Is this "journalism"?

Notice anything odd about this sentence?

An anti-abortion meeting at Parliament House yesterday heard from an American woman who “survived” late-term abortion. (“Brumby stands solid behind bill to reform abortion law”, Paul Austin and Jill Stark, The Age, September 9, 2008)

Or this one?

LATE-TERM abortion “survivor” Gianna Jessen will address a meeting at Victoria’s Parliament House in a bid to sway politicians over proposed abortion laws. (“Top scientist says ‘no’ to abortion bill”, Nick Miller and Leo Shanahan, The Age, September 2, 2008)

Or this one?

An American “abortion survivor” will lobby federal politicians in Canberra tomorrow, ahead of a Senate debate next month on late term abortions. (“Abortion survivor joins debate”, The Age, August 31, 2008

There seems to be something odd in the The Age’s style manual that dictates “quotation marks” for the term “survivor” when applied to someone (in this case, Gianna Jessen) who has SURVIVED someone’s attempt to kill them while they were still in their mother’s womb.

In what sense is Gianna Jessen, NOT a survivor? Why the quotation marks?

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0 Responses to Is this "journalism"?

  1. Peregrinus says:

    To say that Gianna Jessen (for example) survived abortion is to accept that the person called Gianna Jessen existed at the time of the abortion attempt, and was the subject of the abortion attempt. However much you or I might accept that view, it is not generally-accepted; this is pretty much the heart of the differences between pro-life and pro-choice advocates. For someone with a pro-choice perspective, Gianna Jessen is no more a survivor of abortion than someone else is the survivor of an ineffective contraception technique.

    Thus to describe Gianna Jessen, without qualification, as an abortion survivor is to adopt a pro-life standpoint. It is unreasonable to expect the Age to do that it its journalism.

    I don’t think that describing her as an abortion “survivor”, complete with inverted commas, implies that the Age is writing from a pro-choice perspective. You or I might use inverted commas to signify denial – as in, say, the German “Democratic” Republic – but in journalistic convention to they simply indicate reported speech – i.e. the Age is telling us that there are people who describe Gianna Jessen as having survived abortion. The Age is not telling us that she did or she didn’t; that is left for the reader to decide.

  2. Louise says:

    I was just going to quip, “because they’re idiots” and Peregrinus goes and says something which makes The Age look almost respectable.

    Thanks for ruining all my fun.

  3. Louise says:

    An anti-abortion meeting at Parliament House yesterday

    Because, of course, we are all so ashamed of being called “anti-abortionists.” It’s as bad as being described as “anti-murder.”

  4. Sharon says:

    Doesn’t the fact that Gianna Jessen is alive having spent 18 hours in a saline solution in the womb mean that she is an abortion survivor. The saline solution was supposed to kill her, it didn’t, she lived therefore she survived the abortion attempt. If she didn’t survive she would be an abortion statistic or an abortion success.

  5. Schütz says:

    Yes, Sharon, precisely. Perigrinus has made a valiant attempt to “put the best construction on everything”, as the Eighth commandment requires us to do, but we are not required “to defend in the kindest possible way” (Lutherans will recognise I am quoting from Luther’s Small Catechism) the nihilistic ideology of the Culture of Death that pervades what passes for “journalism” today.

    Which is a long way around of say: What utter rot, Perry. You and I both know it is. It isn’t just our opinion that she is a survivor, it is an existential and objective fact. If there is a living breathing human being who is alive today because of the failure of an attempt to kill her while she was still in the womb of her mother, and if that individual is able to say “I – me, the one who am saying this – have cerebal palsy because of a procedure that was performed upon me while I was still in the wound”, then she is the one who suffered this attack and she is therefore a survivor of an abortion attempt.

    She is a survivor because an attempt was made to kill her at a very early stage of her existence. The attempt was made upon her, because she is completely continuous with the being upon whom the attempt was made. Thus she is a survivor.

    This is entirely different from a conception that takes place because of a failed contraceptive device. The latter example is not an attempt to destroy an already existing life. The two cases have nothing in common whatsoever.

