Donald DeMarco, Commentary:
How does one carry out murder with style and grace? Shakespeare explains how this can be done in his play Julius Caesar. After a sleepless night, Brutus decides that Caesar must be killed to prevent him from becoming a tyrant. He also decides to take charge of the conspiracy against Caesar. The assassination must take on a broad approbation. In this way, the reprehensible notion of killing is replaced by an act of public service.
First, Caesar must be dehumanized: “Think him as a serpent’s egg,” says Brutus, “which, hatch’d, would, as his kind, grow mischievous, and kill him in the shell” (Act 2,, Scene 1). Secondly, the hideousness of murder should be blotted out by positive attitudes. “Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough to mask this monstrous visage? . . . Not Erebus itself we’re dim enough to hide thee from prevention.” For Brutus , the answer is simple: “with smiles and affability.”
How does society carry out abortion with style and grace? Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has given us the blueprint. And so, we find in an editorial first published in California Medicine (September 1970) the following sentence: “The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but the taking of human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices.”
How have things changed from three years prior to Roe v. Wade to the year 2022 when it was overturned. Seth Barron is the managing editor of The American Mind. In an editorial published on April 4, he stated that “As with any cult, abortionism demands new acolytes. So, abortion must be advertised in cheerful, anodyne terms, like getting a pedicure or haircut, in order to attract initiates.”
The rationalization of killing as something beneficial has a long history both in life and in literature. The unborn child is not a parasite or a vampire, or a threat to a woman’s freedom, or a serpent’s egg which had better be snuffed out before it hatches and becomes a nuisance. Killing for convenience! Safeguardinq the future! A choice for freedom!
Abortion’s acolytes light the way to a brighter world. Hop on the bandwagon. Join the enlightened crowd in the parade of progress. Let us all advance under the flag of choice.
And yet, there is the embarrassing spectre of “semantic gymnastics,” that exquisite phrase which really means “gross dishonesty.” How far can dishonesty carry a nation? Division, rancor, confusion, manipulation, and resentment are just some of its inevitable offspring.
Abraham Lincoln knew that a house divided cannot stand, that America could not survive as a free nation if some people could decide that others were not fit to be free. He would not have been taken in by semantic gymnastics. After all, he was Honest Abe. He understood the meaning of the word “all.”
Another American president, who also understood the meaning of the word “all” (as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence) was her 40th Chief of Command, Ronald Reagan. On the 10th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, while in office, he penned a strong pro-life statement that is both inspirational and encouraging: “My administration is dedicated to the preservation of a free land, and there is no cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have any meaning.”
Let us reflect on the words of Confucius: “If language is incorrect then what is said is not meant. If what is said is not meant, then what ought to be done remains undone.” Before we can do what ought to be done, we must rid ourselves of semantic gymnastics and use language correctly. This is a tall order, but much is at stake and at every level of human life.
Donald DeMarco, professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College, is the author of 41 books, including, most recently, Let Us Not Despair.