The Rhetorical Tear Gas of Planned Parenthood

The weary fight against our culture's quickening pace toward redefining humanity seems to be without end. Issues at the core of personhood—sexual identity, a right to life for the small and defenseless, an aspirational family structure—seem to be collapsing both outside and even inside the church. No longer are these mere abstract scenarios, theoretical moral puzzles to be solved as a mental exercise.

Though these ethical scenarios have now been concretely applied throughout our culture, they are still puzzles, and puzzles have rules—for both sides. And if we know what some of the rules are, we can blow the whistle on cheating when we see it.

Think of the rhetoric that systemically spewed through the culture after the recent Supreme Court decision—“Love Wins.” Love. Implied in “love wins” is that the minority opinion was against love. But love is not the central element of the marriage issue; no one is bound to love their potential spouse as a legally necessary condition for marriage. By taking the issue out of its specific focus on the definition of marriage, and hoisting it up into the bare, general, vague, and legally irrelevant concept of “love,” the discussion and conversation becomes cloudy, murky, and confused. We were thrown rhetorical tear gas, where words were scattered randomly, without purpose, and dialogue has lost its anchor and orientation.

Whose Choice?

In the latest exposure of Planned Parenthood’s public baby-genocide, this rhetorical strategy—keeping terms and concepts generic, avoiding specifics—has been used for decades. Words like “choice,” “right,” and “health” (which each side affirms depending on how those terms are defined and qualified) are trotted out and exclusively claimed for marketing strategies toward the cause. For example, one person tweeted: “I #standwithPP because I’m not grossed out by science and I still support choice!” The most obvious questions prompted from his choice of words are, “Who is grossed out by science in general, or who has even made such a claim?” and “What kind of choice are you talking about? Whose choice about what?” The rhetoric leaves the species for the genus; “selling aborted baby parts” is swapped for “science.” And using more rhetorical sleight of hand, “killing a baby inside a woman’s womb” is swapped for that most generic of words—“choice.”

Whose Freedom?

Moreover, Matthew Kohut tweeted: “The latest attack on Planned Parenthood strengthened my support for women’s freedom.” Freedom joins the list of other general, non-specific words frequently tossed around at the expense of substance. The issue is not whether women should have freedom, but to what sort of freedom we are referring and how that freedom would apply in the context of another’s competing freedom—in this case a young child's. If these tiny victims had the ability to speak on behalf of themselves, I’m sure they would ask how these freedom advocates defend a mother’s non-specific freedom against their own specific freedom to exist and survive, to not be destroyed against their will.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards seldom veers from this tactical game plan. Among a string of substantially useless, vapid truisms, she says: “Spreading false information is an age-old strategy of people hell-bent on denying women care and shaming them for exercising their rights.” If there is any age-old strategy at work, it is Planned Parenthood’s plan to hide away the specifics of the abortion discussion, since the details are grotesque and evil. Keep the language as general and non-applicatory as possible. “Care for women.” “Exercising rights.” Each catchphrase begs for an answer: “Care” for whom? Whose “rights”? Which “woman”?

Ready to Illumine

Even the name Planned “Parenthood” is sinister in its deception. An organization that puts an end to a woman’s role as a mother, and to a man’s role as a father, is not in the business of planning parenthood, but in planning its irreversible end. When the name of an organization sacrifices accuracy for marketing purposes, there should come a time when the market turns against its deceiver for its bait-and-switch methods.

Part of a Christian ethic involves representing God’s world accurately, as the way he has made it (Exod. 20:16). Deceptive and confusing rhetoric should have no place in secular discourse, but it should be especially absent among Christians. When marketing goals and party-building tactics seep their way into the church, Christ’s name suffers. So believers should be particularly careful that we don’t fight rhetorical fire with fire. And with that Christian conviction comes a responsibility to call out deceptive language when appropriate. When efforts are made to couch ethical issues in vague, foggy terms, Christians should be alert to this tactic, ready to expose the specifics of issues out of their dark corners and into the light of God’s truth.

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