    I cannot believe, Perry, that you want me to consider it reasonable that, simply because The Age does not want to admit that an unborn foetus is a human being, their journalists should be free to ignore the fact that every living breathing human being we might ever actually meet was once a foetus inside his or her mother’s womb.

    Perhaps that is precisely why Gianna Jesson is so troubling: she is “in your face” proof of the obvious and simple fact which a great many people (especially among our politicians) are trying to ignore: a foetus is a human being at an early stage of life.

  6. Christine says:

    The continuing bias of the western media against pro-life views.

    Plain and simple.

  7. matthias says:

    As a health professional I have worked with people who have had a poor obstetric history -ie miscarriages . The even sadder aspect is that some have had a termination of pregnancy ie abortion,and it is these procedures that have contributed to their inability to have apregnancy go to full term,when they want to have a child.
    the Baptist theologian Sidlow Baxter ,when preaching about the body being the Temple of God made the comment “God will forgive you but nature won’t”.

  8. Past Elder says:

    Rarely does it happen that I agree with you. Survivor is in quotes for the same reason “pro-life” is heard less and less, but rather “anti-abortion”, whereas the other side is “pro-choice”.

    Peregrinus’ point is well taken, though, not by way of defence, but description. For the same reason that “pro-choice” does not see that one of the options being chosen from involves taking another person’s life, they also do not see her as a survivor of the procedure, since she per se, in their thinking, did not exist at the time of the procedure and therefore did not survive it.

    We of course see it quite differently. That is the whole issue — they do not see what we do, and we do not see what they do. Sun Tzu says, know thy enemy. I doubt much progress will be made until we address them not in terms of what we see and they don’t, but in terms of what they see. Aquinas was real big on that — you must understand your opponent’s arguments well enough to defend their position better than they can.

  9. Peregrinus says:

    And I find myself agreeing with PE. Will wonders never cease? Yes, David, you and I may agree that Gianna Jessen is a survivor of an abortion attempt, but the undeniable objective reality is that many others do not share that view, because they do not consider that the, um, entity which was the subject of the abortion attempt was a “person”, from which it would follow that it could not have been Gianna Jessen.

    I am going to defend the Age on this. I live in Perth, which has the misfortune to have, in our sole daily paper, the West Australian, possibly the worst newspaper anywhere in the world, outside North Korea. And what makes it so unremittingly awful is the determination of the editors to make assumptions as to what we ought to believe, to weave those assumptions right through their news reportage, and to make sure that we are never exposed to news reportage which might cause us to question the beliefs they want us to hold. I loathe it. I really miss having a morning paper that is worth reading, and I suppose that has sensitised me to the evil of editorialising in the news coverage.

    Given the facts – which is the proper job of news reportage – I’ll take responsibility for deciding whether Gianna Jessen is a survivor of abortion. I don’t need the editors of the Age to do this for me, I don’t want them to do this for me and, if they insist on doing this for me, I will not really be mollified if they happen to make the decision that I would have made anyway. My objection is not that a newspaper has editorial views that I may not share – I’m quite relaxed about that – but that, whether I share them or not, it attempts to impose its editorial views on me in the guise of news reportage. I object to that, regardless of whether I agree with the editorial views or not (although, I concede, I am much more likely to notice it when I disagree with them).

    We can’t pretend we live in a world where the humanity and the personhood of the unborn child is generally recognised; we don’t. The Age editors recognise that we don’t and, if we criticise them for that, we are in effect denying reality, and urging them to join us in our fantasy. And, as PE points out, exchanging reality for fantasy is going to make it a good deal more difficult for us to influence the course of events in the real world. This, I suspect, may be part of the reason for the spectacular lack of success of that wing of the pro-life movement which has focussed on bringing about legal change to protect life.

    PE – I don’t have a problem with the Age characterising the particular meeting on which they were reporting as “anti-abortion”. While many of those attending the meeting may have been motivated by a broader pro-life concern, the focus of the meeting was to lobby Parliament in relation to a specific measure under debate, the effect of which will be to decriminalise abortion. The meeting can be described as “anti-abortion” in the same way that another meeting might be described as “anti-drunk driving” or “anti-drugs”.

  10. Schütz says:

    PE: they do not see what we do

    What? Reality?

