Partial-Birth Abortion and Proper Medical Terminology

by Jay Johansen
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Reporters discussing Partial-Birth Abortion routinely find it necessary to say "so-called Partial-Birth Abortion". They point out that the phrase "Partial-Birth Abortion" is "not a medical term". Indeed, I have read the words "... the procedure that opponents call 'Partial-Birth Abortion' but that doctors call 'Dilation & Extraction' ..." in so many news stories, in those exact words or something extremely similar, that either the reporters are all parroting each other or somebody wrote in a book somewhere that this is what all reporters should say.

The obvious reply is, "So what?" The phrase "Partial-Birth Abortion" is in the news because it is used in a law passed by Congress. Congress routinely makes up words or phrases and gives them specific legal definitions to use in laws. For example, the tax code refers to certain members of your family as "exemptions". Nobody ever referred to family members as "exemptions" before Congress wrote this term into the law. If someone tried to make a big deal of the fact that Congress had made up this word just for this law, I can't imagine anyone taking them seriously for a moment.

But forget whether it even matters for the moment. The truly odd thing is that the statement that Partial-Birth Abortion is not a term used by medical professionals is repeated so often by so many authoritative-sounding reporters, that it's easy to forget that it is totally and completely false.

At least one widely-used medical dictionary, the Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary does, in fact, include the term. This dictionary is available on the Internet, so you can check it out for yourself. Just follow this link: PBA.

Or go to a search page and type it in yourself: //www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/mplusdictionary.html or //www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/9276/9276.html.

I checked a number of medical dictionaries and none include the term "Dilation & Extraction".

The American Medical Association -- generally regarded as a group that knows something about medicene -- wrote a factsheet for Congress when this law was being debated that offerred their insights on the subject. In that paper the AMA refers to the procedure as "partial birth".

Hmm, perhaps pro-lifers should be arguing that "Partial Birth Abortion" is the "proper" legal and medical term, while "Dilation & Extraction" is a term used purely by pro-abortion partisans and their allies in the media.


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Posted 27 May 2004.

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