For more information about your reproductive health rights and related federal resources, you can visit the US government’s reproductive rights website.
Last month, the US Supreme Courtwhich ends the constitutional right to abortion and sends the power to regulate abortion back to the states, some of which have already moved to .
With the national focus on abortion, medical terms used in connection with pregnancy, abortion, and abortion are appearing more frequently in everyday conversation—and only sometimes accurately describe pregnancy care.
Here’s what some common pregnancy dates mean.
Pregnancy, miscarriage and abortion
Abortion: End of pregnancy. Most references to abortion refer to induced abortion, while miscarriage is the medical term for miscarriage.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, about 93% of induced abortions occurred in the first trimester.
Optional abortion: Another term for abortion or induced abortion. Because the word “elective” can be used to differentiate between reasons for abortion and can diminish the value of the care patients need, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests just saying “abortion” or “induced abortion” when appropriate.
Embryo: A stage of development that lasts up to nine weeks of pregnancy. (There are nuances in the embryonic stage: a zygote is a single-celled embryo formed from a fertilized egg that develops into a blastocyst before implanting in the uterus.)
Fruit: The unborn offspring of a mammal. In humans, the term is used for unborn offspring from nine weeks of gestation until birth.
Fetus Viability: The stage of development when the fetus is able to survive outside the womb. This is generally understood to be around 23 or 24 weeks.
Early abortion: Pregnancy loss or miscarriage in the first trimester. Although estimates vary and the risk may depend on the individual, it is thought to occur in approximately 1 in 10 known pregnancies. If you include very early miscarriages, the number of miscarriages can be as high as 1 in 4 pregnancies. (See below.)
Chemical pregnancy: A very early miscarriage, before the fifth week of pregnancy, probably before the person even realizes they are pregnant. In a chemical pregnancy, fertilization occurs, an embryo is formed, and the body produces human chorionic gonadotropin, the hormone that pregnancy tests look for. However, the embryo stops developing and the pregnancy ends.
Ectopic pregnancy: When the embryo implants outside the uterus – most often in the fallopian tube on its way to the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy can also occur when an embryo implants in an ovary, abdomen, cervix, or even a C-section scar from a previous pregnancy. They occur in about 1% to 2% of all pregnancies.
Ectopic pregnancies (also referred to as “tubal pregnancies”) cannot lead to birth because embryos and fetuses cannot grow properly outside the main cavity of the uterus, despite a few extremely rare documented cases worldwide. If an ectopic pregnancy is not treated in time with an abortion, it can cause serious injury or death to the pregnant person.
Septic abortion: Potentially life-threatening infection in the uterus after an abortion. It is usually caused by an unsafe abortion where the contents remain in the uterus and become infected.
Medicine and medical procedures
Medical abortion: Using a specific combination of drugs to terminate a pregnancy (see mifepristone and misoprostol below).
methotrexate: This is a medicine used to treat an ectopic pregnancy, where an incision or removal of the fallopian tubes is not necessary, and it works by stopping the growth of cells. The pregnancy is eventually absorbed into the body.
Pills used for abortion medication are not safe for ectopic pregnancy because the location of the pregnancy can make it impossible for the person to carry the pregnancy safely.
Mifepristone and misoprostol: Medicines used together to end pregnancy. Mifepristone (Mifeprex) is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as part of a two-part regimen with misoprostol to terminate a pregnancy before 10 weeks. Mifepristone temporarily blocks the production of progesterone, a hormone needed to maintain and grow a pregnancy. Misoprostol induces uterine contractions. (Misoprostol has other uses, including treating miscarriage and preventing stomach ulcers.)
As many states move to ban or restrict abortions, use of the two pills is expected to increase and lawmakers will seek to restrict them. The FDA first approved Mifeprex in 2000, and in 2020, abortions accounted for more than half of all abortions for the first time.
Surgical abortion: A common way to describe an abortion procedure performed in an office or clinic. Because there is no surgery involved in the abortion procedure, the term surgical abortion is clinically inaccurate, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or ACOG. Most abortions at clinics are first-trimester abortions that use vacuum aspiration, a procedure that involves gentle suction to empty the uterus.
DC: A dilation and curettage procedure involves dilating the cervix to remove the contents of the uterus using a spoon-shaped instrument.
D&Cs are performed after a miscarriage or abortion to remove tissue, but are also used to diagnose causes of abnormal bleeding or infertility, such as fibroids, endometriosis, and uterine cancer.
D&E: Dilation and evacuation is an abortion procedure used in the second trimester of pregnancy. It combines the D&C procedure with other tools, such as forceps, to remove pregnancy tissue.
Some state laws referring to “partial-birth abortion” have been interpreted to prohibit D&E procedures, although partial-birth abortion is not a medical term and may be intended to refer to the type of D&E procedure used later in pregnancy.
IVF: In vitro fertilization is a process that combines eggs and sperm in a laboratory environment to create embryos that can be implanted in the uterus. Many people use IVF to get pregnant when traditional methods don’t work or aren’t available. For example, same-sex couples using donated eggs or sperm, people with fertility problems, and those who want to prevent a genetic problem use IVF.
The future of infertility and IVF clinics came into question after Roe was overturned because these clinics use embryos that are often discarded (or that never successfully implant in the uterus) and some lawmakers believe that embryos have personality after fertilization.
Medically Necessary Abortion: Under some state laws, doctors can perform abortions only if it is medically necessary. This distinction has caused some frustration in the medical community because the point at which a person’s life is in danger is not always clear.
Under Tennessee’s trigger law, for example, a physician may perform an abortion only if it is “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent a serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” With the law as written and the clock ticking down to 30 days after Roe when it goes into effect, doctors will have to work within the law and decide what “impairment of a major bodily function” means before they can to legally perform an abortion.
Emergency contraception: Commonly known by the brand nameMost emergency contraceptive pills contain levonorgestrel, a synthetic form of progesterone or progestin that works primarily by delaying ovulation to prevent the egg from fertilizing.
Ella is also an emergency contraceptive that delays ovulation, but it contains ulipristal acetate and may be slightly more effective than brands containing levonorgestrel, especially if you weigh more than 165 pounds. However, Ella requires a prescription.
Emergency contraception won’t end an existing pregnancy or cause a miscarriage, and it probably won’t work if you’re already ovulating. They can work up to five days after unprotected sex, but work much better for the first three days.
IUD as emergency contraception: Insertion of an IUD after unprotected sex is considered the most effective form of emergency contraception and is not affected by weight. You can have an IUD inserted within five days of having unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy.
Copper IUDs have been known for some time as effective emergency contraception because copper creates an inhospitable environment for sperm to swim to the egg and can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. However, a recent three-year study found that hormone-releasing IUDs like Mirena also work as emergency contraception.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions regarding health conditions or health goals.