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Sebastian's Point

Sebastian's Point is a weekly column written by one of our members regarding timely events or analysis of relevant ideas, which impact the Culture of Life. All regular members are invited to submit a column for publication at Columns should be between 800 to 1300 words and comply with the high standards expected in academic writing, including proper citations of authority or assertions referred to in your column. Please see, Submission Requirements for more details.

A Preborn Child by Any Other Name

Ana Brennan, J.D.

Vice President

Society of St. Sebastian   |  25 February 2024


Anyone who has been involved in politics for any amount of time knows the importance of semantics. Those who control the language, control the debate. This reality is especially true in the context of abortion, and recently took center stage in Idaho.


Even before Roe v. Wade was overturned, Idaho passed a Fetal Heartbeat Law. Once Roe was overturned, Idaho’s Trigger Ban went into effect, outlawing abortion except for the life of the mother and reported rape or incest. Idaho went even further and passed a law banning abortion trafficking, protecting minors and parental rights. Where does a pro-life state go from here?


On January 22, 2024, there was a committee hearing regarding a bill introduced by State Representative Julianne Young (R) to replace the words embryo, fetus, and stillborn fetus used in Idaho law with preborn child or child. As Ms. Young correctly pointed out, “Every time that we do this, it is from fertilization to birth. The term ‘preborn child’ clearly captures that full span and is more accurate and, I believe, also more clearly expresses the respect and value that the state of Idaho places on the lives of these preborn children.”[i]


The words embryo and fetus are medical terms that merely describe the developmental stage of a preborn human being. The embryonic stage begins from implantation until about the 8th week of pregnancy and the fetal stage commences after the embryonic stage until birth. If a statute were to only refer to a fetus, would embryos be exempt from protection? When reading the Fetal Heartbeat Law that passed in 2022, it is apparent the Idaho Legislature was already aware of this problem. 


(2) "Fetal heartbeat" means embryonic or fetal cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.


(3) "Fetus" and "preborn child" each mean an individual organism of the species Homo sapiens from fertilization until live birth.  


4) "Gestational age" means the age of a preborn human individual as calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period of a pregnant woman.[ii]


Using the term preborn child is more precise and effective than having to clarify that a statute covers children in both the embryonic and fetal stages of development.


Unfortunately, when it comes to the abortion issue, nothing can be simple or straightforward. During the hearing, those with an anti-natal agenda, whether a college student or medical professional, stated without evidence that changing the language “could”, or “possibly” result in pregnant women being arrested for having miscarriages. This is completely unfounded considering one, as mentioned above, “preborn child” is already used in Idaho law, and second, under Idaho law, pregnant women are not even liable for abortions, let alone a miscarriage.


In the arena of semantics, it is well established that using dehumanizing language is essential to justify killing; hence why abortion advocates demand that Greek and Latin medical terms be used to justify killing the unborn. Regardless of what language is used, the humanity of the preborn child is unchanged. Fetus is Latin for "offspring" or "young one," or in plain English, a preborn child. Translating Greek and Latin medical terms into plain English does not change the law, it merely makes the law more clear and concise.


In addition to the outrageous, unsubstantiated claim that women will be arrested for having miscarriages, those testifying against the change stressed the need that precise medical language must be used. Oddly, no one argued that the State should go through state statutes and change the words “pregnant woman” to “gravida”, nor did they argue in favor of replacing the words “newborn baby” with “neonate.” Of course, the reason is clear. Dehumanizing, medically precise language only needs to be used when you want to justify killing.


It is important to note that according to the State of Idaho’s Legislation Drafting Manual, jargon is defined as, “. . . either meaningless language or the useful technical vocabulary of a trade or profession. Whenever possible, use the words that ordinary people know.”[iii] Legislation is supposed to be written in plain English, not specialized terms or terms of art of a given profession.


Sadly, largely due to this misinformed testimony, this bill was put on hold and not advanced. These events illustrate why it is so important for pro-lifers to be involved in the legislative process. Medical professionals are not legal experts, which was made painfully evident by their testimony which was based on fearmongering and not an understanding of the law.  



[i] Clark Corbin, Bill seeking to change ‘fetus’ to ‘preborn child’ in Idaho state law held in committee,

Idaho Capital Sun, January 22, 2024,,prevented%20the%20bill%20from%20advancing, (accessed February 24, 2024).



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