    Perry: the undeniable objective reality is that many others do not share that view

    The undeniable objective reality is that many would not recognise undeniable objective reality if they fell over it.

    This is really poor stuff, my dear friends. In the public square, we cannot defend a person’s right to ignore reality simply because that is “their opinion”. We cannot defend a person’s right to argue irrationally simply because that is “their point of view”.

    When we do that, we give up any basis for the discussion of ethics and law in the public square.

  11. Peregrinus says:

    But, David, you’re quite welcome to try and persuade people that the unborn foetus is a person.

    What you can’t do is simply assert that, as a matter of objective reality, a developing foetus is a person and then castigate those who haven’t accepted your unsupported assertion, accusing them of ignoring reality, the unstated implication being that only ignorance, bias or something worse could explain why anyone would reject your view of reality.

    Not only is this unwarranted and uncharitable, but it’s also – from the point of view of the pro-life movement – self-defeating. How likely is such an attitude to win over those who do not already agree with you? And how are you going to provide any effective help to the vulnerable unborn if you can’t win people over to your view?

  12. Schütz says:

    What you can’t do is simply assert that, as a matter of objective reality, a developing foetus is a person

    Ah, Perry, you have in fact changed my argument considerably at this point. I don’t think I was trying to argue that that Gianna was or was not a “person” at the time when the abortion was attempted upon her.

    The discussion of “Personhood”, as a status carrying a value judgement, should be completely expunged from this topic altogether. Not only is it dangerously rubbery in application, but very few can actually agree on what this complicated philosophical designation actually means.

    The idea of “personhood” has no real demonstrative and objective reality, which makes it completely pointless in this debate. The natural law does not say that it is morally wrong to kill a “human person”, but that it is morally wrong to kill a “human being”.

    Once you start arguing about “personhood”, then you are dividing humanity into two parts: those who are “persons” (and therefore deserving of our protection) and those who are not. Thus, Jews or Blacks may be said to be “non-persons”. We reject that as a ground for morality. Perhaps we might be ready to listen when someone comes up with a definitive definition of a human person. Perhaps.

    But we deal with what is objectively verifiable: that which is a human BEING.

    Now, if someone wants to argue that Giana Jessen was not an abortion survivor because, at the time the attempt was made upon her, she was not a “person”, and that she only became a “person” a few hours later when she was delivered, well let them. But it is an irrational argument built upon an idea of human personhood which has no objective basis in reality, and which has all the smell of being concocted simply to fit someone’s own selfish purposes rather than any sort of real moral justice.

  13. Schütz says:

    Re-reading your original comments, Perry, I see that you have in fact been using “person” language all the way through. I apologise that I did not pick up on this earlier.

    I still reject The Age’s use of the “quotation marks” because the idea of Giana as a person is irrelevant.

    At some time just over 30 years ago, someone attempted to abort the unborn “Giana Foetus”. Giana “Adult” is that same human being as Giana “Foetus”, such that, quite apart from the question of personhood, we may say that Giana Jessen is the human being who survived an attempt to kill her.

    About that there can be no disagreement from any rational person.

  14. Peregrinus says:

    And I, in turn, hadn’t appreciated that you were rejecting “person” language.

    At a minimum, I think all rational participants in this discussion have to accept that the foetus is (a) human and (b) alive.

    That gets us a long way, in moral terms. But we should recognise that, prior to fertilisation, the sperm cell and the egg cell are also (a) human and (b) alive, and yet Catholics see a colossal moral difference between a living sperm or egg cell on the one hand, and a living fertilised ovum on the other. Clearly, there is more involved in determining moral status than just (a) humanity and (b) life.

    We could say that the additional “ingredient” is genetic uniqueness or individuality. But that’s not quite it either. Identical twins are not genetically unique, and yet we see them as having a radically different moral status from sperm cells or unfertilised egg cells.

    Now, you may reject the “person” language, but I would say that it is valid and useful to at least this extent: it serves to distinguish between, on the one hand, living human entities such as sperm and egg cells (“not-persons”) and, on the other hand, living human entities such as zygotes, embryos, foetuses, infants, children and adults (“persons”) – categories between which, Catholics insist, there is a fundamental moral distinction, and for which we must therefore adopt some term. If the term “person” is rejected for this purpose, then another term must be adopted which serves to make the same distinction.

