Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fetus vs. Baby

The word "fetus" overwhelms the Supreme Court abortion caselaw. It's used over and over again. I believe Carhart II is the first use of the "baby" word in a majority opinion dealing with abortion. Of course Justice Kennedy does not use the baby word himself. But he does quote a woman who says "baby," and so the word sneaks into our abortion caselaw.

What's wrong with fetus? Nothing, really. It's a scientific word. It has a medical basis. A fetus has brain activity and is moving in the womb, which distinguishes it from a zygote or embryo. Indeed, as I argue, the point when an embryo becomes a fetus is morally (and legally) a significant point, because a moving baby, with brain activity, is relevant in regard to when human death happens. According to our statutes, if a kid's got brain activity, and you intentionally make it stop, you killed him. And human death is something doctors, mothers and Supreme Court Justices want to avoid causing.

So I don't quibble with the use of the word fetus. What I have noticed, however, is that there are some people, namely Supreme Court people, who cannot use the word baby. I find this suspicious. It suggests an undercurrent of bias.

Consider the word "Negro". Or "Caucasian". These are semi-scientific words, but there is a subtext there that disturbs people. Did you know the Supreme Court uses the "Negro" word in Brown v. Board of Education? The case purports to end racial segregation, and yet the rhetoric used divides us. Implicitly the Court is saying, "We Caucasians are now talking about you Negros." It's offensive, right? The Court doesn't mean to offend. It's writing in 1954. It offends us today because we realize that the Court is instinctively classifying and dividing people by race, even as it purports to end racial segregation. Alleged scientific terminology can actually be used to create distance and to dehumanize people in our minds.

Baby is a word ordinary people use all the time to describe the unborn. "The baby just kicked." Who says fetus? Supreme Court Justices, attorneys sucking up to Supreme Court Justices, feminists who think pregnancy is a plot by the Man to oppress Woman, and obstetricians who flunked that class on bedside manner.

Now is it possible that the Supreme Court uses this fetus word, over and over, to be scientifically accurate? Yes. But I want to raise an alternate possibility that the Supreme Court uses this word because it is biased against the unborn. Because it has classified them as objects. The Court doesn't want to say "baby" in an abortion opinion, precisely because this is an abortion opinion, and the baby is going to disappear. First you make the baby word disappear, and then you make the baby disappear.

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