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Last month, the US Supreme Courtending the constitutional right to abortion and returning the power to regulate abortion to the states, some of which have already moved .
With the national focus on abortion, the medical terms used for pregnancy, miscarriage, and abortion appear more frequently in everyday conversation and only sometimes accurately describe pregnancy care.
What some of the common terms for pregnancy mean.
Pregnancy, abortion and abortion
Abortion: End of pregnancy. Most references to abortion refer to induced abortion, while spontaneous abortion is the medical term for miscarriage.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 93% of induced abortions in 2019 occurred in the first trimester.
Selection abortion: Another term for abortion or forced abortion. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests simply saying “abortion” or “induced abortion” if appropriate, because the word “elective” can be used to distinguish between reasons for abortion and reduce the cost of the care patients need.
Embryo: The stage of development that lasts up to nine weeks of pregnancy. (There are nuances in the embryonic stage: a zygote is a one-cell embryo that develops from a fertilized egg, then develops into a blastocyst before implanting in the uterus.)
Fetus: The unborn offspring of a mammal. In humans, it is the term used for unborn offspring from nine weeks of pregnancy to birth.
Fetal viability: The stage of development in which the fetus can live outside the womb. It is generally understood to be around 23 or 24 weeks.
Early abortion: Pregnancy loss or spontaneous abortion in the first trimester. Although estimates vary and the risk may depend on the individual, it is thought to occur in 1 in 10 known pregnancies. If you include very early miscarriages, the number of miscarriages can be as low as 1 in 4 pregnancies. (See below.)
Chemical pregnancy: Very early, before the fifth week of pregnancy, probably before a person is aware that he is pregnant. With 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 development of the embryo stops and the pregnancy ends.
Ectopic pregnancy: When the embryo implants outside the uterus — most commonly in the fallopian tube leading to the uterus. An ectopic pregnancy can also occur when an embryo implants in the ovary, abdomen, cervix, or even an incisional scar from an earlier pregnancy. They occur in about 1% to 2% of all pregnancies.
Ectopic pregnancies (also called “tubal pregnancies”) cannot result in birth because the embryos and fetuses fail to develop properly outside the main cavity of the uterus, despite a few extremely rare documented cases worldwide. If not treated early with an abortion, an ectopic pregnancy can cause serious injury or death to the pregnant woman.
Septic abortion: A potentially life-threatening infection in the uterus after an abortion. This usually occurs as a result of an unsafe abortion when the contents remain in the uterus and become infected.
Medicines and medical procedures
Medication abortion: Use of a specific drug combination to terminate pregnancy (see mifepristone and misoprostol below).
Methotrexate: This is a drug used to treat an ectopic pregnancy when an incision or tube removal is not necessary, and it works by stopping cell growth. The pregnancy is eventually absorbed into the body.
Pills used for medical abortion are not safe for ectopic pregnancy because the location of the pregnancy may make it impossible for the person to carry the pregnancy safely.
Mifepristone and misoprostol: Medicines used together to stop pregnancy. Mifepristone (Mifeprex) is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration as part of a two-part regimen with misoprostol for termination of pregnancy up to 10 weeks. Mifepristone temporarily blocks the production of progesterone, which is necessary for the continuation and growth of pregnancy. Misoprostol causes the uterus to contract. (Misoprostol has other uses, including treating miscarriage and preventing stomach ulcers.)
As more states move to ban or restrict abortion, use of the two pills is expected to increase and lawmakers will try to restrict it. The FDA first approved Mifeprex in 2000, and in 2020, medication 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 a doctor’s office or clinic. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or ACOG, the term surgical abortion is clinically incorrect because the abortion procedure does not involve surgery. Most abortions at the clinic are first-trimester abortions using vacuum aspiration, a gentle suction procedure to empty the uterus.
DC: A dilation and curettage procedure involves dilating the cervix with a spoon-shaped instrument to remove the contents of the uterus.
D&Cs are performed to remove tissue after a miscarriage or abortion, but they are also used to diagnose abnormal bleeding or causes of 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 the pregnancy tissue.
Some state laws referring to “partial-birth abortion” have been interpreted as banning D&E procedures, although partial-birth abortion is not a medical term and may be intended to refer to a type of D&E procedure used later in pregnancy.
IVF: In vitro fertilization is a process that combines egg and sperm cells in a laboratory setting 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 donor eggs or sperm, people with fertility problems, and people who want to avoid a genetic problem use IVF.
After Roe was overturned, the future of fertility clinics and IVF was called into question because these clinics often use embryos that are discarded (or never successfully implanted in the uterus) and some lawmakers believe that embryos acquire personality after fertilization.
Medically Necessary Abortion: Under some state laws, doctors can perform abortions only if medically necessary. This distinction has caused some frustration in the medical community because the point at which a person’s life is at risk is not always clear.
For example, under Tennessee’s trigger law, a doctor can provide an abortion only “if it is necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent the risk of serious and irreversible impairment of an essential bodily function of the pregnant woman.” With the law as written and the clock ticking on 30 days from its enactment, doctors must work within the law and decide what “impairment of a major bodily function” means before they can legally enforce it. abortion.
Emergency contraception: Commonly known by the brand nameMost emergency contraceptive pills contain a synthetic form of levonorgestrel, progesterone, or progestin, which essentially works by delaying ovulation by preventing the egg from being fertilized.
Ella is also an emergency contraceptive that delays ovulation, but it contains ulipristal acetate and may be slightly more effective than brands that contain levonorgestrel, especially if you weigh more than 165 pounds. However, Ella requires a prescription.
Emergency contraceptives won’t end an existing pregnancy or cause an abortion, and probably won’t work if you’re already ovulating. They can work up to five days after unprotected sex, but work best in the first three days.
IUDs as emergency contraception: Inserting an IUD after unprotected sex is considered the most effective form of emergency contraception and is not affected by weight. To prevent pregnancy, you can wear an IUD for five days after unprotected sex.
Copper IUDs have long been known as effective emergency contraception because copper creates an unfavorable environment for sperm to swim to the egg and can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. But a recent three-year study found that hormone-releasing IUDs like Mirena also work as emergency contraception.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or health goals.