The Raving Theist

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Reading Between the Headlines

October 25, 2005 | 14 Comments

An Associated Press reporter lets his politics show:

Judge leaves things as they are for now in fetus custody fight.

Actually, the fight is over the custody of a baby. Pennsylvania child welfare authorities want to place the boy in foster care because the father is a convicted sex offender believed to have sodomized his own daughter, and the mother is alleged to be a coke and meth abusing prostitute. The mother is eight months and some weeks pregnant, and the court has issued an order requiring her to notify the agency within 24 hours after her son is born.

So why does the headline label this a fetus custody fight? The dispute is over the fitness of the parents. The state isn’t planning to pin the woman down and rip the kid out of her uterus. That would be an “abortion.”

Which is what the headline is really about. In the world of pro-choice politics, it’s forbidden to talk about the future in a normal way if a fetus is involved. It’s bad manners to assign the clump of cells any name that would detract from its abortability. Perhaps it’s the reporter’s preferred solution to this unfortunate situation — but as far as I can tell none of the parties involved has even remotely suggested that alternative.


14 Responses to “Reading Between the Headlines”

  1. DHR
    October 25th, 2005 @ 7:03 pm

    What would you call it? Have they chosen a name?

    Seems a bit forced.

  2. LJK
    October 25th, 2005 @ 7:15 pm

    I realize you are pro-life, but I really hope this was a joke. Sometimes sarcasm is not conveyed well through writing.

    Anyway, this is from Webster’s


    1. The unborn young of a viviparous vertebrate having a basic structural resemblance to the adult animal.
    2. In humans, the unborn young from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth, as distinguished from the earlier embryo.
    And this from

    Foetus (Fetus)

    (Science: biology, embryology, obstetrics) A developing unborn offspring of an animal that gives birth to its young (as opposed to laying eggs).

    From approximately three months after conception the offspring take on a recognisable form (all parts in place, etc.). In human development, the period after the seventh or eighth week of pregnancy is the foetal period.

    An unborn or unhatched vertebrate in the later stages of development showing the main recognizable features of the mature animal.

    Fetus is the scientifically accurate word.

  3. The Raving Atheist
    October 25th, 2005 @ 7:25 pm

    It’s a child custody dispute.

    The headline is forced.

  4. Dom
    October 25th, 2005 @ 9:04 pm

    It is a child custody dispute. “Fetus” seems like an anti-abortion label, though. After all, the court is arguing over a “fetus” as it would argue over a child, thus suggesting that “fetus” and child are synonymous, at least in this legal sense. Assigning rights to a fetus, and recognizing it as a child (which is what it will become, not what it is) was long been a goal of the anti-abortion movement. TRA seems to be the victim of a little paranoia here… the headline seems “pro-life” to me.

  5. Viole
    October 25th, 2005 @ 9:40 pm


    Must be a slow week. Say, RA, what ever happened to your adaptation of the Raven? And I was rather looking forward to whatever you were gonna do with my name. Don’t let us down.

    I should point out, that child custody battles don’t often make the national news. This one did, probably because they’re arguing over custody of a child that hasn’t been born yet–a fetus. Which is in the headline because “Judge leaves things as they are for now in child custody fight.” isn’t newsworthy. No one cares about the parents; no one cares about the kid.

    You do understand that headlines have to grab the casual reader’s attention, don’t you?

  6. Kate B.
    October 26th, 2005 @ 7:44 am

    Dom said:
    (which is what it will become, not what it is)

    RA’s article said:
    The mother is eight months and some weeks pregnant.

    If there is a magical mystical line between baby and fetus, we’re way past it at eight months plus. What’s more, this situation highlights the contradiction legalized abortion has forced us to perpetrate on ourselves. We constantly warn pregnant women about health risks to their in utero babies. We mourn miscarriages. We allow voluntary killing of the same entities whose health we worry about. Sane and logical? No.

  7. June
    October 26th, 2005 @ 9:58 am

    Gee, TRA, as a lawyer you must be familiar with the difference between X and ATTEMPTED X. Can one enforce a contract that was “ALMOST signed”? Can one practice law on the day BEFORE one passes the bar? Can one probate a will the decedent INTENDED to write? Can one collect salary for one’s POTENTIAL to perform a given job? Can one cite a case that was ALMOST decided?

    Oh, I forgot, it is now possible to become President by being ALMOST elected and to go to war WITHOUT declaring it.

