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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIII, No. 3
Michaelmas 2008

Coming to Terms

by Sheila Gribbens Liaugminas

Forty has great biblical significance. The number of days it rained before the great flood, the time Moses spent fasting on the mount, the designated period the Israelites wandered in the desert, the amount of time the Ninevites were given to reform their ways, the number of days Jesus fasted in the desert … and then remained with the apostles after the resurrection … all 40.

It marks the years of a generation and the weeks of a pregnancy before its term, at which human life is delivered outside the womb. Forty years ago, human life was given new terms by a culture in revolution, and the generation since has been radically reduced.


“It’s hard to imagine a less auspicious time for the reception of a papal encyclical on the morally appropriate means of family planning than the summer of 1968”, remarks George Weigel in his article “Humanae Vitae at 40” published in The Tidings (08/08/08). Ponder, he says, “the human wreckage caused by the sexual revolution, especially to women”, to see clearly the lies its enablers told. Why did the public so willingly accept such lies? They were primed by dissident Catholics and a complicit media that gave force to the immediate, furious and very public rejection of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical.

But Humanae Vitae didn’t state anything new. The only thing that had changed was public perception.

“During the tumultuous 1960s, after centuries of legal prohibition and moral condemnation of abortion, a handful of dedicated activists launched an unprecedented marketing campaign”, states David Kupelian in The Marketing of Evil. “Their aim was twofold: first, to capture the news media and thus public opinion, and then to change the nation’s abortion laws.” They did it using Madison Avenue marketing strategies. “In one of the most successful marketing campaigns in modern political history, the ‘abortion rights’ movement — with all of its emotionally compelling catch phrases and powerful political slogans — has succeeded in turning what once was a crime into a fiercely defended constitutional right.”

Paul VI predicted as much in Humanae Vitae, should contraception become widely and shamelessly used. That encyclical — or more accurately, its dramatic rejection — set the stage for all that unfolded in fulfillment of Paul VI’s predictions.

Joseph Bottum noted those predictions in First Things (July 25, 2008), including this: “Humanae Vitae added that the general acceptance of contraception would put a ‘dangerous weapon’ in the hands of ‘those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies.’ And, from forced abortions in China to involuntary sterilizations in Peru, non-democratic governments have seen that there aren’t many steps between allowing people to limit birth and forcing them to.”

Already in 1970, the journal of the California Medical Association (CMA) published an editorial preparing for a concentrated effort to alter public opinion into a new medical ethics of Brave New World proportions. Here at Voices, we addressed this in “Making Words Count” (Michaelmas 2002 issue):

The CMA acknowledged that the traditional Western ethic has always placed great intrinsic value and worth on every human life at all stages, and that such ethic has always been embraced and held sacred by the Judeo-Christian heritage, making it the basis for most laws and social policies. But then they muddled through the “However” argument that a population explosion timed with “ecological disparity” and compounded by the “quality of life” issue, combined with “unprecedented technologic progress and achievement”, have all together posed “new facts and social realities”, ones that they felt were “within the power of humans to control”.

Where they were headed was evident. It was staggering then, and is even more chilling now. Remember, this was 1970.

It will become necessary and acceptable to place relative rather than absolute values on such things as human lives.... Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected. (California Medicine, September 1970. Emphasis added.)

The CMA editorial went on to anticipate “birth control and birth selection [extending] inevitably to death selection and death control whether by the individual or by society, [causing] public and professional determinations of when and when not to use scarce resources”.

It ended on this eerie note: “It is not too early for our profession to examine this new ethic ... and prepare to apply it in a rational development for the fulfillment and betterment of mankind in what is almost certain to be a biologically oriented world society”.

Within three years we would have Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun write into law the “right” to take the life of the unborn child in the womb, which quickly expanded to the right of any woman to end the life of any child in the womb for any reason up to and in the middle of delivery.

Look back at the prophecy of Paul VI in Humanae Vitae.


Four decades later, public opinion has been so engineered by use of language, we hardly notice the nuances of news stories that use (by style-book mandate) negative terminology for pro-life advocates and positive terminology for abortion activists.

Take this example from early January in an average Associated Press article: “The Supreme Court turned down efforts by Michigan and an anti-abortion group Monday to revive the state’s law banning the procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion.” (“Supreme Court won’t intervene in Michigan abortion dispute”, AP, January 7, 2008. Emphasis added.)

What do the procedure’s supporters call it? “Late term” just doesn’t work. Because it’s killing a baby in the middle of delivery, with the body half delivered already. “The U.S. high court in April upheld a federal law banning the abortion method”, continued the AP story.

And in that ruling, Justice Kennedy described “the abortion method”, to clarify terms. The Court quoted the testimony of an abortionist: “[T]he surgeon then forces the scissors into the base of the skull or into the foramen magnum. Having safely entered the skull, he spreads the scissors to enlarge the opening. The surgeon removes the scissors and introduces a suction catheter into this hole and evacuates the skull contents. With the catheter still in place, he applies traction to the fetus, removing it completely from the patient.”

Can anybody say this is not horrible?

