The word is “consequence.”
“Consequence” has two closely related meanings. First, it can be used to indicate a cause-and-effect relationship, synonymous with the word “result.” A consequence may be positive, negative, or neutral:
- Monique studied hard over the weekend. As a consequence, she aced her final exam.
- Joe smoked cigarettes for thirty years. As a consequence, he has an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
- Allison decided to move across the country. As a consequence, she has notified her landlord that she will not renew her lease.
- Son, you’re grounded for two weeks. Bad behavior has consequences.
- It’s little wonder some victims of sexual assault decline to report the attack to police. Even when a report is made, rapists rarely face any consequences for their actions.
- After a period of sexual abstinence, Maria and her husband decided that they wanted to conceive. They resumed having sexual intercourse, and as a consequence, Maria became pregnant.
- Anne had a one-night stand and her partner did not use a condom. As a consequence, Anne became pregnant.
But when we use the word “consequence”—or, even more problematically, speak derisively about a desire for “consequence-free sex”—pro-choicers and fence-sitters come away with the impression that we agree with Obama about babies being punishments. Because many pro-lifers come from religious traditions that view premarital sex as sinful (and abortion activists love to exploit that fact), the odds of listeners automatically applying the negative connotation of “consequences” are very high.
When we’re trying to change minds to save lives, it doesn’t matter what you actually meant. It only matters what they hear. So stop saying “consequence.” There are plenty of neutral alternatives available, like “result,” “effect,” and “outcome.” It’s one small change that could have very positive consequences for the cause of life.