Confused and Confusing Language

I don't know what George Orwell, author of Animal Farm and 1984, thought about abortion, cloning, and stem cell research and, not knowing, I'm not enlisting the British novelist and essayist, who died in 1950, in the prolife cause. But I do know what he thought about the abuse of the English language. Based on that, I find him highly relevant to this debate.

In an essay called "Politics and the English Language," Orwell wrote: "A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts."

That was said in 1946. And the human life debate? Consider some recent items pertaining to the number of abortions, drug-induced abortion, and human cloning.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a Planned Parenthood affiliate in New York, the number of U.S. abortions fell to 1.2 million in 2005. Although 1.2 million is a very large number, it's a notable improvement over the 1.6 million in 1990. Prolifers were understandably pleased.

But wait. Late January also brought news that abortions by RU-486 (misoprostol in conjunction with mifepristone) have become, in the words of The Washington Post, "increasingly common" since this killer drug went on sale in the U.S. in 2000. The reason is said to be that this kind of abortion is "less clinical and more private." The report cites a Guttmacher Institute estimate that, of the 1.2 million abortions in 2005, possibly 150,000 were done this way.

 Stop and think. If RU-486's appeal for some women lies in being "more private," then that 150,000 figure is at best an educated guess. Furthermore, as Colin Mason of the Population Research Institute points out, misoprostol by itself has uses besides ending pregnancies and isn't hard to obtain, making it, as Mason says, an unmonitored source of "one-pill, one-day 'homemade'" abortions. Thus the number of abortions, by whatever means, may be considerably higher than we're told and the underestimating seems likely to grow with time.

Finally, there's cloning. In mid-January, scientists with a La Jolla, Calif., outfit called Stemagen said they'd created what the Post called "the first mature cloned human embryos from single skin cells taken from adults."

Whether that's true or not isn't the issue — although media hype about stem cells is an established fact of life, so that we're treated to the announcement of some new, epochal breakthrough in this field every couple of weeks. For present purposes, however, what's significant is a remark attributed to Samuel H. Wood, Stemagen's CEO. Disavowing any interest in cloning humans, he said: "It's unethical and it's illegal, and we hope no one else does it either."

Alas, that noble sentiment clashes with the fact that cloning humans is exactly what Wood's company has apparently done.

Wood evidently is implying that cloning human embryos and destroying them before implantation in the womb isn't cloning. But, unquestionably, it is. The argument can be stated very simply: a cloned human embryo is a cloned human embryo. Period. Killing embryos before implantation doesn't alter that. If anything, it merely makes matters worse.

George Orwell held that overcoming careless habits in the use of language enables one to "think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration." But some people don't want regeneration. Confusion suits them fine.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • Guest

    I always thought it was a clever name for what it really does. Are-You-For-Hate-Sex?


  • Guest

    I'm with Orwell: language matters!  It's where "the rubber meets the road", and we've allowed the liberals to confuse, confound, and manipulate language far too long. 

    Abortion isn't a "choice", it's murder

    Euthanasia isn't "mercy killing", it's murder

    Cloning human embryos isn't "research", it's murder

    We can't hope to win the "war" until we take back our language, the purpose of which is clear communication.  When we have the courage to stop calling a "spade" a "blunt instrument", then we can move forward in hope.



  • Guest

    "Thus the number of abortions, by whatever means, may be considerably higher than we're told and the underestimating seems likely to grow with time."

    I questioned the positive reaction of the Right to Life community over the Guttmacher 2005 abortion statistics, and Russell Shaw raises some very legitimate questions about their accuracy. The small reported decline in abortions is nothing to celebrate. Those of us who advocate for respect for human life should not be issuing positive Press Releases about the 1.2 million children (or more, as Shaw argues) murdered in our country in 2005.

    There is nothing in Planned Parenthood's or Guttmacher's past performance that justifies either relying on their numbers or feeling positive about their reported results.