the truth or to follow the PC agenda. Just recently we had the discussion about the use of the word terrorist as against militant, the latter much favoured by the BBC, to describe those responsible for the attack in Nairobi. Meanwhile giving scant attention to the massacre in Pakistan – hats off to Bp Nazir for breaking the news on ‘thought for the day’.

    I didn’t hear the item about ‘post-fertilization contraception’ but I can make a comment about the physiology of the process. Fertilization isn’t just confined to plants but also to animal reproduction when the egg is fertilized by the spermatozoon. The fertilized ovum, (zygote) in mammals, then has to implant in the uterine wall to establish a placenta and continue development. A certain number of fertilized ova or zygotes can fail to implant and pregnancy doesn’t occur. I can see a point of view where ‘conception’ means the establishment of a viable embryo (up to 8 weeks, then foetus to the end of pregnancy) rather than just fertilization and in that sense the unimplanted ovum has lesser moral status that the established foetus and the use of contraceptive methods that prevent either fertilization or implantation are acceptable.

    Following implantation however the moral problems are greater and so we get the spectrum of secular opinion about the status of the foetus or embryo from the ‘a woman’s right to choose’ standpoint where the it is regarded as just a body part with no identity of its own and that can be “removed” if necessary, to the grayer areas where the status of the embryo or foetus depends on its stages of development and this is where time limits enter into the argument. Since the zygote’s progress along the fallopian tube may take up to two weeks I can see why this time limit was discussed as we have the lesser moral problem of preventing implantation rather than killing a viable embryo or foetus.

    I’m out of my territory now but I believe that the various world faiths have all considered the same issue of when, following conception, there is a human life present in the womb which can form their views on contraception or abortion.

    Hope this helps shed a bit of light on the underlying biology which I believe is behind attitudes to human life before birth and which lead the use of such obfuscating terms as ‘post-fertilization contraception’.

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