NRL News

Jettisoning the term “surgical abortion,” but not the horrific practice

by | May 18, 2020

By Randall K. O’Bannon, NRL Director of Education & Research

Editor’s note. This appears in the May digital edition of National Right to Life News. Please read the entire 40-page compilation of news stories, commentary, analyses, and editorial and pass them along to pro-life family and friends.

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In all likelihood you missed it, but the online pro-abortion news outlet recently decided to explain why it no longer would use the descriptive “surgical abortion.” Instead, Rewire vice president and managing editor Regina Mahone said in an April 16, 2020 editorial, these would now be called “procedural abortions.”


Nothing has changed about the “procedure” itself. Abortionists still use instruments to pry open the birth canal, to reach in and suction or cut out the baby. And the result is still a dead baby, cut up into many pieces, laying on a tray or in a collection bottle.

So why the change in terminology?

The explanation given appears to cloud rather than clarify the issue.

Under the headline, “Notes on Language: Why We Stopped Using ‘Surgical Abortion’ at Rewire.News,” Mahone says Rewire “has updated its style guide to more accurately describe abortion care.” While typically applied to any abortion that is not chemically induced (aka “medication abortion”), Mahone claims the use of “surgical” to describe first-trimester abortions done by vacuum aspiration is “misleading.”

Here’s the argument.

The vacuum aspiration or “suction abortion” procedure used in most abortions, they say, “doesn’t typically require cutting or suturing of any kind.” It is only a “five- to ten-minute process involving gentle suction to remove the products of conception from the uterus.”

In case it wasn’t clear, the “products of conception” referred to by Mahone is the baby, who is killed as his or her flesh is ripped apart by the “gentle suction” of the vacuum aspiration machine. If you’re looking for a classic example in how the industry uses euphemism to mask the reality of what they do, you’ll find no better.

Calling it a “procedure” helps to put those disturbing images out of the mind and makes it sound so much simpler and benign.

They’ve tried this tack before

This is not the abortion industry’s first (or likely the last) attempt to get rid of language that makes their product harder to sell. Years ago, Planned Parenthood largely jettisoned “surgical abortion” in favor of the phrase “in-clinic abortion.” See our 2013 news story “The End of ‘Surgical’ Abortion” (

While the claim is that the change is needed “to more accurately describe abortion care,” the pragmatic reasons are easily discerned.

As Rewire tacitly acknowledges, the term “surgical” is off-putting for many women. They don’t like the idea of surgery. They find it intimidating, and they don’t like the idea of cutting or scraping. (This is one reason why chemical abortions were developed). The abortion industry hopes to win them back by trying to make the case that this isn’t surgery at all– that it presents none of the problems they would typically associate with surgery.

But again, these abortions do involve the use of instruments inserted into a woman’s vagina, pushed through the cervix into her uterus, where a cannula (tube), often with a sharp cutting edge, is dragged along the uterine wall to find and then remove the child and the rest of the amniotic or placental tissue that served as the child’s life support system.

No “cutting”? How absurd. Cutting and scraping are part of the process, belying the idea that no surgery is involved.

It is worth repeating what we have said before about this claim:

The claim that “no cutting” is involved appears to rest on a contention that the baby, who is definitely cut, is not a part of the woman’s body. Yet abortion’s defenders fail to explain how this claim is compatible with their long-time assertion that a woman should be free to abort because it is “her body, her choice.”

If the fetus is really just part of “her body,” then cutting is clearly done to “her” body and the claims of those trying to recast these as “non-surgical” abortions are clearly false.

If the child is not part of her body, as the promoters of this new definition seem to contend, then the old slogan of “my body, my choice” is based on a false premise and the whole logic of the pro-choice movement is undermined.

Of course, the language here was never meant to follow the rules of logic, but to serve the interest of the abortion cause.

Motivations for the change

There are other reasons besides reducing the fear-factor for women why the industry is particularly interested now in recasting these as non-surgical abortions.

If these abortions are surgical, that seems to imply the need for a surgeon, someone with special surgical training. With the increasing unpopularity of abortion and the ranks of abortionists greying and thinning, it is getting harder and harder for the industry to find qualified surgeons to perform these abortions.

They have tried, in some places, to get states to allow them to train nurses and other less trained practitioners to perform these abortions. Far more expeditious, though, to get the state to reclassify these as non-surgical so that surgical training or certification is not required.

However, some states have gone the other direction. They have properly decided that clinics performing these abortions need to be governed by the same sort of safety regulations that are ordinarily imposed on other ambulatory surgical centers. But if courts and medical boards can make the case that these are not surgical abortions–using the arguments that Rewire and others in the industry are now making–then these clinics would not be covered by such laws.

Capitalizing on coronavirus concerns

Rewire’s Mahone complains that people are mischaracterizing these abortions as surgical to make the public think that these abortions require the diversion of critical medical equipment in the middle of a worldwide healthcare crisis. It quotes industry spokesperson Daniel Grossman as saying that all that is needed in terms of PPE (personal protective equipment) for a first trimester “in-clinic” abortion are two pairs of gloves and a reusable face shield. A gown and a mask are not usually necessary, says Grossman.

To be generous, this is, at best, facile. Even if a gown and mask were somehow not essential, the unavoidable handling of human blood and tissue, some of it likely the woman’s, would at least require other sterile medical supplies and equipment, as well as the attention of a medical clinician whose help might be more needed elsewhere.

Nothing has really changed

In an interesting observation, Mahone notes that at one time the abortion industry may have preferred the term “surgical” to lend a certain cachet to the procedure and to those that performed them. She quotes Amy Hagstrom Miller, the head of the Whole Woman’s Health abortion chain, who told Rewire, “I think in past generations people called abortions surgery in an effort potentially to reclaim some medical status or ground and try to bring abortion back under a medically respectable [purview].”

This reveals that nothing has really changed about what surgical abortion is and what it does, other than the need to prettify the terminology. Surgical abortions still involve someone, surgically trained (or not), inserting specialized medical equipment into a woman’s vagina, through her mechanically widened cervix, and into her uterus in order to suction, cut, scrape a child off the wall of her womb.

It will involve blood and the cutting of human tissue.

You would never know from Mahone that this is a “procedure” in which many women have had their cervixes damaged or their uteruses perforated, possibilities more likely with unskilled, untrained operators.

The effort to rebrand these abortions as non-surgical may serve the interests of the abortion industry and make them more broadly available and easier to sell.

But it does not change what they are or make them any safer for women.

Categories: Abortion