    And note that I can make this argument for the utility of the “person” concept even before we have identified what “ingredient” distinguished “persons” from “not-persons”. Once we accept that something does, then a term must be justified. To fully articulate our argument, we have to identify what it is that distinguishes a “person” from a “non-person”, and we have to say why we attach such moral significance to that factor. But we can’t event begin the discussion if we don’t have the language for it.

    You suggest “human being”, which I think points to the humanity, and the existence, of the, um, entity under discussion. However I think this term obscures the issue. Sperm and egg cells are also human, and they exist; the same in fact is true of toenail clippings. (I am not trying to be flippant.) But none of them are “human beings”. The problem with “human being” is that it glosses over the fundamental difference between a sperm cell and a zygote, whereas in fact that difference is all-important. The best term is one that points to that difference, or at least to the fact that that difference exists and, from that point of view, unsatisfactory as it may be, I think “person” is to be preferred to “human being”. “Person” doesn’t tell us what the difference is, but at least it points to the fact that something more than existence, humanity and life is involved.

    In any event, it is stretching a point to say that someone who doesn’t share your preference for “human being” and your distaste for “person” is ‘not recognising objective reality’; these are philosophical concepts; they are not reality, but our attempts to describe reality

  15. Past Elder says:

    Yes, reality. What we see as reality, and find confirmed as reality not by religious teaching but science, they do not. Indeed it may be that those who see this issue differently are akin to those who maintain the world if flat, or for that matter that some humans do not have the rights that other humans do, however, I think we here are discussing not what is reality but how does one best carry that discussion into the public sphere where reality is a subject upon which there is no general agreement.

    Whether one uses “person” or “human being”, one is either way maintaining that there is something more than human and alive going on here, something more than sperm, eggs and toenail clippings which indeed are (or were) human and alive. And that something more is precisely what is missed by those who deny the reality we don’t.

    The same thing that is missed in not seing an unborn child as an unborn child is the same thing that is missed in not seeing people of certain racial, ethnic, or mental backgrounds as nonetheless human no less than anyone else.

    We have attempted a civic peace about this by regarding such matters as opinion, and there is no peace, as you point out in later posts. Here in the US, we had a civil war precisely over the imposition of one morality over another as a matter of law; that the humanity, personhood, or human beingness, call it what you will, of those held in slavery overrides the possibility of allowing the decision to hold slaves to be a matter of decision by those concerned, the local state or the slaveholder, who are not free to deem slaves property.

    In fact, astounding as it is that our opponents re abortion are much like those who insist the world is flat, I submit it is equally astounding that a political party, the US Democratic Party, which has been so active promoting governmental proactivity on behalf of groups previously denied equality should on this issue take the same course as their opponents on other matters, namely, that it is a matter of opinion, private or personal decision, into which legal imposition may not intrude.

    I myself was born under and into conditions in which this mentality would find the personal decision to terminate the pregnancy (thereby terminating me) a morally defensible choice. It strikes me as amazing, having also seen as a father the technological lengths to which we can go in a neonatal intensive care unit, that all of the children in there at a prior point could equally well have been destroyed by other technology and it would have been, and is when done, considered a moral course of action.

    How can this be? What is it that makes an entity at one point something that can responsibly and morally be destroyed and at another to which any available length will be used to conserve? Which is to say, at what point does this humanity, this personhood, this beingness, begin — with a woman’s decision, at a designated point in its history such as after the first trimester, or does it inhere not by human decision but by divine endowment and not at some point but at all points? At what point does this become a matter on which society can be content to leave it alone and allow for here it is a child, there it is a part of the mother’s body, here it is a citizen, there it is property, here there is a birth, there there is an abortion, here there is a free man, there there is slavery?

    It is precisely that point that is at issue, precisely where our language struggles under the efforts of the various parties to conform it to their positions, and precisely therefore where the discussion bogs down — and precisely where people pass from one position to the other.

  16. Past Elder says:

    Herr Peregrinus — I quite agree, the description “anti-abortion” fits the specific agenda under discussion at the even reported.

