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Correct Language About Pregnancy and Abortion

By Fr. Frank A. Pavone
National Director Priests for Life

When a woman is pregnant, people often say she is "expecting a child" or is "going to have a baby" or is "going to be a mother." We all use these expressions from force of habit, and using them has no reflection on the strength of our pro-life convictions.

Nevertheless, may I suggest that we no longer use these phrases. They do not accurately describe what is happening.

A woman who is pregnant is not "expecting" a child. She already has one. The child exists and is living and growing in her womb. She is not about to bring the child "into the world." The child is already in the world. The mother's womb is as much in the world as the mother herself.

The pregnant woman is not "going to be" a mother. She already is a mother. By saying she is "going to be" a mother, we inadvertently reinforce the notion that motherhood begins at birth. This reinforces the idea that the child really is a child only at birth.

A pregnant woman is fully a mother. She does not have "half" a child, or a child "on the way." ("On the way" from where? to where?) The child is here, already in the world, fully unique and in possession of the same dignity as every other person.

If our language reflects this reality, we will help the world to understand that children in the womb are indeed members of the human family-right here and now!

People will then be able to ask the right question about abortion.

The reasons many people give in support of abortion, and the reasons many women obtain abortions, focus on the question "Should she have another child?" Issues such as partner support, maturity, and resources are discussed. When we say, "No abortion," they hear us saying, "Have a child no matter what." They conclude that we are unrealistic or insensitive to the real-life plight of the woman.

But the question here is not "Should she have another child?" Our answer to that question can sometimes be "no." There can be circumstances--medical, financial, and social--in which a person should avoid having another child. (See Vatican II, The Church in the Modern World, Section 50.)

If, however, a woman is pregnant, she already has a child. There is no longer a question about whether this child will come into existence. The only honest question or choice left at this point is "Will this child be cared for or will this child be killed?" While we can sometimes say that circumstances dictate not having another child, we can never say that circumstances dictate killing a child.

Unless people distinguish the question of "having a child" from the question of "killing a child you have," they will not even begin honestly evaluating abortion, and will argue past each other.

We are in fact very sensitive to circumstances such as immaturity, or lack of resources to raise a child. Were the child born, however, would the problems of immaturity or lack of resources disappear the day after birth? Yet on that day, just about everyone can see that killing the child is not justified. What makes abortion different? What is the difference between killing the child before or after birth to solve the problems? It's the same woman, the same problems, the same child. There is no difference in reality. There is only a different question.

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