What’s in a word? How ‘fetus” helped usher in abortion on demand

By Dave Andrusko

As one of the first posts of 2019, I’d like to briefly talk about an article that had been kindly forwarded to me a while back. It ran online at salvomag.com and was titled simply, “Fetus.”

I learned a lot.

For example, “The first recorded use of the word ‘fetus’ dates back to 1398. Before then, an unborn human was almost always referred to as a ‘child’ (or some variation thereof).” In fact, “even up until the sixteenth century, ‘fetus’ wasn’t in common use; indeed, there’s evidence that as late as 1594 people were still using ‘child’ to refer both to the born and to the unborn.”

While it’s hard to tell, according to the article, “when ‘fetus’ finally became the preferred term for the unborn, we do know that beginning in the 1970s the word took on a whole new meaning, sharply distinguishing the unborn from the born child so as to suggest that the former was not fully human.”

We’re reminded that “abortion advocates often talk about the pro-life movement’s ‘love affair with the fetus at the expense of the born child,’ as if the two were distinct entities. Such semantic mis-direction was one of the consequences of the [1973] Roe decision, which solidified this supposed distinction between the born and unborn.”

Why is that important? Because through the constant repetition of “fetus,” the “target of abortion’ was reduced to something other than a child. “Fetus” is at one and the same time vague, semi-dehumanizing, and off-putting.

“Fetus” served two key roles in the campaign to dehumanize the unborn child, opening the gate to abortion without limitation. First, it “strip[ped] the unborn child of his humanity so that killing him could be excused.” Second, it allayed the guilt the mother would feel because she could tell herself “that the life inside her was not yet human.”

In briefly summarizing the argument, I have omitted many helpful and subtle points. I would very much recommend you go to salvomag.com for a delightful and educational read.