Words Matter

Here's Why The AP Says You Shouldn't Use "Fetal Heartbeat" Or "Late-Term Abortion"

The Associated Press urges journalists to avoid these terms when reporting on abortion — here's why that's so important.

Abortion Is Healthcare sign. The AP Style Guide has advised journalists not to use the terms "fetal ...
Roberto Machado Noa/Moment/Getty Images

At the end of November, the Associated Press Stylebook, which is used by by a majority of both print and digital journalists, announced that the terms “late-term abortion” and “fetal heartbeat” should not be used by journalists and writers reporting on abortions and reproductive justice stories.

“Do not use the term late-term abortion. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines late term as 41 weeks through 41 weeks and 6 days of gestation, and abortion does not happen in this period,” AP explained on Twitter.

“Instead, use the term abortion later in pregnancy if a general term is needed, but be aware that there are varying definitions of the time period involved. Be specific when possible: abortions after XX weeks, when XX is known in the context of the specific story,” the group noted.

The term “fetal heartbeat” was also condoned by the prolific style guide, noting that “The terms are overly broad and misleading given the disagreement over details, such as what constitutes a heartbeat at varying gestational ages."

"Advanced technology can detect a flickering as early as six weeks, when the embryo isn't yet a fetus, and it has only begun forming a rudimentary heart. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG] says it is not accurate to call that a heartbeat. Use the term cardiac activity instead."

It is this overly broad and misleading jargon that is often used by anti-abortion advocates (often referring to themselves as “pro-life,” another term that should not be used for people who are against abortion) that is used to guilt and confuse people who are seeking abortions, for medical reasons or otherwise. It is the language often used by “pregnancy crisis centers,” which on the outside look like they provide reproductive services but ultimately work to convince people who want and/or need an abortion to do otherwise.

The move has upset anti-abortionists, even if the move might not seem that monumental. But the AP Style Guide is used by journalists all over the world, and the wire service reports that “more than half the world’s population sees AP journalism every day,” which makes the language adjustment a massive one.

Even for those who are not reporters, it is critical for everyone to adjust their language so that it is accurate — and so we can continue to advocate for reproductive justice and safe and legal access to abortions for everyone.