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Abortion Terminology Analyzed

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Abortion Terminology Analyzed

Health Care

Abortion Terminology Analyzed

Abortion Terminology Analyzed

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NPR's Julie Rovner says that in 2003 while covering the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, she discovered that the term late-term abortion didn't mean anything medically. She says doctors refer to term as the end of a pregnancy. So late-term would mean after a pregnancy is complete. Rovner says this leads doctors to talk simply about late abortions.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And we've asked Julie to stay with us for a minute to answer a question that came from one of our listeners yesterday.

David Tolman(ph) of Atlanta asked us about the language of abortion in our stories about the doctor who was shot to death in Wichita.

Mr. Tolman writes, I have noticed that in coverage of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, the previous neutral term late-term abortion has been replaced by the simpler late abortion, which frankly just sounds a little odd to me. Why the change?

Julie, why don't you answer his question, why the change?

JULIE ROVNER: Well, actually, this is something that came up back in 2003, when I was covering the also loaded phrase, partial-birth abortion, what became the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. And in talking to doctors, I discovered that the phrase late-term abortion actually doesn't mean anything medically. In fact, it's something of an oxymoron.

Doctors refer to term as the end of a pregnancy, when a pregnancy is over and baby is ready to be born. So, late-term would actually mean after a pregnancy is complete - after 39 weeks. So, in fact, doctors who talk about abortion later in pregnancy simply talk about late abortions.

Late-term is really a phrase that is meaningless, and so I stopped using it back in 2003. And recently, we've recommended that everyone else at NPR stop using it as well.

BLOCK: So late abortion.

ROVNER: Yes, late abortion or abortions later in pregnancy. We've also tried not to use things about the trimester system. That was something that Roe v. Wade had talked about. But really now, viability, which used to be at the end of the second trimester, at the beginning of the third has been moved back also, so that's a little bit of an awkward construct. So simply, abortions later in pregnancy or late abortion is a simpler and frankly more scientifically correct term.

NORRIS: NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner, thanks very much.

ROVNER: You're welcome.

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