Oscar Wilde famously spoke so many years ago, referring to homosexuality, of "the love that dare not speak its name." Today, of course, homosexuality shouts its name and affixes it to marriage licenses. But there is a new kind of open secret -- "the right that dare not speak its name."
In a June decision, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled the recently passed partial-birth abortion ban unconstitutional. The right to abortion is as legally secure as ever, but its advocates have never been so apparently ashamed of the practice itself. If pro-choice advocates believe in the necessity and goodness of their position, one would expect them to say something like, "We support abortion -- that's A-B-O-R-T-I-O-N -- so women can eliminate unwanted children." Instead, they take refuge in the foggiest corners of obfuscation.
In April, supporters of Roe v. Wade held a rally in Washington in support of the right to abortion. But you would hardly know it. The rally was called the "March for Women's Lives" -- well, for the lives of women who aren't very, very young. The word "abortion" was almost verboten among people who support the right to it.
One of the nation's premier defenders of abortion rights is the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. It's a perfectly descriptive name, but the group nonetheless changed it last year to expunge the offending word. It is now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America. It's as if the National Rifle Association changed its name to avoid any association with the word "rifle."
In three lawsuits challenging the partial-birth abortion ban after it was signed, abortion-rights advocates refused to say "partial-birth abortion." They preferred the terms "intact dilation and extraction" and "dilation and evacuation," better to keep anyone from understanding whatever they were talking about: Namely, the partial breech delivery of a baby, until a doctor can pierce its skull with a sharp instrument and vacuum out its brain. Shannen W. Coffin, a former Justice Department official who fought in defense of the ban, recalls one pro-choice lawyer letting slip the phrase "partial-birth abortion," only to correct herself. The judge chided her, "You won't get sick if you say the words."