  8. jahrta
    October 26th, 2005 @ 10:38 am

    “Gee, TRA, as a lawyer you must be familiar with the difference between X and ATTEMPTED X. Can one enforce a contract that was “ALMOST signed”? Can one practice law on the day BEFORE one passes the bar? Can one probate a will the decedent INTENDED to write? Can one collect salary for one’s POTENTIAL to perform a given job? Can one cite a case that was ALMOST decided?

    Oh, I forgot, it is now possible to become President by being ALMOST elected and to go to war WITHOUT declaring it.”

    Simply fantastic. I agree on all points, June.

  9. Mutt
    October 26th, 2005 @ 10:45 am

    Article aside, can I suggest you fix the character encoding a bit? Looks fine in Unicode, but in Western (ISO8859-1) your curly apostrophes tend to eat themselves. Either stick a “charset=utf-8″ somewhere in your metadata, or… does MT have the facility to substitute character codes eg (& #40;) for pasted characters automatically?

    It’s normally Microsoft Word’s fault. What isn’t?

  10. seattle slough
    October 26th, 2005 @ 1:52 pm


    What a waste of space this critique is.

    Of course it is a fetus. It isn’t born. It might be dead in the womb as we speak. They might have sexed it wrong. It certainly is not a child. There is a hard and fast line between fetus and baby. It’s called birth.

    Sure there are other phrases for fetus, such as ‘unborn child’ but they are not entirely accurate and not as concise. Fetus is proper. If you don’t like the word, that’s your hang-up.

    Obviously from a Constitutional standpoint, if this fetus is past the point of viability, thus the State may erect essentially any barrier to an abortion. But it is still a fetus. No other word is proper. None.

    Just like a dead person is not properly a ‘man’ but rather a ‘corpse’, not born people are properly ‘fetuses’ not boys or girls. It’s why you hand out the “it’s a boy” cigars after the birth, not after the 3 month ultrasound. Fetus is not a dirty word. You are the one with the agenda, not that reporter.

    If this is a joke, I am missing it. If it isn’t, adios bookmark.

  11. Kurt
    October 26th, 2005 @ 11:33 pm

    It’s interesting to find another pro-life atheist . . . I always find myself at odds with most of the people I agree with. I’m not sure I agree that the headline was pro-choice politics at play, however. More likely, I think it was just a journalist trying to be extra precise or trying to immediately get across the point that the kid was still in utero and wasn’t currently living with the sex offender.

    And you’re right, of course: this is a child custody case that is being determined while the child is still a fetus. Obviously any decision on custody doesn’t take effect until birth and the baby is no longer a fetus. I’m not sure why so many people in these comments are getting cranky about that. That’s not abortion politics, that just obvious common sense.

    The theory I advanced on my blog ( was that this is really more of a eugenics issue. The practical upshot of this welfare decision is the same as if sex offenders were immediately sterilized upon conviction because we have deemed them as a class to never be fit as parents. There are also the potential cultural overtones, since the U.S. government doesn’t exactly have a stellar history of meeting Native Americans on equal footing (and I have a hard time believing a white guy with a 20 year old sexual offense would have had his child taken away).

  12. Jim
    October 27th, 2005 @ 11:09 am

    Daphne’s mom:

    It’s only a “magical mystery” to god-idiots who believe in magic in the first place. Logical adults can struggle with the moral issues involved with abortion without falling back to the supernatural.

    Of course, if I thought I was eating the flesh of a corpse-god once a week, I would probably make the same mistake myself.

  13. Joanne
    November 1st, 2005 @ 5:01 pm

    “It’s interesting to find another pro-life atheist”

    Even those of us who support abortion rights are pro-life. I don’t like the terms pro-life and prochoice because they are misleading. The question is do you support a woman’s or girl’s right to have an abortion or do you think the government should have to right to invade a woman’s or girl’s privacy and force her to have a child she doesn’t want and may not be able to care for?

    I support a woman’s or girl’s right to decide if she is ready, able and willing to have a child. If she is not then she should have a right to end the pregnancy. 98% of abortions occur within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. The other 2% of later term abortions are almost always done for health reasons. Let’s keep the government out of people’s private medical and reproductive decisions.

    There are enough impoverished, abused and neglected kids in the world as it is that the so called prolife crowd isn’t doing much to care for. Let’s take care of these kids before we force women to create even more of them.

  14. Rev_Holy_Fire
    November 10th, 2005 @ 7:57 pm

    Choose life,
    your mother did.

    Abortion is wrong in any situation.

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