Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Abortion Newspeak

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Seventy years ago in June 1949 George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was published.

On June 7, 2019, the day prior to Nineteen Eighty-Four’s 70th anniversary, The Guardian, the United Kingdom’s leading socialist newspaper, announced: “Why the Guardian is changing the language it uses to describe abortion bans.”

What follows in this pronouncement would have shocked even Orwell.

The Guardian claims that its “new style guidance encourages editors to avoid medically misleading terms like ‘heartbeat bill’ in reference to restrictive abortion laws sweeping the U.S.” The Guardian statement—it is not a report by any measure—goes on to inform us that “editors and reporters are encouraged to use the term ‘six-week abortion ban’ over ‘fetal heartbeat bill,’ unless they are quoting someone.”


So far, so bad. But The Guardian’s U.S. editor-in-chief, John Mulholland, then went further: “We want to avoid medically inaccurate, misleading language when covering women’s reproductive rights.” Probably, like me, you had to read that statement a couple of times. No doubt, like me, it still doesn’t make sense. I mean, what could be less misleading than a heartbeat? There is a heartbeat or there isn’t; a heartbeat denotes life—surely a fair assumption to make? Not according to The Guardian, it seems.

Referring to the fetal heartbeat bills, Mulholland writes: “These are arbitrary bans that don’t reflect fetal development—and the language around them is often motivated by politics, not science.” The paper then goes on to remind readers: “The Guardian style guide already encourages editors to use ‘anti-abortion’ over ‘pro-life’ for clarity, and ‘pro-choice’ over ‘pro-abortion’.” I suspect there are few regular readers of that media outlet who were not already aware of this exercise in linguistic bias. Nonetheless, the paper felt it necessary to restate their position—just in case anyone doubted its concern for “women’s reproductive rights” and its total lack of concern for the unborn child, male or female. On that subject, it is science that The Guardian and its readers dare not investigate. If they did, the reality of abortion could no longer be denied.

1984 first edition.

On a recent late night radio call-in show here in London, there was a rare discussion of abortion. Fearing the worst, and the all too usual treatment of the subject, I was about to change channels. Before I could do so, however, I heard the first speaker begin. It turned out she was pro-life and proceeded to give a no holds barred description of what takes place during a surgical abortion, namely the mutilation of an unborn child. The frankness and precision with which she described the procedure shocked the male host, who, struggling for a comeback, said that the guest had used language that was “vile and explicit.” He turned swiftly to the show’s pro-abortion guest for solace. To her credit, if with some reluctance, when asked she confirmed that what had just been described was indeed what took place during an abortion—the description was medically accurate. Thereafter, the discussion, such as it was, quickly moved on to the matter of a “woman’s right to choose,” and as far away as possible from what those “rights” actually entailed and what it was she was choosing to do and, most important of all, to whom.

There was a video circulating after the 2018 Irish abortion referendum. In it women in Dublin were told what was now to take place in Irish hospitals at the Irish taxpayers’ expense as a consequence of the recent vote. All the women, many of whom had voted to repeal the Irish Constitution’s legal protection for the unborn, were shocked. Then—and here’s the thing—they said they were mystified as to how such things could be taking place in Irish hospitals. Incredibly, all the women described themselves as “pro-choice” but they had not found out what that choice entailed, or, more significantly, what that choice would mean for an unborn child. During the 2018 referendum debate, the Irish media made sure that all discussion stayed firmly on the subject of “women’s health” so that the debate could be kept deliberately vague and as far away as possible from the reality of abortion, just as the radio host did on the London late night call-in program.

It is ironic that such statements like those of The Guardian come from the free press on the anniversary of a book that is synonymous with all that is opposed to journalistic freedom. For it is from Nineteen Eighty-Four that certain phrases have entered into our common parlance: newspeak, Big Brother, the thought police, Room 101, the Two Minutes Hate, doublethink, unperson, memory hole, telescreen, 2+2=5, and the ministry of truth. The novel’s bleak commentary on mid-twentieth century totalitarianism is set alongside an even bleaker prediction of how future technology and its manipulation would enslave not just our bodies but our minds and, with that, our ability to critically evaluate what is going on around us. Nowhere today is this demonstrated more than on the subject of abortion, but it seems this is not something you’ll be reading about in The Guardian.

Editor’s note: Pictured above, protesters hold up placards as they take part in the March for Choice, calling for the legalizing of abortion in Ireland after the referendum announcement, in Dublin on September 30, 2017. (Photo credit: PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty Images)

K. V. Turley


K.V. Turley is the National Catholic Register’s U.K. correspondent. He writes from London.

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