Monday, June 24, 2013

The Power of a Word

Have you ever considered the power of a single word? Just one adjective, verb choice, or adverb can significantly shape the message and tone of a text. The consequences are significant, particularly in the area of journalistic reporting, where a news source presents itself as factual account of an event.
For example, on Monday June 24, 2013, Reuters published a brief article reporting that the U.S. Supreme Court had agreed to hear a challenge to a Massachusetts law restricting what protesters outside abortion clinics can do. Notice how I have tried in the previous sentence to state what the law actually does, regardless of its intention. Overall the article is a fine summary, but notice the first sentence:
"The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider a challenge to a Massachusetts law that ensures access for patients at clinics that offer abortions."
Notice the word "ensures" and then consider the assumptions suggested by the word. It assumes that patients were being denied access and suggests that the law was written with the intention of correcting this. It also assumes that the law is effective. The table is tilted from the outset of the article.
The courts have upheld buffer zones around clinics on the basis of free access and safety. However, the courts have also insisted on "content neutral" statutes that do not favor any one viewpoint or kind of speech. The plaintiffs in this case argue that the Mass. law prohibits anti-abortion speech while giving clinic volunteers and employees full first amendment rights. If they can prove that the statue is not "content neutral," the Supreme Court may rule in their favor. However, if the state can prove that there is indeed an issue of "access" that needs to be addressed and that the statue is "content neutral," they may be successful in defending the law.
While I don't believe that clinic protests are the most fruitful activity in bringing about greater human rights for the unborn, I do think protecting free speech is important. If a fetus is a human life, and you sincerely believe this, it's not so strange that you might feel compelled to plead and argue with women who are about to end that life. And shouldn't you be free to do this? Hopefully love will be the rule of your actions, and if so, love will compell you to speak up but in a respectful and kind way that seeks to do good and not harm. There are other ways of doing good too: by addressing the social context of un-wanted pregancies (poverty, education, broken families, poor healthcare, violence against women, and more) you can seek the good of others.
I tend to think that the courts have gone as far as they are willing in the area of "buffer zones" and will see this law as an unnecessary widening of precedent with potential freedom of speech implications. My prediction is that the Supreme Court will strike down the Massachusetts law in a 6-3 vote.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post. I think the power of word choice in headlines is probably under appreciated. It's interesting and often eye-opening to compare headlines from media outlets for major new events. Politico's daily email newsletter, Playbook, does something along these lines in its "How It's Playing" feature.