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Abortion access

Part 1 of 2 parts:
Glossary of terms about abortion or
pregnancy that begin with letters A to L:

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Terms -- particularly those directly or indirectly related to religion -- should be used with great care. Otherwise -- because various groups define words differently -- misunderstandings are common.

We feel that it is counter-productive to refer to groups different from one's own in derogatory terms, unless the purpose of the discussion is to terminate useful dialog. We recommend that when referring to other groups, one should use the terms that they use to describe themselves. Thus, we recommend that groups taking various positions on abortion should be referred to as pro-life and pro-choice, not anti-choice and pro-abortion. The Ethic of Reciprocity, which is more commonly referred to as the Golden Rule, is found in all major religions and requires treating of other groups and individuals as they wish to be treated.

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Some often used and confused terms related to abortion are:

bullet Abortifacient: medication which terminates pregnancy and induces an abortion. The pro-life movement generally defines the start of pregnancy as occurring during the process of conception, while physicians and the pro-choice movement generally defines it at the implantation of the blastocyst in the wall of the uterus. Thus, a medication can be considered as an abortifacient by pro-lifers and a contraceptive by everyone else.
bulletAbortion: This word has many meanings. Two of the most popular are:

bulletThe definition used by the medical and pro-choice communities is: the end of a pregnancy before viability of the fetus. i.e. the termination of the process of gestation after the time when the zygote attaches itself to the uterine wall (about 14 days after conception), but before the fetus is possibly capable of surviving on its own. (currently 23 to 28 weeks from conception). According to the Encyclopedia Britannica,  the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has defined abortion as occurring before the 20th week (134th day) of gestation. There are two types of abortions:

bulletAccidental abortion: a termination of pregnancy before viability that occurs naturally, without medical intervention. This is commonly called a miscarriage by the public.

bulletTherapeutic abortion: a termination of pregnancy via the intervention of a physician through surgery or the use of RU-486 or some other medication.

bullet Pro-lifers generally define abortion as an intentional interruption of the development process, at any time between conception and birth.

See also a list of definitions of "abortion" used by various organizations.

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bullet Anti-abortion: This is a term whose meaning is in flux. Sometimes it is used as a derogatory synonym for "pro-life." Recently, it has been frequently used to refer to individuals and groups who take violent action against abortion providers or clinics, up to and including shooting staff and bombing clinics. More info.
bullet Anti-choice: Derogatory term used to refer to pro-life advocates, implying that their prime motivation is to control women and restrict their freedom. Almost all "pro-lifers" appear to be motivated by the belief that fertilized ova, embryos and fetuses are a human person whose life must be protected. More info.

Baby: Normally, this means a very young child aged from birth to perhaps 1 year. The term is also sometimes used (particularly by pro-life advocates) to refer to a zygote, blastocyst, morula, embryo, fetus or newborn.

bullet Blastocyst: A stage of pre-natal mammalian development which (in humans) extends from the morula stage (a shapeless mass of cells about 4 days after fertilization), to an bilaminar (two layer) embryo stage (about 1 week after fertilization).
bullet Child: Normally, this means a person aged from birth to puberty. Sometimes it is used to refer to an unborn fetus as well - particularly by pro-life advocates. In legal usage, it often means a person who has been born but has not attained her or his 18th birthday.

Conception: A synonym for the fertilization process. The phrase "instant of conception" is meaningless, because conception is a lengthy process.

