Many years ago I was one of about 250 people picketing in front of a “women’s health clinic.” Why would we do such a thing? I think it would be safe to say that all of us supported women’s health. So why would we protest in front a women’s health clinic? Because it was a site where women were objectified and their babies killed. This was an abortion clinic! The people who ran it did not have the courage of their convictions to speak plainly about what took place inside. What they did to the mothers and their babies was horrendous. Their term—“women’s health clinic” was an empty euphemism.
As the English writer G.K. Chesterton said, “When man ceases to believe in God, he does not believe in nothing, he believes in anything.”
Euphemism reached an art form in Nazi Germany. Hitler actually believed the “high” Aryan superior to the “low” aboriginal. He decided to speed up evolution by the active use of eugenics. But he needed to disguise the horror with therapeutic language. The Nazis mingled torture and death camps with the language of human health.
Their vision and policies ultimately led to death camps as the means of purging the Jewish cancer from the Aryan race. But the genocide had its beginnings in subtler ways. Robert Jay Lifton, in his book, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, notes that at the beginning the authorization for the killing was “oral and secret and to be ‘kept in a very narrow scope, and cover only the most serious cases’ ….” As the evil continued, however, the practice of genocide became “loose, extensive, and increasingly known.” (page 51)
So called “useless eaters”—handicapped children and adults with mental deficiencies—were starved to death in Hungerhausers (literally “houses of hunger”). Abortion was prohibited for the Nordic races, but coercive abortion and sterilization were the norm for people with mental deficiencies, anti-social behaviors, and “lower races.” Genocide—the murder of a large group of people—was justified in the name of healing. Hitler wanted to purify humanity by assuring the Aryan future and exterminating people deemed inferior.
The Nazis, and much of the world, believed anything. With no moral absolutes, right and wrong were maliciously confused. Doctors tasked to save lives crossed a terrible threshold; the medical profession became human exterminators for the Reich.
Creative use of language was used to hide the insidious truth. Terms like “healing work,” “putting to sleep,” “special diet,” and “therapy” were euphemisms for murder. “Resettlement,” “deportation,” and “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” substituted for “genocide.” The Nazis, the German people, and the free world believed anything. In Germany it all began with the declarative lie, lebensunwerten Lebens, “Life Unworthy of Life.”
Recently, Melinda Gates, the wife of Bill Gates and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, made an excellent distinction between women’s health and abortion. Gates related an experience she had while speaking to reporters in Toronto, Canada, on June 2, 2014.
When I was in Canada, however, an issue came up that worries me. I sat with Prime Minister Harper for media interviews in Toronto, and while most of the conversation had to do with the impact of Canada’s commitment to RMNCH [Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health], every journalist also focused on Canada’s policy on abortion.
Let me tell you why this worries me.
Around the world there is a deep, broad, and powerful consensus: We should provide all women the information and tools to time and space their pregnancies in a safe and healthy way that works for them. This approach is simple, it works, and it saves lives.
The question of abortion should be dealt with separately. But in the United States and around the world the emotional and personal debate about abortion is threatening to get in the way of the lifesaving consensus regarding basic family planning.
I understand why there is so much emotion, but conflating these issues will slow down progress for tens of millions of women. That is why when I get asked about my views on abortion, I say that, like everyone, I struggle with the issue, but I’ve decided not to engage on it publicly—and the Gates Foundation has decided not to fund abortion.
I am focused on one thing: the opportunity to make a difference in tens of millions of women’s lives by giving them access to the information and resources they need to plan their families.
I understand that the abortion debate will continue, but conflating it with the consensus on so many of the things we need to do to keep women healthy is a mistake. We have made such great progress for women on prenatal care, on providing the contraceptives that they want, and on encouraging proper care and nutrition for newborns, and we need to keep moving forward. The only way to do that is to be clear, focused, and committed.
Abortion providers want to soften their image. That’s why they employ terms like “women’s health.” But abortion and women’s health are opposites. Mingling the terms has adverse effect on the health of millions of women. Thank you, Melinda, for speaking so clearly and powerfully about the danger or co-mingling these issues.
- Darrow Miller