In the great battle between word and image, readers of First Things, an unabashedly text-centric publication, probably tend to side with the word. I know I do, although around this time of year I’m reminded how sometimes words are not my friend and pictures are.
On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade here in late January, we read a lot about abortion rights, abortion foes, abortion this, anti-abortion that. The speech rules pertaining to this issue are well established by now. In their style guides, mainstream news organizations disallow the terms pro-life and pro-choice, having concluded, rightly, that they’re biased. Their alternative, as you have probably noticed, is to call me anti-abortion and to call those who disagree with me supporters of abortion rights—that is, to identify me in terms of what I’m against and to identify the other party in terms of what they’re for, to describe what they’re for as rights, and to ignore that those rights conflict with the right that I’m for, which is the right to survive gestation.
The idea behind that right is plain enough, but reporters writing for national newspapers and wire services are helpless to name it. The official vocabulary available to them leaves them hamstrung in their effort to explain the cause that motivates tens of thousands of us to march on Washington every year in the dead of winter.
Laws that protect you from being aborted are laws that restrict you from having an abortion. So what are they? Protective? Or restrictive? In reality, obviously, they’re both. In newspeak, however, they can be only restrictive, as in this recent, entirely unexceptional example from the front page of Saturday’s New York Times.