Miscarriage or Abortion: What do the terms mean?

Miscarriage or Abortion:  What do the terms mean?

Due to the recent Supreme Court ruling, there has been an explosion of information and debate over the issue of abortion.  If you are scrolling Twitter or Instagram or listening to the news, you will see debates raging over what is legal now and what isn’t.  One misunderstanding is that women will not be able to get care in the hospital for a miscarriage because Roe has been overturned.  Why is this idea out there?  The confusion is partly because some people don’t know the difference between miscarriage and abortion, and because the treatment for an incomplete miscarriage is similar to what is done during a surgical abortion.

First, it is helpful to explain the difference between miscarriage and abortion.  A miscarriage (sometimes called a spontaneous abortion) is the natural loss of a developing baby before 20 weeks of pregnancy.  Many times, it is unclear why the loss of the baby occurs.  When a woman is miscarrying a pregnancy, she will have pelvic pain, cramps, and bleeding. Normally, her body will expel the contents of the uterus completely over a few days, but sometimes, this process does not complete on its own, and some tissue stays in her uterus.

If a woman still has some tissue from a failed pregnancy in her uterus, it can put her at risk for infection.  Doctors diagnose this condition and treat it with a surgical procedure called a D & C, or dilatation and curettage.  In this procedure, the cervix (the opening to the uterus) is opened enough to pass an instrument into the uterus to scrape the lining and remove anything remaining from the pregnancy.

So, how is an abortion different, and why is there so much confusion?  An abortion is the elective termination of a viable pregnancy, or in other words, it is ending a living pregnancy by choice.  In a miscarriage, the baby is no longer alive.  In an abortion, the baby is alive before the medication or the surgical procedure.  In a surgical abortion, a D&C is performed, similar to the procedure for an incomplete miscarriage.  The difference is that the procedure is used to end the life of a living baby.

The same confusion exists around stillborn babies.  A stillbirth is when a baby dies in the uterus after 20 weeks.  Claims have been made that hospitals in some states will refuse to treat stillbirths because this is also an abortion.  This is false.  Treatment of a stillbirth is not an abortion because the baby is no longer alive. 

Wrong information has also been floating around about treating ectopic pregnancies.  Ectopic pregnancies are pregnancies that are growing somewhere besides the uterus, frequently in the fallopian tube.  As they grow, they can cause tissue damage and internal bleeding for the mother.  These pregnancies can’t survive, and they pose a serious threat to the mother’s health.  They are treated with medication or surgery, usually.  Treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is not illegal anywhere in the United States because it is vital medical treatment, not an elective abortion. 

The meaning of words is important.  Miscarriage and choosing to abort a pregnancy are not the same thing.  Medical treatment of an incomplete miscarriage, a still birth, or an ectopic pregnancy is legal in every state in the U.S., including the ones that have outlawed elective abortion. 

It’s vital that women know the truth so that they don’t avoid seeking treatment for these conditions out of fear, and put their health at risk.

Advice & Aid Pregnancy Centers offer peer counseling and accurate information about all pregnancy options. In keeping with our non-profit, pro-woman mission, while we do not offer or refer for abortion services, we do strive to provide medically accurate information.

If you wish to have a further discussion or get more information on the difference between abortion and miscarriage, feel free to talk to one of our many nurses here at our center. All appointments are completely without cost to you, and can easily be scheduled online.

Whether looking for information, experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, or need post-abortion care, we are here to serve you.

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