In early August, UPEI will host an international conference called “Abortion: The Unfinished Revolution.”
We expect that academic conferences will fairly explore all aspects of social issues to advance knowledge and better inform social policy. We also assume that conference organizers and university administrators will ensure that open and balanced discussions with diverse points of view will take place.
Unfortunately, the upcoming conference on abortion at UPEI will not be such an event.
After reading the presentation summaries found in the 46-page online program it is clear that this conference is not a typical academic conference at all: it is, in fact, a gathering of international academic abortion activists committed to further promoting the cultural and political acceptance of abortion.
As I read the summaries, the presentations regard abortion exclusively as a woman's personal right and a reproductive justice issue: the status and rights of unborn children are not mentioned. Nor is space provided for points of view other than that of those promoting and actively working to make abortions more accepted culturally, politically and medically.
Sadly, the conference language relies heavily on euphemisms that diminish awareness of the core issues, facts and questions which lie at the heart of the abortion debate. Some examples? The pro-life movement is consistently referred to as the “anti-abortion” or “anti-choice” campaign, which is not only disrespectful, since this is not how people working to protect the rights of unborn children self-identify, it also falsely insinuates that pro-life activists oppose human freedom and are against human rights. It also deflects attention away from the fact that the foetus is indeed a developing human being, a “life” with inherent rights, which the Supreme Court of Canada clearly established in R. vs. Morgantaller, 1988 stating: “There has always been clear recognition of a public interest in the protection of the unborn and there has been no evidence or indication of any general acceptance of the concept of abortion at will in our society.” Yet, the conference program consistently uses the term “foetus” rather than “unborn child,” or terms such as “product of conception (POC)” and, when discussing the grief a mother feels after an abortion, “a grievable object.” Such terms remove any hint that what is destroyed during an abortion is a child in the womb, a developing human being. The decision to end the life of an unborn child is consistently referred to as a “reproductive option” which promotes “reproductive rights” which establishes “reproductive justice,” all of which makes the unborn child completely disappear in the discourse.
Why such disdain for using plain, honest language? The intention is clearly to deflect attention away from what is inherently known to be true in order to diminish awareness of the unpleasant aspects of those truths.
In his article “Euphemism, the University and Disobedience,” Alexander Duttmann claims that “When speaking, writing and thinking, euphemists actively contribute to the suppression of their awareness, and are therefore aware of what they seek to conjure away.”
In his Oxford Dictionary of Euphemisms (2007), R.W. Holder goes further by noting that in speech or writing, "We use euphemism for dealing with taboo or sensitive subjects. It is therefore the language of evasion, hypocrisy, prudery, and deceit." Such language has no place in an academic conference at a university.
Those promoting the right for women to end the lives of their unborn children don't speak plainly about what a woman is actually doing because they instinctively know that it would be far more difficult to convince others that abortion is a morally acceptable and truly healthy choice. That is obviously why pro-choice activists hate to see images of the unborn on pro-life placards...because they show the unborn as the little human beings they are. As Adam MacLeod states in his article “Euphemisms: The Modus Operandi of Death Rights Advocates,” “...advocates for the right to kill nearly always use euphemisms. If we all know or sense that an intentional act of killing is intrinsically evil, then these advocates can only persuade others by calling killing something else.”
It is not surprising that abortion activists use euphemisms to avoid key questions at the centre of the abortion debate. It is, however, shocking that professional academics would use these same tactics and invite only pro-choice academics to present at this conference. It is even more disturbing that UPEI would host this conference and allow such a biased pro-choice activist endeavour to wrap itself in the guise of “academic excellence.”
Dr. Kevin J. Arsenault, Fort Augustus
Kevin J. Arsenault obtained his Ph.D. in Ethics from McGill University. His doctoral dissertation was titled: Ethics and Awareness: Understanding the Social Psychology of Moral Awareness.