What the Word 'Baby' Means

What the Word 'Baby' Means

OB/GYN Jen Gunter tells us that the Planned Parenthood fetal-tissue donation debate has nothing to do with "baby parts," because medical professionals don't use the word "baby" until the child has been born. The specimens are instead the "products of conception."

This is not how language works. The medical community is perfectly free to restrict words' meanings in its own conversations and publications, but it has no right to impose those restrictions on the wider debate. And even a cursory analysis of common usage reveals there's nothing unusual about referring to an unborn child as a "baby," even in contexts that have nothing to do with the politically charged issue of abortion.

Anyone who's ever known a pregnant woman has heard her talk about how she can "feel the baby kick" in her stomach. Here is an example from 1947, and this construction has only become more popular since then (from Google Ngram, American English):

We can trace this type of thing back further — again using nothing but Google's Ngram tool — if we include the etymologically related "babe," which until the mid-1800s was more common than "baby" in the U.S. From 1806: "The uncommon motion of the babe in her womb, was a token of the extraordinary emotion of her spirit under a divine impulse." It's also been common for decades to refer to a miscarriage as "losing the baby."

Again, the medical community can use language however it wants. And none of this speaks to the broader question of whether what Planned Parenthood is doing is immoral or illegal. But linguistic preferences do not magically become facts when the people holding them are doctors.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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