Abortion-Related Vocabulary Lesson

Okay, so I think I’ve had multiple posts about how “prochoice” and “prolife” aren’t good descriptors for anyone, but that’s not what I’m going to talk about today.

Today I’m going to talk about a few other words that get bandied about in abortion debates, often incorrectly.

Human: In this debate, this is a SCIENTIFIC term with a SCIENTIFIC definition. Further, there IS scientific consensus on whether or not something is human. Human DNA = human.

Human being: I’m not quite sure why this term is even used in this debate at all. This debate is almost always about whether or not abortion should be legal. And, frankly, the law doesn’t talk about human beings. The law talks about PERSONS. See below. In any case, human being is a moral / philosophical term, and there ISN’T consensus as to when something that is human becomes a “human being.” This is tied closely to the idea of “human life” – and, again, there isn’t a consensus on when “human life” begins.*

Person: In this debate, person is a LEGAL term with a LEGAL definition. Further, there IS legal consensus, both within the US and under international human rights law as to what a person is. A person is a BORN human.

Abortion: A MEDICAL procedure with a MEDICAL definition. An abortion is a medical procedure that terminates a pregnancy.

Infanticide: A LEGAL term with a LEGAL definition.  Infanticide is the deliberate killing of a PERSON under a certain age. Just for the record, the medical procedure of abortion is NEVER infanticide. Why? Because abortion terminates a pregnancy; it doesn’t kill a PERSON.

Murder: A LEGAL term with a LEGAL definition. Murder is the deliberate killing of a PERSON without justification or excuse. For the record, the medical procedure of abortion is NEVER murder. Why? Because abortion terminates a pregnancy; it doesn’t kill a person.

I’ve decided I need to update this post with a few more terms, so here you go:

  1. Fertilization happens when a sperm penetrates and egg to create a zygote
  2. After fertilization, a zygote travels through the fallopian tubes, dividing to become several cells and becoming a blastocyst or pre-embryo.
  3. The blastocyst or pre-embryo reaches the uterus ~ 5 days after fertilization. A pregnancy officially begins when the blastocyst / pre-embryo implants into the lining of the uterus. It is important to note here that “conception” is not a scientific term; it is used INFORMALLY to refer to either fertilization OR implantation, and is thus imprecise – we should be using precise terms.
  4. ~ 3 weeks after fertilization has occurred, the implanted blastocyst has developed enough to be considered an embryo.
  5. Between the end of the 8th week and end of the 10th week of pregnancy (10 – 12 weeks post fertilization), the embryo develops into a fetus.

Infant: A MEDICAL term with a MEDICAL definition, which includes members of the human species, from birth to one year of age.

Child: A MEDICAL term with a MEDICAL definition – a person who has not yet reached the age of puberty; and a LEGAL term with a LEGAL definition – a person who has not yet reached the age of puberty.

Baby: A MEDICAL term with a MEDICAL definition – a very young child, or infant.

NB: The word “baby” is also often used as a term of endearment for a zygote, embryo, or fetus (or your puppy, or your significant other, or your car, or whatever – see where I’m going with this?) but terms of endearments are not useful to this medical / legal debate.

So, there you go. A vocab lesson for the day. Because wouldn’t it make all of these debates a lot less frustrating if we were all using the same definitions for words?

Till next time,

– H

*Note: “Human life” is different than “life.” There is scientific consensus on the characteristics of living things, and on when something is alive. But when people talk about a “human life,” they tend to be talking about whether a ZEF is a “human being,” not whether a ZEF is alive. Of course a ZEF is alive – whether it is a “human being” is debatable, and, ultimately, irrelevant to the abortion discussion, because it’s not a person.

© Heather Parker and Antigone Awakens, 2012-2013.


5 thoughts on “Abortion-Related Vocabulary Lesson

  1. Gods of Ruin (@GodsOfRuin)

    Legal consensus can be wrong. The legal consensus in the 1700s was that blacks were not persons. The legal consensus in 1930s Germany was that Jews were not people. Legal consensus does not make for a satisfactory definition of person.

  2. Adiel Corchado

    Hello. I think part of the disconnect is that you see this as a political/medical debate when in reality it is a matter of sin. The Bible calls abortion murder. Christians stand on God’s word and proceed accordingly doing what He tells us to do: to expose it and call those guilty of it to repent for the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus, lest they face God’s judgment on Judgment Day

    1. Heather_R_Parker Post author

      Actually, Adiel, abortion is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible, so I believe you are very mistaken if you’re basing your belief that abortion is a sin on the Bible.

      The only reference to what could be perceived as an abortion is in Numbers. Numbers 5:11-31 describes a procedure for inducing a miscarriage (aka causing an abortion) in an “unfaithful” woman. Nowhere else in the Bible is there a reference to abortion.

      As for basing laws on what you call sins…well, sorry, but we live in a secular nation, and that precludes making laws based on religious beliefs. Damn that pesky 1st Amendment.


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