Pesky Little Words That Kill

Judie Brown
June 26, 2008
Reproduced with Permission
Judie's Blog

Since my first days in the pro-life movement, more than 35 years ago, I have learned a great deal about rhetoric and how it can deceive even the most well meaning of people. I have also learned that there are people, especially on the pro-death side of the debate, who will go to great lengths to use words in specific ways in order to mislead the listener.

For the purposes of this blog, I am going to concentrate on the variety of words used to describe when a human being's life actually begins. Let's start with "conception," because that is where I started.

When I was a novice in this work I thought, as did everybody I knew, that conception, the act of conceiving a child, was the beginning of a person's life. So when it first came to my attention in the mid-1970s that the word had a couple of meanings, I looked into it. I was horrified by what I learned.

You see, many medical dictionaries, doctors and clinical researchers no longer think of the word conception as the moment when the human sperm and the human egg unite. For example,'s popular online dictionary says this:


1. The union of the sperm and the ovum. Synonymous with fertilization.

2. The onset of pregnancy, marked by implantation of the blastocyst into the endometrium.

From the Latin conceptio, conceptionis meaning conception, becoming pregnant; drawing up of legal formulae; and from the Latin conceptus meaning conceiving, pregnancy; collecting, or a collection.

Notice, if you will, that definition number one differs from number two, and that number two ignores conception as defined in number one and tells the reader that the actual pregnancy does not begin until eight days after it has begun - at implantation! In other words, the two definitions are in direct conflict, but I would suggest to you that the average person does not consider this, think about it or otherwise, frankly, care.

So we have a dilemma, and for every dilemma there is an answer. This must be so, particularly in the pro-life work that we do, because words can kill people if used in the wrong way or if used naively in a way that plays into the hands of the enemy. In the following paragraphs are the details that illustrate exactly what I mean.

American Life League was compelled to research this question early on in its existence. One of the facts we found, which has been documented by many of the pro-life movement's proficient researchers, is this:

Swedish researcher Bent Boving, at a 1959 Planned Parenthood-Population Council symposium, noted that "whether eventual control of implantation can be reserved the social advantage of being considered to prevent conception rather than to destroy an established pregnancy could depend upon something so simple as a prudent habit of speech." [Bent Boving, "Implantation Mechanisms," in Mechanisms Concerned with Conception, ed. C. G. Hartman New York: Pergamon Press, 1963, 386]

The intent to deceive the public about the abortion-causing nature of anti-fertility control drugs and devices was widespread. At the 1964 Population Council symposium, Dr. Samuel Wishik pointed out that acceptance or rejection of birth control would depend on whether it caused an early abortion. Dr. Tietze, of Planned Parenthood and the Population Council suggested, as a public relations ploy, "not to disturb those people for whom this is a question of major importance." Tietze added that theologians and jurists have always taken the prevailing biological and medical consensus of their times as factual and that "if a medical consensus develops and is maintained that pregnancy, and therefore life, begins at implantation, eventually our brethren from the other faculties will listen." [Discussion, Proceedings of the Second International Conference, Intra-Uterine Contraception, held October 2-3, 1964, New York City, ed. Sheldon Segal, et al.., International Series, Excerpta Medica Foundation, No. 86, page 212]

And in 1965, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology published its new terminology bulletin that stated, "CONCEPTION is the implantation of the fertilized ovum." [ACOG Terminology Bulletin, "Terms Used in Reference to the Fetus," Chicago, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, No. 1, September 1965.]

So there you have it. We can no longer say conception without saying fertilization. To do otherwise is to agree with the culture of death that, since pregnancy does not begin until implantation, the child prior to implantation is simply not really there at all!

But the plot now thickens even more. Enter the sadistic scientists who have no problem telling us that because there are so many in vitro fertilization embryos sitting around in a freezer somewhere, they have devised a way to put them all to good use. They will use their stem cells, thus killing each of them in the process; and help us learn how to cure disease, grow extra body parts and stop the aging process, to mention but a few of their bogus claims.

Not only that, but they will manipulate human and animal cells, and in the process, clone or otherwise asexually reproduce human beings or maybe even a human-animal chimera along the way. Regardless of what they call it, the fact of the matter is that in today's fast-moving era of science for the sake of profit, the human being is at even greater risk. For those of us in the pro-life movement, this means that our language has to be even more precise than it was previously.

So what to do? Well, at American Life League we have chosen to do everything we can to make sure that every human being, regardless of his point of his origin, is protected by law and the Constitution. The proposed human life amendment that we support states, therefore, that regardless of how human beings come into existence, whether by sexual or asexual means, they will be treated as persons and receive all of the rights bestowed by the Creator on each and every one of us, born and preborn.

As Professor Dianne Irving has written most recently,

There is quite simply no "mystery" or "doubt" as to when both sexually and asexually reproduced human beings begin to exist. According to properly credentialed world experts for decades now, sexually reproduced human beings begin to exist at the beginning of fertilization (when the sperm penetrates the oocyte). [See Irving, "The Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development: Chart of all 23 Stages, and Detailed Descriptions of Carnegie Stages 1 - 6" (April 22, 2006), at:]....

As for asexually reproduced human beings, they begin to exist when the DNA in the cells are appropriately differentiated to that of a human organism (rather than that of just a human cell). This would include all naturally occurring human identical twins/triplets formed in the woman's body, as well as all artificially reproduced human embryos in vitro (e.g., those reproduced by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), germ line cell nuclear transfer (GLCNT), "twinning" (blastomere separation, blastocyst splitting, embryo multiplication, etc.), parthenogenesis, pronuclei transfer, mitochondrial transfer, hemi-cloning, the use of artificially constructed genes, chromosomes, nuclei, cells, sperm, oocytes, embryos, etc., and other human genetic engineering and alternative method techniques.

Clearly, the situation has changed dramatically over the past 35 years and, had I realized then what I do now, I would have been speechless and terrified. It is has always been clear that many in the culture deny God because they choose to pretend that they are themselves gods, but today that is more obvious and thus more chilling than even I could have imagined.

Let us take care, then, by paying careful attention to each word we use, that we never intentionally leave a preborn human being behind by our choice of words or lack thereof.