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Planned Parenthood’s Politicized Diagnosis

The group’s website used to tell the truth about treatment for ectopic pregnancies.
Erin Morrow Hawley
Pregnant women know that the presence of a heartbeat is significant.

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, abortion advocates have been insisting that pro-life laws threaten women’s health. Yet Planned Parenthood’s own website has already debunked many of these arguments, explaining that treatments for medical conditions such as ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages aren’t abortions.

Then Planned Parenthood changed its website in mid-July, promoting a false narrative that proves many in the abortion industry care more about advancing a political agenda than about women’s health.

In July abortion advocates argued at a congressional hearing, in which I testified on the other side, that laws protecting the unborn threaten women’s health by preventing physicians from offering common pregnancy treatments. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.) suggested that the treatment for an ectopic pregnancy was the same thing as an abortion. Witnesses said that women would be unable to access lifesaving medical treatment in cases of emergency.

Yet Planned Parenthood’s own website used to say, “Treating an ectopic pregnancy isn’t the same thing as an abortion.” After abortion advocates insisted that post-Roe pro-life laws might interfere with treatments for ectopic pregnancy, Planned Parenthood altered its medical definition to fit the narrative. Today, its website says: “The medical procedures for terminating a pregnancy in the uterus are usually different from medical procedures for terminating an ectopic pregnancy.”

Planned Parenthood was right the first time. Legally, abortion is the intentional termination of a human life. The treatment for an ectopic pregnancy isn’t an abortion because its purpose isn’t to end a human life. Similarly, every state provides that lifesaving treatment for a pregnant woman isn’t an abortion. When these tragic circumstances occur, a physician does everything possible to ensure the survival of both the mother and the baby.

The argument that physicians might refuse lifesaving medical care due to fear of prosecution is a red herring. Physicians who provide emergency medical care to a pregnant woman, or who treat an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, don’t violate any state abortion law. Many states, such as Mississippi, leave the question of lifesaving necessity up to the physician’s good-faith judgment. Further, while only a fraction of OB-GYNs perform abortions, procedures to treat ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage, while tragic, are routine. Doctors can distinguish between tragic circumstances and intentionally ending a pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood’s reversal is consistent with other efforts to suppress inconvenient truths by adapting medical terminology to advance political purposes. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization of medical specialists who bring unborn children into the world, has long denied that those children have a right to life. ACOG’s position on abortion is extreme. It is against any legislative restrictions on abortion.

In March 2022, ACOG released its Guide to Language and Abortion. In the guide, ACOG recommends avoiding the word “baby” or the phrase “unborn child.” ACOG also insists on supporting partial-birth abortion, rejecting the word “dismemberment” in favor of “dilation and evacuation procedures” (those terms mean the same thing—the tearing apart of a baby during an abortion procedure). The organization even refuses to use the word “woman” in its abortion policy. Finally, given the recent passage of state laws protecting unborn children after a detectable heartbeat, ACOG modified its guide to advise OB-GYNs against referring to a “heartbeat.” ACOG recommends that doctors say “fetal cardiac activity.”

Practicing obstetricians are unlikely to take ACOG’s language guide seriously. Imagine a physician telling the excited parents, “Look, here’s your embryo’s fetal cardiac activity!” That would be terrible bedside manner, but it is also terrible science. Basic biology confirms that human life begins at conception. Embryologists agree that at fertilization a human being emerges as a genetically distinct member of the species Homo sapiens, needing only a proper environment to flourish. ACOG’s wordsmithing is an attempt to avoid humanizing unborn children.

Pregnant women know that the presence of a heartbeat is significant. It is an assurance that the most vulnerable part of pregnancy has passed. Once a child’s heartbeat is detected, the risk of miscarriage drops dramatically, to less than 2% after eight weeks.

ACOG’s guidance is another linguistic about-face. In 2017 it opposed a House bill that, in ACOG’s words, banned “abortion after the detection of the fetal heartbeat, which occurs as early as six weeks gestation.” The new language is all about politics.

That Planned Parenthood and ACOG are willing to modify medical terms shows they are more committed to their politics than to providing women with accurate medical information or good healthcare.

Erin Morrow Hawley
Erin Morrow Hawley
Senior Counsel, Vice President of Center for Life & Regulatory Practice
Erin Morrow Hawley serves as senior counsel and vice president of the Center for Life and regulatory practice at Alliance Defending Freedom.