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ACOG’s ridiculous, inaccurate language guidelines 

by | Apr 21, 2022

By Petra

People recognize that language exerts a type of control over ideas, thoughts, and feelings. This control can be enhanced, shifted, or chipped away at. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recognizes that language can shape the way people think about abortion, and they are trying to shape language around abortion to shift the power into the hands of pro-choice people with their ACOG Guide to Language and Abortion.

They start with the assumption that abortion is a morally good or neutral choice, it is healthcare, and that the pro-choice viewpoint is the correct one — all while claiming that “anti-choice rhetoric” is “inherently biased and inaccurate—and at the very least, is not medically appropriate.” 

From there, they target terms commonly used to refer to or talk about abortion and suggest alternatives, claiming they themselves only use language that is “clinically accurate.” They urge people to use language that is “medically appropriate, clinically accurate, and without bias” — and don’t worry, they’ll tell you how to do that!

However, the utter irony of ACOG’s claims about abortion language is not lost on those of us in the pregnancy help movement. 

ACOG has already started from a biased philosophical and moral point of view, not a medical one. They are using their viewpoint on abortion to shape the terms, then tacking on the description of “clinically accurate” and using their medical credentials to bully people into buying what they are selling. 

They are not starting from a neutral, unbiased viewpoint to pose the question of whether the terms are actually medically or clinically inaccurate and need to be corrected. That would certainly be understandable for a medical organization to do. Instead, they want people to change terms used due to the connotations the terms have and the feelings they (might) evoke, not because the terms themselves are inaccurate.

Additionally, ACOG suggests “people writing about reproductive health” use the terms ACOG deems best. 

But why should we? 

Abortion is not healthcare

First of all, they are assuming abortion is reproductive healthcare, which is not an unbiased viewpoint! 

Secondly, the majority of the general public are not medical professionals. People who write about or are otherwise concerned with reproductive health may not be writing to other healthcare professionals or medical staff when communicating about the topic. 

For language to be accurate, it does not have to be strictly clinical or medical! It could merely be descriptive and/or otherwise more suitable language for the vast majority of the population to understand. 

This does not make terms less correct or appropriate to use, especially depending on the circumstances. Context matters. 

Inappropriate to presume the public should take on ACOG’s biased abortion language

What is inappropriate is to suggest that the general should public speak and write like medical and healthcare professionals when discussing a topic that has not only a medical aspect, but pervasive cultural, legal, moral, philosophical, religious, and ethical aspects as well. 

ACOG doesn’t like the term “late-term abortion,” despite the fact abortion providers use the term themselves. 

ACOG attempts to split hair here because “term” in the medical realm typically denotes “full-term” and thus in that case late-term would seem to indicate abortion occurring past 41 weeks. So really, outside of strictly clinical settings, referring to abortions later in pregnancy, late-term abortion is a medically appropriate and clinically accurate term.

ACOG also dislikes, “chemical abortion,” claiming it is biased and intended to make abortion sound scary. 

They prefer “medication abortion,” though the terms medication, medical, chemical, drug-induced, at-home, and self-managed abortion are all interchangeable in referring to early abortion induced with (what should be) prescription medication (the abortion pill).

ACOG takes exception to the term, “surgical abortion,” claiming that surgical abortion “is not a surgery,” even though it meets the American Medical Association’s definition of surgery, and any abortion procedure that does not exclusively use drugs must be surgical.

There is really no other way to intentionally kill and remove a living human being from a uterus unless you use surgery or medication (or both). 

Why ACOG thinks the term “surgical” is incorrect is not explained, either. We are, apparently, just supposed to take their assertion at face value and not look any further. They’re the unbiased experts, right?

ACOG rejects medically appropriate, clinically accurate terms in favor of abortion rhetoric

“Heartbeat bill” and “fetal heartbeat” are also terms disliked by ACOG, despite both being medically appropriate and clinically accurate. 

The group claims that the unborn child’s heartbeat cannot be detected until later in pregnancy than the approximate six-week point when it can be detected and hence when heartbeat bill restrictions would apply. 

While ACOG does not recognize either of the heartbeat terms as accurate, they fail to define “heartbeat” in their guide and endeavor to obfuscate the matter with the term, “fetal cardiac activity,” which is just a fancier way of saying fetal heartbeat.

They also conflate heartbeat bills with gestational age bills. With bills restricting abortion based on gestational age, no abortions can be done past a certain time in pregnancy. With heartbeat bills, an abortion can be done at any time the heartbeat is not found.

It seems ACOG is more concerned about inflammatory language than they are about the accuracy

ACOG does not like the medically appropriate, clinically accurate term, “dismemberment ban,” on the grounds it is “inflammatory, emotional language and centers the procedure on the fetus.”

