March 2, 2024

Abortion, Miscarriage, Birth: Don't Be Confused

"Abortion" is a word used to indicate the expulsion or removal of the contents of the uterus in early pregnancy. Historically, "spontaneous abortion" was the term used when this happened naturally or due to a medical condition, and "induced abortion" referred to performing an abortion intentionally. At some time during the 20th century, it became customary to call a spontaneous abortion a miscarriage, and to refer to an induced abortion simply as an abortion. No matter what terminology is used, this is a situation in which a pregnancy ends without a birth.

Birth is the process by which an infant is expelled from the uterus. This may occur when a pregnant woman undergoes "labor", a series of contractions that enable her to push the infant out. It may also occur surgically, in a process called "Caesarian section", typically shortened to "C-section", during which the surgeon cuts open the uterus and extracts the infant. In some cases, doctors may determine that it is necessary to induce labor medically rather than wait for it to occur naturally. Once a birth occurs, the pregnancy is over.

In recent times, some people have invented the term "post birth abortion" to refer to something that is physically impossible. Abortion ends a pregnancy, as does birth. Once a pregnancy has ended, there cannot be an abortion, just as there cannot be an additional birth.

A typical pregnancy is expected to last about 280 days (40 weeks). An infant born at 39-40 weeks is "full term". An infant born earlier than 37 weeks is considered "premature" or "preterm". Babies born very prematurely are likely to have health problems. The earlier the birth, the greater the risk of severe problems or death. At 28 weeks, a birth is extremely preterm. Successful birth before 28 weeks is not viable; this will be considered a miscarriage.

We now know that more than 30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, most so early that the woman may not even realize she was pregnant. In some cases of miscarriage, the contents of the uterus are not fully expelled. To avoid infection or other health risks, medical treatment is needed to remove all the tissue. This may involved a procedure called dilation and curettage (D&C) or dilation and extraction (D&E). Sometimes medication is used. Occasionally, some people get confused and think that the treatment following a miscarriage is the same as an abortion. It is not. A miscarriage ends the pregnancy; at that point an abortion is impossible.

Click this link to see the March of Dimes explanation of miscarriage.

Click this link to see the Britannica explanation of birth.

Click this link to see an NIH discussion of termnology.


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