One of the most disturbing developments to come out of the 2022 midterms was where a majority of Montana voters rejected Legislative Referendum 131 which sought to require that babies born alive during abortion procedures receive life-saving medical care.
Abby Johnson, a leading pro-life activist, may have put it best when she tweeted in response to the vote, “They’re basically saying they want the babies left out to die.”
To understand the gravity of the vote, consider the actual language of the referendum, just to be sure the question itself wasn’t confusing or misleading:
“Referendum 131: Require Care for Infants Born Alive – Establishes that infants born alive at any stage of development are legal persons, and require medical care to be provided for any infant born alive after an attempted abortion, induced labor, or other method. This referendum also institutes criminal penalties for any health care provider who does not comply.”
The language established that, once born, the life of a child is deserving of the same rights as all other human beings.
Somehow a majority of Montanans justified rejection of such care in a way that would make history’s genocidal tyrants proud. We are now well down that “slippery slope” pro-lifers warned about decades ago.
One of the reasons is language. Words matter. The side that uses language effectively, and diminishes the language of the opposition, has the advantage.
Until now, pro-lifers had assumed that convincing people that abortion takes a baby’s life would be enough. They trusted that people who consider themselves moral wouldn’t dare cross the Rubicon into state-sanctioned murder.
Montana revealed that America has now crossed that Rubicon.
Leftists take care not to call a baby a “baby” when discussing abortion. They use terms like zygote, fetus and “clump of cells” instead. This helps them justify the killing of an infant either through abortion or intentional, gruesome neglect.
Pro-lifers, for their part, have consistently described life in the womb as a living person.
The Left wants to shift the focus away from the biological, ethical and moral realities involved, and turn the debate into a more detached, shallow semantic one. They attack pro-lifers’ words and the meaning of those words.
“A fetus is not a baby,” Left lectures, seeking to force the focus away from the unavoidable truth.
But, if Montana proved anything it’s that even with the understanding that abortion may kill a baby, the public may be OK with it.
Simply establishing personhood is no longer enough. Pro-lifers need new messages, and perhaps one word, which could put the Left on the defensive, has been lost.
That word? Victim.
Yes, it’s a baby. But it’s also a victim in the literal sense.
Until now, pro-lifers have been careful not to use such language so as not to appear to demonize the mother and alienate her sympathizers. In the process, they may have vacated certain concepts that remain critical to the pro-life case and missed the opportunity to better expose the harsh realities of abortion.
In public debate, the baby at the center of an abortion is the victim and must be described as such. When pro-lifers use this word, they take the debate to pro-aborts in a way that makes the Left uncomfortable.
The Left seems comfortable being painted as anti-fetus. In light of Montana, the Left doesn’t seem to have a problem with being anti-infant. But being anti-victim is something it’s not prepared for.
Today’s Left is built on and invested in a culture of victimhood. Those on the victimhood ladder are protected and elevated. The Left can argue over the personhood of a fetus, but it cannot refute that even an aborted fetus is a victim. Ironically, the Left itself has broadened the definition of the word to cover just about every living form on earth.
Right now, unborn babies aren’t on that ladder of victimhood, but pro-lifers can put them there simply by inserting victimhood into the language of the debate.
When pro-lifers describe the baby it needs to be “the victim” not “a victim.” The term is not a rhetorical flourish. It’s a fact. Use the word persistently so that the Left predictably seeks to eliminate the use of it, to ban it, and to condescendingly explain why it’s the wrong word.
Once the Left does this, it will have accepted the pro-lifers’ premise, that abortion creates victims. When the debate over words shifts to who’s the victim and the definition of victimhood, the Left is already losing.
The more the debate centers on victimization, the more obvious and accepted it will be that at the very least, both the mother and the child are victims of abortion. And that since the child has no voice and suffers the greatest consequence, it meets the most universal criteria for victimhood.
No matter how hard it tries, the Left can’t avoid the subject once it is raised. If the Left has a problem with the word, it has to take it head on. The Left has to try to explain why the baby is not a victim and it cannot. It will find itself in a hole where it can only dig itself deeper and deeper, because the one thing it cannot do is dismiss the notion of victimhood outright.
Doing so would be to smash the house of cards the Left has built around every other of its key issues.
Tim O’Brien is a veteran corporate and crisis communications consultant who operates O’Brien Communications in Pittsburgh.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.