The abortion debate is messy and has been going on for decades. A lot of people view it as black-and-white, but that’s not the reality. With people existing who are morally pro-life, but politically pro-choice, people who support all abortions except for late-term, people who only support abortions in the case of rape/incest, people who support it on a health basis, people who think that they’re not ideal but sometimes needed, people who think that they’re beneficial to society, and even people who think the amount of abortions a person can get should be limited. … There’s a lot more to it than just “okay with abortions” or “not okay with abortions.”

In such a conversation, I think it’s important for the people discussing to use clear language to explain their positions. Part of this includes not using emotive language, or words that are chosen for the intent of stirring up a specific emotional reaction in the listener. The most apparent usage of this I’ve seen has occurred when people are referring to “fetuses.” 

The word “fetus” in the context of human development refers to an unborn human in the 11th week of pregnancy (which is nine weeks after conception). That is all that the word means. It is the factually correct term for the organism at that point in time.

Yet, people don’t seem to want to use that term. Pro-choice people will drift to referring to the fetus as “a clump of cells” or even a “parasite.” Pro-life people seem to cling to calling the fetus an “infant” or a “baby.” None of those terms are accurate.

I have two main issues with referring to a fetus as a “clump of cells.” To begin with, I find it inaccurate, based on the stage of pregnancy abortion usually occurs. More importantly, though, it can be very hurtful and demeaning to people who have suffered miscarriages. I personally know several women who have felt like they weren’t allowed to grieve the loss of the fetus they were carrying, after hearing so many people brush it off as being nothing, resulting in their further distress. 

The issue with the term “parasite” is that it’s a highly emotive description that ignores the scientific reality. A fetus does not meet the definition of a parasite. For one, a parasite needs to be a different species from its host. Beyond that, a fetus does not fit any classification for the three groups of parasites (it is not a singular-cell, nor does it attach to the skin or is a worm). The last issue with that description is that a fetus cannot be considered a parasite since it actually provides benefits for its host (this is called “mutualism”).

Pregnancy and breastfeeding have been shown to lower a person’s chances of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and heart disease. A Cambridge University study from 2016 also found that “the placenta dynamically distributes nutrients between mother and fetus, optimally ensuring the health of both mother and developing baby,” meaning it will even take nutrients from the fetus to properly sustain the mother. Even if pregnancy is not the best thing for an individual, it still can’t count as a parasitic relationship.

On the pro-life side of things: a fetus is not an infant. The stage of human development that “infant” refers to is generally from birth to l around a year old (then they enter the “toddler stage”). “Baby” generally refers to the stage from birth to four years old. Regardless, both terms apply after the offspring is born. Prior to that, the correct term is “fetus” or “zygote” or “embryo” depending on stage. 

I’ve considered the refusal to use the term “fetus” in those cases to be contradictory. If the argument is that a human life still matters at such an early stage, then why would the term for a human at that stage be “dehumanizing” (as I’ve heard several people complain of over the years?). If the life of a toddler is equal to the life of a teenager, then you shouldn’t have to pretend that the toddler is a teenager, or be firm about calling a toddler a “teenager.” It should matter as a toddler. The same logic applies here. If you really think that the life of a fetus matters, then you shouldn’t be scared to call it what it is.

In conclusion: use the proper terms. It saves people a lot of time, confusion, and unnecessary attempts at minor emotional manipulation. Open discussions with real stories and facts is the better way to approach it.

1. https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/embryo-fetus-development#Whats-a-Zygote?

2. https://thelibertarianrepublic.com/is-a-fetus-a-parasite/

3. https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/photo-gallery/health-benefits-of-pregnancy-and-motherhood.aspx

4. https://www.pnas.org/content/113/40/11255

5. https://www.verywellfamily.com/difference-between-baby-newborn-infant-toddler-293848

(1) comment

NITZAKHON

Here's the thing. "Fetus" is a medical term. But I guarantee you that no woman, happily discovering that she was pregnant, looked at the man and said "Honey, I have a fetus!" No. It's some form of "We're gonna have a baby!"

And therein lies the rub. By dehumanizing the nascent life within, we approach undermensch territory.

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