A lot of different terminology gets bandied about in the abortion debate.  Which terms you use seems to depend upon which side of the debate you are on. Because of this, I thought I would share my thoughts on some of the terms used, and acquaint you with the ones I will be commonly using in my writing.

“Embryo” and “foetus”

Both refer to the unborn child at different stages of development.

  • An embryo is the unborn child to approximately the eighth week after conception (approximately the tenth week after the last menstrual period).
  • A foetus is the unborn child from the eighth week after conception to birth.

I have no difficulty using the terms embryo and and foetus to refer to the unborn child.  This is because these terms simply refer to a stage of development, as one might use the terms infant, adolescent, adult, etc.  And while I dislike the de-humanising way some may use these terms, I don’t feel that that is sufficient reason for me to desist from using the scientifically accurate descriptions.

Terms for the unborn child that I have seen used in what appears to be a euphemistic manner, and will not use, are:

  • Product(s) of conception
  • Conceptus
  • Contents of the womb/uterus
  • A pregnancy
  • Pregnancy tissue
  • Clump of cells
  • Tissue
  • Uterine matter

I am aware that some of these are covering terms intended to include the embryo/foetus and the placenta.  However, I feel it is important – in the context of the abortion debate – to draw a distinction between the embryo/foetus and supportive tissue.


Used to refer to the loss of the embryo or foetus from the uterus, but there are several different types of abortion:

  • A spontaneous abortion is a miscarriage.
  • An induced abortion is an elective procedure.
  • A therapeutic abortion is one undertaken to prevent harm to the mother or when the foetus would be born with severe birth defects.
  • A medical abortion is achieved through taking medication that will result in the expulsion of the embryo or foetus through the cervix and the vaginal canal.
  • A surgical abortion is removal of the embryo or foetus through surgical means, such as suction or forceps.

An induced abortion is also often referred to as a termination of pregnancy.  For simplicity’s sake, I will use ‘abortion’ to indicate induced abortion, with clarifying terms as necessary.


This is my preferred term for those who oppose abortion.  My reason for this is that I believe it defines the heart of the issue – the belief that each abortion results in the wrongful taking of a life.  Alternative terms include:

  • Right-to-lifer
  • Anti-abortion
  • Anti-choice

‘Right-to-lifer’ carries the same connotations as ‘pro-life’, but I prefer pro-life for aesthetic reasons and because it is the more widely used and recognised term. ‘Anti-abortion’ is not my preferred term, but I still find this to be an accurate description of my position, if not as explanatory as ‘pro-life’.  I strongly object to the term ‘anti-choice’ for two main reasons:

  1. It attempts to redefine the core issue at the centre of the abortion debate and shift the emphasis away from the position of the embryo/foetus as a human being with a right to life.
  2. It fails to acknowledge that choice restriction is necessary if one is to live as part of a functioning society; I would accept the designation provided those against murder, rape, theft, drink-driving, etc. would also accept the same.


This term describes those who accept abortion, ranging from those who believe it is a necessary evil, to those who avidly advocate for its acceptance and utilisation.  With respect to those who don’t believe that abortion is a good thing, while still supporting it as an individual choice, and as I also wish to avoid being unnecessarily antagonistic, this is the term I will be using.  Other terms include:

  • Pro-abortion/pro-abort
  • Pro-death
  • Abortion rights advocate/activist

I am aware that many who consider themselves to be pro-choice object to being called ‘pro-abortion’.  I think this can be a valid objection, and hence the reason why I will use the term pro-choice. However, there may be individuals who may be more appropriately referred to as pro-abortion, and you may see this as a statement of my belief that this person crosses the line from tolerance of abortion to advocation of it.

‘Pro-death’ is an extreme term, and one that I will only use to describe an equally extreme position, such as advocation of blanket application of abortion for any embryo/foetus who will not be born perfectly formed and healthy.  I prefer, on the whole, to steer away from emotive terms such as this, as I think they can obscure the key issues and degenerate it instead into an emotional slinging match.

‘Abortion rights activist/advocate’ is a term I will use to describe someone who is politically or social active in their defense of abortion.

Thank you for bearing with this somewhat dry entry.  My next entry will be discussing the status of the embryo/foetus as a living, human person.

Author: Elizabeth

I am in my mid thirties, a medical student and mother to four amazing little girls. My first venture into pro-life writing was when I wrote an essay on abortion in high school, but I didn't become passionate about protecting the unborn until after I had my first daughter in 2010. I hope my writing will help those who have questions about abortion, and help to build understanding of the arguments surrounding abortion.