When Is a Royal Baby a Fetus?

Cross-posted from The Atlantic

Moral philosopher James Q. Wilson wrote that humanity “has a moral sense.” Whether that moral sense is grounded in evolution, the image of God, or some other foundation, it sometimes leads us to act better than we speak. There are surprising moments, in other words, when our pre-conscious emotional and moral wiring responds to a situation in a way our more studied judgments would not permit. A usually callous employee comforts a just-fired coworker in genuine sympathy. A man who hasn’t acted chivalrously in all his days instinctively holds a door open for a pregnant woman. A teenager roaming in one of those teenage-mall herds apologizes to a passer-by whom her friends have just mocked.

This week, as the U.K.’s Prince William and Kate Middleton were expecting their child at any moment, the impending birth received a galaxy’s worth of media coverage. That the child would be heir to the throne was a motivating factor in all this attention, to be sure. I was interested not only for this reason but for a less-noticed one: Countless media reports bore news about the “royal baby.”

Why was this noteworthy? Because this term, to get exegetical for a moment, was not used to describe the future state of the child—once born and outside of the womb, that is. No, the American media used this phrase “royal baby” to describe the pre-born infant. It’s not strange for leading pro-life thinkers likeEric Metaxas and Denny Burk to refer to a fetus as a “baby.” It’s not strange, either, for people to refer to a child they’re expecting as a “baby,” regardless of where they stand on the issue of abortion. It is strange, though, for outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post and Boston Globe–which purport to be neutral on the issue–to use this seemingly explosive phrase without so much as a qualification. And why is this strange? Because it codes a pro-life position into their description of the unborn child.

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