That Place Where Babies are Aborted? Don’t Call It a ‘Clinic,’ Because It’s Not
Reporters use the word, legislatures use it in making the law, courts use it in their rulings, and even pro-life people use it. Almost everyone calls the businesses and places that perform abortions “clinics.”
That’s exactly the wrong word.
Some words are just words, like tree or ball or faucet. They mean what they mean. But other words aren’t “just words.” Other words imply judgments about morality, politics, culture, or religion. You choose a judgement when you choose the word. You may not know you’re doing it, but you are.
One of those is “clinic” when put after “abortion.” Think what clinic means. The first dictionary definition a websearch pulled up is “a place where people get medical help.” It’s a place of healing, a place you go to get better. It’s a place whose purpose is unambiguously good. Think cancer clinic or eye clinic or hospital clinic. Or reading clinic and writing clinic. For that matter, think golf clinic.
Pro-choicers want you to say “abortion clinic” because they want you to think of their enterprises as good places where good things happen.
Look at it from their point of view. The shrewd writer or speaker chooses the word because he’s made the judgment. He finds the word that implies the judgment he wants people to make. What word do all the pro-choicers use? Clinic. They use it because it says something they want to say. Knowing who uses the word, we should “interrogate” it, as scholars put it.
That place where babies are aborted is not a clinic. It is not a place where people get medical help, though it is a place people find doctors who use medicine to give them what they want — or what they think they want or what others (parents, boyfriends, husbands) are forcing them to want. It may be a place to solve a problem if pregnancy is a problem, but it’s never a place of healing. A woman doesn’t get better by ridding herself of her baby.
That place where babies are aborted? It’s never a clinic. Don’t aid the pro-choice case by calling it one.
We need accurate alternatives. I use “abortion facility” and have put the term into the style sheets of the magazines I’ve edited, but I thought there might be other good ones and asked my Facebook friends. I asked them for neutral and for pointed terms, the latter being the pro-life versions of the pro-choicers’ “clinic,” words that imply a judgment. They offered several of those, plus — they’re clever people — several satirical ones. My editor Jonathan Witt suggested another category, terms that parallel “clinic” in being quietly biased. Here they are:
Neutral: abortion facility, abortion provider, abortionist’s. (My thanks to Richard Grebenc, Judy Warner, Anthony Esolen, Tom Hoopes, Lee Penn and Kamila Ludwig for suggestions for the neutral and pointed categories.)
Parallels to “clinic”: abortion parlor (Jonathan’s suggestive, alluding to tattoo parlors, somewhat shady enterprises often with low health standards), abortion business, abortion chamber.
Pointed: abortion mill, abortuary,abortion factory, abattoir, charnel house, thanatorium, morgette.
Satirical: Foreign Uterine Contents Removal Clinic, Blob of Protoplasm Extraction Center, Fertilized Egg Elimination Facility, Potential Human Being Avoidance Services (from Steven Schloeder); Fetal Termination Facility (Daniel Crawford); Human Organ Collection & Resale Shop (Rachel Lamb); Darwin-Sanger Institute For Disability Prevention and The Voluntary Self-Reduction of Disfavored Races (Joe Long); and Life Termination Event Center (Hunter Baker).
You will notice that the satirical ones are also accurate descriptions. That itself says something about abortion.
So here we have a list of alternatives to “clinic,” ranging from the neutral terms mainstream journalists can use to terms that make the writer’s judgement about the procedure clear.
One more thing, while I’m at it. Let’s call the doctors who abort children abortionists. We call cancer doctors oncologists, the doctors who cut up people surgeons, the doctors who deliver babies obstetricians. Moral judgments about abortion aside, it makes sense to identify the doctors who perform abortions by their specialty.
And the places they work? Those places aren’t clinics. Don’t help the pro-choice cause by calling them clinics. Call them something accurate. Tell the truth.
Later: Greg Scott of Alliance Defending Freedom responded: “We have all but eliminated provider from our lexicon. Provider, I would argue is not at all a “neutral” term. In fact, it is more positive than clinic. The word “clinic” evokes antiseptic, impersonal, fluorescent-light imagery (for me anyway). Provider, though, carries a warmth, a protective vibe. A place where you can get what you need to survive. A good father is a provider.” ADF, he said, uses “abortion business” or “abortionist.”
This article has been revised since publication. Follow the writer on Twitter @DavidMillsWrtng.