Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Moving the Battle to Linguistic Turf

One of the most contentious issues surrounding the arguments over abortion is whether or not aborting a fetus is an act of murder. This is strong language, but you never fail to see it on placards when the opposing sides face off against each other on the street. Indeed the position is implicit in the very choice of the name "Right to Life." Nevertheless, at least at the metanarrative level, we can recognize that this is an argument over whether or not there is validity in the use of words like "murder" and "death."

Associated Press (by way of Yahoo! News) has now reported that the state of Tennessee will debate whether or not to settle this argument by legislation:

Legislation introduced in Tennessee would require death certificates for aborted fetuses, which likely would create public records identifying women who have abortions.

Rep. Stacey Campfield, a Republican, said his bill would provide a way to track how many abortions are performed. He predicted it would pass in the Republican-controlled Senate but would have a hard time making it through the Democratic House.

"All these people who say they are pro-life — at least we would see how many lives are being ended out there by abortions," said Campfield.

The number of abortions reported to the state Office of Vital Records is already publicly available. The office collects records — but not death certificates — on abortions and the deaths of fetuses after 22 weeks gestation or weighing about 1 pound.

In other words, whatever Representative Campfield may say about his record-keeping motives, the records are already there; so his real motive is to validate the use of the word "death," which could then validate the use of the word "murder." Now I am glad that Associated Press is optimistic about the State House of Representatives; but, unless I am mistaken, this is the state that once legislated that the mathematical constant π be declared equal to 22/7 to simplify test questions on mathematics. So I am not one to hide behind the too-absurd-to-warrant-attention argument! We should know by now that nothing is too absurd where legislative processes are involved!

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