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SCOT BELLAVIA: Euphemisms That Kill

As a ploy to reverse the reversal of Roe, certain podcasts have been telling the lived experiences of mothers who reflect on their pregnancies in light of the SCOTUS’ decision in Dobbs.

One mother observed a marked difference between her bedside care when she had two miscarriages eight months apart, on either side of a 6-week abortion ban in Texas. Presumably, the doctors were hesitant to treat her as personably after the law passed as they had before in case some faceless supervisory entity interpreted her charts as abortion provision and not miscarriage care. The podcast host’s warning was that this could become nationally frequent because of Dobbs.

Another podcast contrasted two mothers who both got pregnant at 16, years ago. Each felt they were forced to the decision they made then and are now vocal on opposite sides of the abortion issue in Louisiana. It’s quite a story to hear how their parallel circumstances counterintuitively led them to the beliefs they hold today.

The interviewees, the mothers, in these podcasts shouldn’t be grilled—they’ve already shared so much to a national audience; we can only take them at their word. But I am comfortable with rebuking the words of the interviewers because media organizations of all political persuasions time and again flaunt bias for the sake of listeners, unconcerned with truth and equity.

Two useful euphemisms the interviewers implemented throughout conversations were the phrases “found yourself pregnant” and “discovered you were pregnant.”

Orwell’s 1984 is approaching cliché at this point in criticism from the right. Yet, here is one more instance of changing the language to change the culture.

The interviewer asked a mother, “How did you find yourself pregnant?” The mother snickered in an isn’t-it-obvious? way, “Well, I had sex.” The host laughed, on the inside at herself for asking such a stupid question and on the outside in a don’t-you-see-what-I’m-getting-at? way.

Usually, when we “find ourselves” in an unwanted circumstance, like double-booking activities with friends, we’ll say we’re in a pickle. Facing a pregnancy is not being in a pickle. Even a 15-year-old, relenting to her boyfriend’s insistence, recognizes the enormity of sex. In fact, both 16-year-old mothers attested to that in their episode, even when a baby was beyond their adolescent intellectual conception of possibilities.

Yes, a teenager ought to know that a baby is a primary result of sex. But, for this moment, my observation is that when the host equates double-booking your schedule with unintentionally creating a baby by using the same phrase for how the circumstance arose, that teenager remains in the dark.

In the podcasts, I found the second euphemism, “discover you were pregnant,” even more sly and tactical.

‘Discover’ connotes a eureka moment. We can discover our ancestors were royalty or hated criminals. People discover hidden treasures behind a secret door in their house or that their spouse has been unfaithful. In all these, the discoverer plays little part in the thing coming about. Not so in sex and it’s intellectually dishonest for the host to phrase it as such.

Even though a baby was beyond the 16-year-olds’ thought of possibilities, for today’s listener to hear that someone can simply “discover their pregnancy” is to tell them they can divorce procreation from its mechanism. They are thus imparted with a low view of sex and continue its pursuit ignorant of biology.

These two turns of phrase do what all euphemisms do: mask a reality to make it more palatable. More dastardly, it is palatable only for those who use the euphemism so they can reject that reality to keep their bias – and lifestyle – unchallenged.

Scot Bellavia

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