    I think David’s concern is not that, but rather the more general way in which the terms the press, or perhaps we should say now, the media, use reflect a larger agenda — “pro-life” being “anti-abortion”, for example, which reflects a view that there is not here a fundamental disagreement about what is life and what is choice. In the same way, some “pro-lfe” language refuses to use “pro-choice” in favour of “pro-abortion”, thus further distancing any hope of discourse as to the pro-choice mind they are not pro-abortion at all but pro a woman’s right to choose it.

    “Safe, legal and rare” is a commonly used phrase here.

    One wonders how slavery would have fared had the slaveryr abolitionists been “personally opposed” but unwilling to “legislate morality” and allow the matter as a “personal decision”.

    In fact, on our civil war, the same phenomenon is observed. Most of the those who fought for the Confederacy were not slaveholders, and many who were had freed them, being more impressed with the right of states, not to mention states in which they lived, to define their norms than with the objective evil of some of the norms the states determined. That tension is still alive to-day, and I suspect the similar tension re abortion will be with us for at least as long.

  17. Schütz says:

    Can I suggest, Peregrinus, that the difference between a living human sperm/egg and a living human embryo is that the latter is an “entire” human being, genetically distinct from the mother and the father, whereas the former are not?

    So I can call the embryo a living human being – an embryo of the genus homo sapiens – in a sense that I cannot call call either the egg, or the sperm, or any other “clump of living human cells” a living human being.

    Thus I don’t quite see how the term ““human being”…glosses over the fundamental difference between a sperm cell and a zygote”. We do not call “parts” of a human being a “human being”. Language is quite clear on this. If you were in an operating theatre where a doctor was amputating an arm from his patient, you would not say that before the arm was amputated there were two human beings in the room, and afterwards there were three.

    The concept of a “human being” is hardly a “philosophical” concept in the same category as “person”. The idea of a “person” is relatively recent (the last 1800 years or so), whereas human beings (ie. us) have always had a notion of what a human being is. There has always been a word for it in every language. Moreover, it is a scientifically based concept. We can observe, identify and name an example of homo sapiens. What is and is not such a being can be proved scientifically.

    “Person” on the other hand, requires a definition and then an application – none of which is observable or scientific.

    And thank you, PE, for your references to the Civil War in the States over the rights of the african american slaves. Yes, many people, including most clearly arch. Chaput in his new book, have pointed out this parallel. There appears to be no distinction in the basic facts of the case. Eventually, this must be seen by all.

  18. Peregrinus says:

    “Can I suggest, Peregrinus, that the difference between a living human sperm/egg and a living human embryo is that the latter is an “entire” human being, genetically distinct from the mother and the father, whereas the former are not?”

    You certainly can. My point was not that there is no difference; rather, there is a difference, and we need language which acknowledges that difference, and helps us to speak meaningfully about it.

    You suggest here that the salient differences are (a) entirety, and (b) genetic distinction from progenitors. The problem with the term “human being” is that it doesn’t point to these characteristics, but rather to the characteristics of humanity and existence, and these are not the characteristics which give the embryo its special moral status; they are characteristics which embryos share with sperm and eggs. To that extent, it’s not a helpful term.

    Now, I cheerfully concede that “person” is not so great either. It may not shine the light in the wrong direction, towards humanity and existence, but it doesn’t do a great deal to shine it towards entirety and genetic distinction. I suppose why I like it is that it invokes a different dimension of meaning.

    What I mean by that is this: Existence, humanity, life, entirety and genetic distinction are all cold, hard, scientific, objectively verifiable facts. But Catholics (and not just Catholics) assert more than this; we assert that this particular combination of empirical facts has a radical moral consequence; arising out of these facts, the embryo has a fundamentally different moral status from the sperm or the egg. And we can call this claim philosophical, ethical, theological, moral or a number of other things, but we can’t call it scientific, because it ain’t. Science does not, and cannot, assert (or deny) such a thing. “Humanity” is a scientific concept (though not just a scientific concept). “Existence” and “life” are scientific concepts, but “personhood” is not.

    In other words, I like “person” because it calls attention to the fact that we are asserting a moral, as well as a scientific, claim. And I think that’s important.

