Rewriting the Dictionary

Apparently, I am leaving all the “on topic” posts to Sarah, while I vent on issues that are at least somewhat related to this blog. I guess I can get away with it since I started it :-).

Many people ask me how and why I got into this field (broadly speaking, adolescent development, and more narrowly adolescent sexual health, and then of course there is the focus on technology that is supposed to drive this blog). One of the reasons is that I had a crappy adolescence. Another reason is that I am a research nerd, and I get very upset when people ignore established findings and instead go with what they think “feels right.” And the majority of our sex education and approach to young people’s sexuality dismisses research and educated theory and instead leans towards moral righteousness and panic. Example: I get mad when I hear about abstinence only curricula and policies mandating its implementation because there is no evidence that abstinence until marriage changes young people’s sexual behaviors. Another example: I am frustrated with the panic about the alleged dangers of social networking and how they are destroying young people’s relationships (though see this article which provides evidence of the benefits of social networking).

So you can imagine how I feel when people take the liberty of changing the definitions of words in order to suit their needs. This is what I read about today. According to the New York Times, Bush has decided that “abortion” means “any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.” That definition is completely wrong. According to the medical professions an abortion is “when the fetus is expelled from a woman’s uterus” (yes, a “miscarriage” is just a more delicate way of saying “spontaneous abortion”). Here is the key difference: an abortion can only occur if there has been implantation. Bush seems to forget that essential component and instead broadens his own special version of the word to incorporate anything that interferes with a fertilization.

I understand Bush is anti-choice. I understand many people are. That is not what is at issue here with me right now. What I am concerned about is when politicians decide to redefine words in order to suit their own wishes.

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