Kennedy’s ruling continues, just after the doctor “sucked the baby’s brains out”, in the testimony of a nurse who witnessed the abortion. “Now the baby went completely limp…. He cut the umbilical cord and delivered the placenta. He threw the baby in a pan, along with the placenta and the instruments he had just used.” A National Catholic Register editorial on the ruling concluded: “That’s the court’s description of ‘intact D&E,’ or ‘partial-birth abortion.’ Congress banned it, and the Supreme Court upheld the ban — though some politicians want to insure it stays legal.”

And now, one of them is running for president.

Last January, Sen. Barack Obama held a press conference in advance of primaries in battleground states to defend his pro-abortion views. He wanted to make sure his strong advocacy of “abortion rights” was understood, although, as an Illinois legislator, he had voted “present” instead of “no” on pro-life bills.

Obama’s voting strategy is explained by Pam Sutherland, president and CEO of Illinois Planned Parenthood. “We had a very astute and devious Republican leader that we knew was using abortion votes as wedge issues, putting those votes into mailers to help defeat pro-choice Democrats”, she said. “It was our strategy, Planned Parenthood’s, to decide that a ‘present’ vote was the same thing as a ‘no’ vote”.

Sutherland said that Obama “was always ready to vote ‘no’ on these bills but he understood how important it was to help his fellow colleagues.” She also said that Obama “was key to the strategy [of using “present” as a negative vote] … not only did Democrats follow suit, so did many Republicans. The strategy actually worked … very few of those bills actually made it into law.” (“Barack Obama Holds Media Conference Call to Defend Pro-Abortion Views”,, Jan. 14, 2008)

What were those bills that were so skillfully defeated by this voting strategy? Legislation that would have at least protected babies who survived abortion attempts.

In 2001, the Illinois legislature voted on three bills to help such babies. The third, almost identical to the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act that President Bush signed in 2002, simply said a “homo sapiens” wholly emerged from his mother with a “beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord or definite movement of voluntary muscles” should be treated as a “‘person,’ ‘human being,’ ‘child’ and ‘individual’”.…

On the Illinois Senate floor, Obama was the only senator to speak against the bills. He voted “present” on each, effectively the same as a “no”.

In a jarring exercise of equivocation, Senator Obama said this:

Number one, whenever we define a pre-viable fetus as a person that is protected by the Equal Protection Clause or the other elements in the Constitution, what we’re really saying is, in fact, that they are persons that are entitled to the kinds of protections that would be provided to a — a child, a 9-month old — child that was delivered to term. That determination then, essentially, if it was accepted by a court, would forbid abortions to take place. I mean, it — it would essentially bar abortions, because the Equal Protection Clause does not allow somebody to kill a child, and if this is a child, then this would be an anti-abortion statute.

(“Obama is the Most Pro-Abortion Candidate Ever”,
by Terrence Jeffrey,, Jan. 9, 2008).

These were some of the same words used to deny human rights to slaves. That was then, this is now.

“In marketing wars, the party that frames the terms of the debate almost always wins. And the early abortion marketers brilliantly succeeded in doing exactly that — diverting attention from the core issues of exactly what abortion does to both the unborn child and the mother, and focusing the debate instead on a newly created issue: choice”, says The Marketing of Evil author Kupelian. “No longer was the morality of killing the unborn at issue, but rather ‘who decides’.”

This is how easy it is, once you win over public opinion. “We persuaded the media that the cause of permissive abortion was a liberal, enlightened, sophisticated one”, recalls Dr. Bernard Nathanson, cofounder of the pro-abortion group NARAL and a converted pro-life activist. “Knowing that if a true poll were taken, we would be soundly defeated, we simply fabricated the results of fictional polls. We announced to the media that we had taken polls and that 60 percent of Americans were in favor of permissive abortion…. Repeating the big lie often enough convinces the public.” (The Marketing of Evil, Chapter 9)

Recently Princeton Professor Robert George and Associate Professor Christopher Tollefsen published a startling book simply titled Embryo, in defense of human life. It is a primer of what we used to know, and must never forget. It defends three important claims: “First, human embryos are human beings…. Second, we [all] are human beings … not disembodied souls … all human beings are persons, from the beginning of their existence, because human beings lead personal lives. Third, because all human beings are persons, all human beings are subjects of absolute human rights, including the right not to be intentionally killed.”

This is the state of affairs in 2008, that such an explicit treatise would be necessary to clarify the public record.

“It bears repeating yet again, because the mainstream media consistently get it wrong”, Weigel says by way of a course correction, in The Tidings article. “[T]he Catholic Church does not teach an ideology…” To the contrary, he clarifies, the Church teaches moral responsibility.

“Thanks to the brave souls in the natural family planning and new Catholic feminist movements, what Paul VI was trying to say has a chance of being heard — in part because it’s being said in a vocabulary familiar to 21st century young adults.”

It’s a new generation. And it’s about time.

Sheila Liaugminas, a member of the editorial board of Voices, is a Chicago journalist who covered the apostolic visit of Pope Benedict for Relevant Radio. She writes on news of faith and culture on her InForum blog:

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