Anti-Fetal Rhetoric: America's Best-Loved Hate Speech

May 1999By William Brennan

William Brennan is a professor in the St. Louis University School of Social Service. His most recent book, Dehumanizing the Vulnerable: When Word Games Take Lives, is a Loyola University Press bestseller in its third printing.

As children we sang, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” We were wrong. Violent words pave the way for violent deeds. Name-calling is an indispensable component of all levels of oppression, from discrimination to segregation to enslavement to outright annihilation.

The annihilation started by Roe v. Wade — large-scale, legal killing of humans before birth — persists unabated, and numerous explanations have been advanced for this tragic state of affairs: rampant materialism, the sexual revolution, a narcissistic culture, a pervasive sense of alienation, the lack of moral absolutes, the decline of religion, an encroaching culture of death, and a media elite beholden to the abortion establishment. All these likely play a role in keeping Roe v. Wade the law of the land. But name-calling — degrading language — is central to the success of this contemporary war on the unborn.

Thoughtful and perceptive people inside and outside today’s multicultural and diversity movements have aroused the public’s consciousness to the impact of toxic speech on a wide range of vulnerable individuals and groups. Vigilance has often been deformed into vigilanteism, however. There is a growing brigade of politically correct thought-controllers in academia and other influential circles. Surely, PC speech vigilantes capable of detecting the “his-” in “history” as offensive to women, “gypped” as insulting to Gypsies, “beat the drums” as insensitive to Native Americans, and “pet” as degrading to animals, could be relied upon to root out every possible offending word or phrase! Yet the monitors of linguistic propriety remain oblivious to one of the most hate-inducing and violence-provoking nomenclatures ever constructed — the invective created to justify the killing of unborn humans.

Much anti-fetal terminology is intended to label the unborn as insignificant: mere cells, material, tissue, or nondescript matter. Feminist writer Naomi Wolf places these terms under the “fetus means nothing” rubric, a rhetoric manufactured by the Second Wave feminists who, Wolf asserts, responded to “the dehumanization of women by dehumanizing the creatures within them.”

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