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The “Pregnancy Tissue” Euphemism

Wesley J. Smith
Photo credit: Christian Bowen, via Unsplash.

The last thing that abortion-rights activists want is an accurate description of what a pregnancy termination destroys. According to embryology textbooks — that’s science — the terminated life is a nascent human being.

It used to be that the medical terms for gestating babies such as “embryo” (first eight full weeks of development) or “fetus” (ninth week until birth) were used in the discussion as a mean of keeping the consequences of abortion at an emotional distance. These days, even those words are apparently too personal, and now we increasingly see doctors and advocates for abortion rights using the term “pregnancy tissue” to describe what is removed in an abortion.

Photos of Remains

Toward this end, the New York Times published an op-ed by abortion doctors with photos of the remains of aborted embryos that they call “early pregnancy tissue.” From “Early Abortion Looks Nothing Like What You’ve Been Told”:

Dr. Fleischman performed an ultrasound, which dated the pregnancy between five and six weeks. She discussed Jewel’s options and, after confirming that Jewel wanted to end the pregnancy, completed a manual uterine aspiration procedure. This method uses a hand-held device and takes a few minutes to complete in a regular exam room.

(A uterine aspiration, essentially, vacuums the embryo out of the woman’s womb.)

Dr. Fleischman then conducted a routine tissue examination. This involves rinsing the tissue with water using a fine sieve. She identified decidual tissue, or uterine lining, as well as a gestational sac, the visible evidence of the pregnancy. At this stage of pregnancy, the embryo is not typically visible to the naked eye.

Afterward, she offered to show Jewel the early pregnancy tissue. Jewel told Dr. Fleischman that it wasn’t what she expected. “I thought you were going to bring in something that was shaped like a little fetus or something, and it was not that at all,” Jewel said.

The Real Point

The abortion doctors claim they are merely trying to correct “misleading fetal imagery” propounded by pro-life-advocacy material. But the real point of the photos is to convince readers that because the remains of the embryo after being forcibly sucked out of the uterus don’t look like a baby, he or she had the moral meaning of mucus.

The doctors conclude:

We find ourselves in a country divided by politics rather than by patient need. Ensuring that our patients, colleagues and the general public have clear, objective information about abortion is critical for patients to get the care they deserve.

But that is precisely not what they are doing in their op-ed. By deploying the “pregnancy tissue” euphemism, the abortion doctors intentionally deflect their readers from the real issue in the abortion controversy, which isn’t what the dead embryo looks like after an abortion but what that extinguished life actually was objectively and biologically.

Cross-posted at The Corner.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.

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