Keeping Oneself In Denial

One of the most chilling scenes in District 9 is the one in which Wikus enters an alien's home and coldly performs an abortion.
This scene came to mind when I read Katy Waldman's recent Slate article on "ultrasound viewing" prior to abortion procedure. Waldman investigates the position that women who view ultrasounds prior to going through with abortions are more likely to reconsider.

First, to the meat of the matter. Waldman's investigation reveals that, in one study, 1.6% of women who were shown ultrasounds eventually backed-out of their abortions. She describes the 1.6% as "only" 1.6%, and hastens to add that all of those who backed out were part of the 7.4% of the total population who were unsure about the abortion in the first place.

I have not double-checked the study, so I accept Waldman's account at face value. I am not sure that her point is as strong as she would like it to be. Waldman's states that "15,575 medical records were analyzed." If I assume that one record is equivalent to one person (admittedly not fully accurate, but reasonable enough for illustrative purposes), this means that approximately 1,153 were not fully committed to going through with the abortion, and ultimately 249 women backed out. This seems to suggest a possible 22% - more than one in five patients - of women who aren't previously committed to abortion could potentially be dissuaded from having one, if they simply view a sonographic picture of their fetuses.

The full interpretation of this story is, as usual, open to debate among reasonable people. However, as I said before, what Waldman seems to believe is a slam-dunk is hardly so.

But what I found most disturbing about Waldman's article is her reluctance to refer to fetuses as fetuses. She refers directly to fetuses a total of 27 times, and in only three of those instances did Waldman actually use the word "fetus." The remaining instances were as follows:

  • 7 instances of "ultrasound images," "images" and similar terms
  • 6 instances of "sonogram," "sonogram viewings" and similar
  • 5 instances of simply "ultrasound"
  • 2 instances of "bean"
  • 2 instances of "these pictures"
  • 1 instance of "grainy photos"
  • 1 instance of "contents of their uteruses"
Even more interesting is the fact that Waldman reserved the word "fetus" for negative contexts. Of the three times she used that word, the first instance was a reference to "concern for the fetuses" shown by those she calls "anti-choicers" (otherwise known as pro-lifers); the second instance was a description of "forcing or pressuring" women to "view" their fetuses; the final instance was the phrase "forcing a woman to stare at her fetus before terminating it."

From this, I cannot help but conclude that Katy Waldman herself is uncomfortable with the fact that an abortion is not just the erasure of a "grainy photo" or the elimination of the "contents of a uterus." An abortion is the termination of a fetus, a surgical procedure that plainly and simply ends the life of a fetus.

Generally I try to stay out of the abortion debate, because it is not a particularly productive one to have. Likewise, I offer no deep insights here in today's post.

However, it is often said that the most vociferous opponents of gay marriage are people who are themselves homosexuals who are unable to admit that fact to themselves. What, then, must we conclude about a woman who will go to such herculean lengths to avoid plain language when talking about abortion?