Post story is dehumanizing

dehumanizeOver at The Washington Post, reporter Ashley Surdin wrote about an unprecedented ballot-initiative in Colorado:

A proposal to define a fertilized human egg as a person will land on Colorado's ballot this November, marking the first time that the question of when life begins will go before voters anywhere in the nation.

The Human Life Amendment, also known as the personhood amendment, says the words "person" or "persons" in the state constitution should "include any human being from the moment of fertilization." If voters agreed, legal experts say, it would give fertilized eggs the same legal rights and protections to which people are entitled.

The ballot initiative is funded by Colorado for Equal Rights, a grass-roots antiabortion organization. Its purpose, initiative sponsor Kristi Burton said, is to lay a legal and legislative basis for protecting the unborn. Its passage would also open the door to modifying other laws for the same purpose, she said.

I see two main problems with Surdin's story.

The first problem is Surdin's use of the dehumanizing term "fertilized egg." Yes, Surdin does attach the descriptive word "human" in the lede and refers to the "unborn", but elsewhere the reporter doesn't. Surdin's use of the term is prejudicial. By using the term "fertilized egg" consistently, Surdin implies that a human at the very earliest stage of life is a thing or an object, not a person or subject. Why not use the more accurate and fair term "human embryo"?

The second problem is the absence in the story of religious, scientific, and philosophical perspectives. Surdin does not quote any religious figures, or any embryologists or philosophers. Were Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen, authors of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, not available? How about William Saletan, a liberal writer for Slate?

These voices would have provided essential context for readers: the debate over personhood is more than political or legal. Yet Surdin focuses exclusively on the initiative's political and legal ramificiations. That shortchanges readers.

Which is why using accurate and fair terms is so important. In the absence of them, Surdin's story was only a step or two removed from being a press release for NARAL or Planned Parenthood.

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