It seems ACOG is more concerned about “inflammatory language” with this term than they are about the accuracy. If accurate language is inflammatory, perhaps that should give us pause to think about the procedure in question.

ACOG opposes use of the term, “abortion provider,” because apparently it does not give enough focus to the training of the people providing abortions and is too limited in its scope. 

However, just because ACOG thinks the term has a negative connotation doesn’t actually mean the term is biased or inaccurate.

Not surprisingly, ACOG does not approve of use of the terms “baby” or “unborn child,” when discussing abortion. These terms convey too much humanity to the prenatal human for ACOG.

ACOG is making value judgments on terms, overstepping its bounds

ACOG does not like, “self-induced abortion,” and instead urges, “self-managed abortion.” 

Both terms mean essentially the same thing, but ACOG is pushing the less precise term without mention of appropriateness, accuracy, or bias as reasons to change the terminology.

“Elective abortion,” is another term not to ACOG’s liking, because, since elective means non-emergent, in their view it “diminishes the value” of “abortion care.”

They prefer “abortion” or “induced abortion.” The former term is actually less precise, and with the latter term they are trying to substitute a cause of abortion for a type of abortion. Just like the heartbeat bill/gestation age switch they attempt; this is comparing apples to oranges and cannot be done.

ACOG is making value judgments on terms, completely overstepping its bounds. They are not an ethics group. The term elective is a completely correct technical medical term to use for the type of abortion done. 

In the one case where pro-lifers use more technical medical language, ACOG actually wants them to use less precise language. Weird, huh? It’s almost like they’re all about controlling the public opinion on abortion instead of staying in their lane talking strictly about the medical accuracy of the terms. 

ACOG does not like the term, “partial-birth abortion,” even though it is medically appropriate and clinically accurate

Again, expectedly, ACOG does not like the term “partial-birth abortion,” even though it is medically appropriate and clinically accurate. 

They claim, “This graphic, inflammatory language is not a medical term and exists to distort the clinical reality. It is vaguely defined in law but is generally interpreted as referring to one method of abortion which occurs later in pregnancy.”

In actuality, the clinical reality is almost perfectly described by the term partial-birth abortion. If accurately describing a procedure is graphic or inflammatory, that should give us pause when thinking about that procedure. 

And the term partial-birth abortion is not vaguely defined in law. The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 is actually very precise when describing the abortion procedure. So that part of their reasoning is just completely false.

ACOG does not like “womb,” and calls for “uterus” to be used in its place even though the terms refer to exactly the same organ inside the female human body. 

In fact, the term uterus comes from words that also meant “womb.” 

ACOG is overstepping its authority and specialty by again policing words they don’t like the emotional connotation of. There is nothing inaccurate, inappropriate, or biased about the term “womb” compared to “uterus.”

ACOG opposes use of the term “abortion-on-demand,” even despite the fact it is accurately descriptive of the type of abortion access many pro-choice people and organizations publicly favor. They deem the term “dismissive” of “individuals who need to end the medical condition of pregnancy.”

ACOG’s bias is obvious in its abortion language guide

ACOG really seems to hate descriptive abortion terms. 

Also, their bias is showing again. 

Abortion is assumed to be something women need, and pregnancy is framed as a medical condition.

In a very vague sense of the term where “medical condition” just means the state of the woman’s body from a medical standpoint, yes, pregnancy is a medical condition. However, in the more common understanding of the term as a condition outside the physiological norm, like a disease, lesion, injury, or illness, pregnancy is not a medical condition. 

There is no neutral, unbiased view on abortion

I think ACOG needs to dismount from their high horse.

All the terms are biased. That is because there is no neutral, unbiased view on abortion. 

Pro-life and pro-choice people fall on a bit of a spectrum, but there is no part of the spectrum where there is a totally neutral opinion. You either think abortion is wrong in some, most, or all circumstances, or you don’t. 

To claim otherwise would be akin to claiming one could be neutral about the act of putting a pillow over a child’s face and suffocating them to death. It’s not that people can never be neutral; it’s that the nature of the action in question is not something that allows for neutrality. Even “personally pro-life (but politically pro-choice)” people are not neutral. 

The majority of the terms ACOG wants used are not any more clinically accurate or medically appropriate for the general public to use when talking about abortion. 

In fact, some of the reasoning for the switches and some of the preferred language they suggest are actually less medically appropriate and clinically accurate than the terms they dislike! ACOG seems to be focused on tackling terms they don’t like the connotation of to shape public opinion on abortion under the guise of caring about accuracy. 

Unfortunately for them, we see right through them.

Editor’s note: This article is an abridged version of a Heartbeat International white paper addressing the pregnancy help  movement. Heartbeat International manages Pregnancy Help News. Reposted with permission.

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