    It’s wrong to gloss over the jumpup from scientific reality to moral reality. “Human being” may not be intended to do that, but it can serve to make it a little bit easier to do that, inadvertently or otherwise. So “human being” is not wrong; I just prefer “person”. But I wouldn’t die on the barricades for it; I think I am using “person” to name the same idea that you are naming “human being”.

    I have to say that it’s also wrong to assert that the special moral status of the embryo is a matter of “undeniable objective reality”. It’s patently untrue; lots of people of good will and good faith either doubt or deny it, just as people of good will and good faith have denied the equality of the races or the equality of the sexes, moral truths which we now consider to be obvious. So any reliance on “it’s obvious” looks too much like an attempt to avoid discussing why our moral claims are true. “The human embryo’s entirety and genetic distinction confer on it a special moral status that carries and indefeasible right to life because oh look wombats! There! See? Over there!”

    If the special moral status of the human embryo is not generally acknowledged, there are only three possible explanations for this:

    – It’s obvious, but some people are idiots.
    – It’s obvious, but some people are evil.
    – It’s not obvious.

    I vote for (c), it’s not obvious, as being the most true and useful of these explanations. The jumpup from objective material facts to moral truths is rarely obvious. I suggest that the Catholic tradition makes the jumpup in this instance because it favours an ontological view of reality; the essence of a thing is not simply what it is, but what it is ordered towards, what it is for, what it is called to. But that, too, is a moral, philosophical or theological assertion, not a scientific one. If you hold to this position, then the facts that an embryo cannot feel, think, reason, suffer, rejoice, love, fear etc is of secondary importance. It is intrinsically ordered to do all these things and more, and will in time do them unless prevented by some external factor. But there are many people who do not hold to this view; for them, what determines moral status is not the fact that an entity could feel, experience, etc, but the fact that it does. And there is no objective, scientific proof that they are wrong.

  19. Louise says:

    I dunno, peregrinus, anyone who ever bought a packet of condoms knows exactly when a baby is made.

  20. Louise says:

    Besides which, many abortions are performed on a creature (ie after about 10 weeks) which everyone can recognise is a baby. People who argue the toss just want to be able to kill off the unwanted ones.

  21. Peregrinus says:

    Hi Louise

    “I dunno, peregrinus, anyone who ever bought a packet of condoms knows exactly when a baby is made.”

    Actually, no. Barrier methods of contraception were in use long before modern understandings of fertilisation. Withdrawal methods, basically a non-technological variant on barrier methods, are mentioned in Genesis. All you need to appreciate the efficacy of these methods is an awareness that sperm is somehow involved at some point in the process of baby-making.

    “Besides which, many abortions are performed on a creature (ie after about 10 weeks) which everyone can recognise is a baby. People who argue the toss just want to be able to kill off the unwanted ones.”

    Sure. But if you argue that an abortion attempted on a baby at a later stage of development is wrong because the baby suffers, or because he has a central nervous system, or a brain, or because he shows response to his environment, or any of the other landmarks of foetal development, you’ve already implicitly conceded that these factors, and things like them, are the foundation for the baby’s right to life.

    The Catholic tradition takes a much stronger position; it asserts that the destruction of an embryo, long before it has reached any of these landmarks, long before the stage of development at which it is meaningful to call it a ‘baby”, is equally wrong.

    A law which permitted abortions up to ten weeks but banned them thereafter would be a huge improvement over the laws currently in force in any Australian state or territory. but it would not be a law based on, recognising or giving effect to a Catholic understanding of the issues at stake here.

  22. Louise says:

    But if you argue that an abortion attempted on a baby at a later stage of development is wrong because the baby suffers, or because he has a central nervous system, or a brain, or because he shows response to his environment, or any of the other landmarks of foetal development, you’ve already implicitly conceded that these factors, and things like them, are the foundation for the baby’s right to life.

    I know, but I’m not arguing that, merely pointing out that the same people who will argue about just when a baby is human, or has a right to live, etc are the very ones who will disregard what is before their very eyes in photos etc and say it’s okay to kill off a baby even at a more advanced stage of development. In other words, they’re insincere in their arguments, on the whole.

    I agree with the Church on this matter.

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