Early this year, it was released that global superpower Beyoncé was with child. Not just one, but two children filled her womb. Creepy photoshoots revealed her bulging belly and praised her as a woman among women; a mother among mothers.
Surely, the sacred children in this womb contained some sort of key to unlocking the rest of existence. Surely they were the promised messiahs of a celebrity-worshiping generation.
Sadly, they’re probably not far from that to most of our culture.
People broke down in tears upon hearing the news and millions flocked to social media to share their excitement. But what I want to focus on in this post is not the celebrity cult or the weird portrayal of this woman’s body plastered across the internet.
I want to examine the language used about the two fetuses kicking in her tummy.
What I’ve realized when it comes to world-famous pregnancies like this is that the language shifts with the object. In other words, I’ll spend this post taking apart the idea that:
intent informs ontology.
One key thing to notice about Ms. Knowles’ pregnancy is that you’ll never see her unborn babies referred to as ‘fetuses.’ They are certainly children through and through. Any publication which would dare refer to these sacred infants otherwise would surely be scorned.
Yet these same publications, when writing about a Planned Parenthood client or otherwise nondescript pregnancy would have no second thoughts about referring to the organism inside the woman as a ‘fetus’.
What the woman intends to do with the baby is what shapes the language people use about it. If the unborn organism is unwanted, it is a mere fetus. A piece of tissue. A collection of human-esque cells. But if it is the twin children of Queen Bey, they are nothing short of royalty from the moment of conception.
What the humans intend to do with the child informs what it is.
For those of you not thoroughly bathed in philosophical jargon, ontology is a fancy word for what something is. It is the study of being. For instance, the chair I’m sitting on is, at its core, a chair. It has a thorough chair-ness about it which defines what it is.
Ontologically, it is a chair.
Now, when we talk about unborn babies, they have a certain ontology. Either they are ontologically humans, the same way you and I are, or they are ontologically something less than human. Tissues and organ clumps.
They cannot be both human and un-human at the same time.
Intent informs ontology.
This is exactly why it’s so important to note the language used about fetuses depending on whose it is, what the intent is, and many other factors surrounding the pregnancy.
Many media sites seem to think they have the authority to shift around the ontology of these unborn babies based on whatever best suits their needs, or their audience. When covering Angelina Jolie’s pregnancy, the unborn is referred to as a “child,” yet the same publication, when discussing the benefits of abortion, or pushing against pro-lifers, employs entirely different language. It touts the abortive procedure as ‘women’s care,’ or refers to the unborn infant as a fetus.
How can the same magazine refer to one baby as a child, and in the next breath refer to thousands of others as mere fetuses?
Because it’s far easier to kill a fetus than a child.
It forces me to wonder, what if Beyoncé decided to get an abortion? Would it be termed ‘murder’ by People Magazine? Would her beloved twins suddenly cease to be children and be demoted to mere fetuses?
The problem with this line of language is we as humans do not necessarily get to dictate the ontology of the unborn. We do not get to decide what it is. The same mass of tissues and cells cannot simultaneously be a non-human fetus and a beautiful baby boy or girl.
Just as with the elderly, the crippled, the handicapped and those of other skin colors from us, we do not get to dictate their ontological merit. They are not human because we have deemed them so, nor are they sub-human because we decide otherwise.
We do not get to decide if and when someone becomes a human, so let our language reflect our beliefs. May we be people who speak the truth with love and integrity, not shifting our language around depending on circumstances. May we be people who are able to see through hypocritical double-talk and use language honestly and transparently.
We cannot dictate the worth of another human, nor can the media. Either they are all worthless fetuses, or they are all children made in the image of God. They do not change based on our desires for them.