bullet Embryo: A stage of pre-natal mammalian development which (in humans) extends from 2 to 8 weeks after fertilization. It is termed a "bilaminar" or two layer embryo during its second week and becomes a trilaminar (3 layer) embryo during its third week. From 9 weeks to birth, it is generally referred to as a fetus.
bullet Fertilization: The process that starts when a sperm contacts an ovum. It ends with the intermingling of chromosomes from both the sperm and ovum to produce a full set of chromosomes - 46 in most humans. The result is a zygote, often popularly referred to as a "fertilized ovum." If it has two X chromosomes, then the zygote is a genetic female; if it has an X and Y, it is a genetic male. Other combination of the sex chromosomes are possible, like XXY, XXYY, etc. This process is generally regarded as the start of pregnancy within the pro-life movement. It is often incorrectly believed to take place instantaneously. Physicians and the pro-choice movement regard the start of pregnancy when the ovum develops into a blastocyst and attaches itself to the wall of the uterus at about 10 days after fertilization.
bullet Fertilizational Age is the age of an embryo, fetus, or newborn as measured from the date of fertilization. It is sometimes called "conceptional age" or "developmental age." See gestational age.

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bullet Fetus: From the Latin fetus, meaning offspring, bringing forth, hatching of young. 1 A stage of pre-natal mammalian development which (in humans) starts 9 weeks after fertilization or at the gestational age of 11 weeks. Once born, the fetus is referred to as a newborn.
bullet Gestational Age is the age of an embryo, fetus, or newborn as measured from the first day of the woman's last menstrual period. This is approximately 2 weeks before conception or fertilization. See fertilization age.
bullet Hysterotomy: A surgical procedure which involves cutting through the woman's abdomen into the uterus (womb) and removing the fetus. It is often referred to as a Cesarean section.
bullet Implantation: Attachment of the embryo to the wall of the uterus. This is generally regarded as the start of pregnancy by medical professionals and the pro-choice movement. The process of "Attachment starts about 5 to 8 days after fertilization and is completed by 9 or 10 days..." 2
bullet Infant: A child; variously defined as aged from birth to 12 months, seven years, and even (in some legal applications) as old as 21 years.
bullet Intact D&X Abortions A rare procedure in which the brain is removed from a fetus when it is partly born. Perhaps 3,000 out of the 1.2 million yearly abortions (<0.2%) in the US use this procedure. This greatly reduces the size of the skull, and permits the fetus to be removed more easily through the woman's cervix. Its use is normally restricted to very rare instances in which:

bullet The fetus is already dead.

bullet The fetus is alive but is killed in order to save the life of the woman.

bullet The fetus is alive but is killed in order to avoid very serious injury and long term or permanent disability to the woman

Testimony before a Senate committee indicated that a few doctors in the United States routinely performed D&X abortions for reasons other than stated above.

The alternative to performing a D&X is a hysterotomy. This is a type of Cesarean Section which is far more dangerous to the woman; it can cause perforation or tearing of the uterus, hemorrhaging, and/or complications in future pregnancies.

bullet Life:
bullet Sperm is commonly considered a form of human life, because it contains human DNA and meets the popular definition of "life." However, some definitions of "life" are very restrictive and include the ability to reproduce. Under this more restrictive definition, a spermatozoon would not be considered alive. An individual sperm might have been present for months before it has the opportunity to fertilize an ovum.

bullet Similarly, an ovum is generally considered a form of human life, because it also contains human DNA. It ripens and is expelled by an ovary many days before having the possibility being exposed to sperm. But some definitions of "life" do not include ova because they cannot, by themselves, reproduce.
bullet A new-born baby is a human life and a human person. An exception is found among some native groups who believe that personhood is attained only after the newborn is named.

The timing of the transition from human life to a human person is of paramount importance in all discussions on abortion access:

  • Pro-life advocates typically believe that this transition happens at some time during the process of fertilization.

  • Pro-choice advocates typically believe that the transition happens much later (e.g. when the fetus is viable -- capable of living on its own -- or when its higher brain functions start to operate and it becomes sentient, or when it is half emerged from its mother's body, or when a newborn is takes its first breath, etc.).

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This topic continues in the next essay with terms that begin with the letter M to Z

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  1. "Fetus," Wikipedia, at:

  2. "HON Dossier: Mother & Child Glossary," Health on the Net Foundation, at:

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Copyright © 1997 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated and reviewed on 2015-OCt-18
Author: B.A. Robinson.
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