faint tappings

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 25, 2007

A Chicago Sun-Times story about a family decimated by drunk drivers begins with the following three paragraphs:

In court documents, the victim is referred to as "the fetus." But to Eileen Simmons of Aurora, she is baby Addison -- her beautiful, perfectly formed great-granddaughter who died in a fiery car crash along with her mother, who would have given birth to her two weeks later.

"Without faith, I don't know how we would get through all of this," says the 87-year-old Simmons matriarch who, one after another and sometimes two at once, has lost loved ones in accidents police say were caused by drunken drivers.

Solemnly, Eileen recites the names of the dead. Five of them most recently -- including this most innocent of victims, who had not yet taken her first breath.

Ten years ago it would have been grossly unlikely, fifteen years ago impossible, to find a news article in a mainstream secular paper in which an unborn child was referred to -- without scare-quotes and non-sarcastically -- as someone's (grand-) daughter, much less in the words "this most innocent of victims." In fact, while the quotes around "the fetus" are not precisely scare-quotes here, the thrust of the sentence makes fetus out to be the tendentious, faintly suspect term -- exactly the opposite of invariable newsroom practice in the past.

Newsrooms, and the editors who manage them, are nowhere near turning pro-life on us. The right to make one's unborn child into a fetus and thence into surgical waste tissue remains dogma almost universally in that business. But there is a growing willingness to set aside the style-sheets and let those who grieve over the death of a child use their own words to put a name to their loss. Coupled with this, the popularity of sonograms have given ordinary folks -- especially mothers-to-be, but not only them -- more confidence in using the language they always sensed was right.

Did you notice that the unborn victim in the story is "her" and not "it"? Those who remember the red-in-tooth-and-claw 1970s will recognize even that as no small victory.

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