Guidance Reminder: On Abortion Procedures, Terminology & Rights

May 15, 2019

As we've covered the new abortion law in Georgia and legislation in Alabama, we've followed long-standing guidance very well. Thank you to all involved.

For those new to the subject, that guidance about abortion and related topics is collected in our Intranet "radio" style guide. We'll attach it below.

One thing to keep in mind about this law and others like it: Proponents refer to it as a "fetal heartbeat" law. That is their term. It needs to be attributed to them if used and put in quotation marks if printed. We should not simply say the laws are about when a "fetal heartbeat" is detected. As we've reported, heartbeat activity can be detected "about six weeks into a pregnancy." That's at least a few weeks before an embryo is a fetus.

Here is the long-standing guidance:

ABORTION PROCEDURES & TERMINOLOGY: Use the term intact dilation and extraction to describe the procedure, or a procedure known medically as intact dilation and extraction; opponents call it partial-birth abortion. On the latter, it is necessary to point out that the term partial-birth is used by those opposed to the procedure; simply using the phrase so-called partial birth abortion is not sufficient without explaining who's calling it that. Partial-birth is not a medical term and has no exact parallel in medical terminology; intact dilation and extraction is the closest description. Also, it is not correct to call these procedures RARE — it is not known how often they are performed. Nor is it accurate to use the phrase LATE TERM ABORTION. Though we initially believed this term carried less ideological baggage when compared with partial-birth, it still conveys the sense that the fetus is viable when the abortion is performed. It gives the impression that the abortion takes place in the 8th or 9th month. In fact, the procedure called intact dilation and extraction is performed most often in the 5th or 6th month — the second trimester — and the second trimester is not considered "late" pregnancy. Thus "late term" is not appropriate. As an alternative, call it a certain procedure performed after the first trimester of pregnancy and, subsequently, the procedure.... Also note:

NPR doesn't use the term "abortion clinics." We say instead, "medical or health clinics that perform abortions." The point is to not to use abortion before the word clinic. The clinics perform other procedures and not just abortions.

Do not refer to murdered Dr George Tiller as an "Abortion Doctor." Instead we should say Tiller operated a clinic where abortions are performed. We can also make reference to the fact that Tiller was a doctor who performed late abortions.

Here's some additional guidance from Joe Neel, regarding the Unborn Victims of Violence Act:

The term "unborn" implies that there is a baby inside a pregnant woman, not a fetus. Babies are not babies until they are born. They're fetuses. Incorrectly calling a fetus a "baby" or "the unborn" is part of the strategy used by antiabortion groups to shift language/legality/public opinion. Use "unborn" only when referring to the title of the bill (and after President Bush signs it, the Unborn Victims of Violence Law). Or qualify the use of "unborn" by saying "what anti-abortion groups call the 'unborn' victims of violence." The most neutral language to refer to the death of a fetus during a crime is "fetal homicide."

ABORTION RIGHTS:

On the air, we should use "abortion rights supporter(s)/advocate(s)" and "abortion rights opponent(s)" or derivations thereof (for example: "advocates of abortion rights"). It is acceptable to use the phrase "anti-abortion rights," but do not use the term "pro-abortion rights". Digital News will continue to use the AP style book for online content, which mirrors the revised NPR policy. Do not use "pro-life" and "pro-choice" in copy except when used in the name of a group. Of course, when the terms are used in an actuality they should remain.

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