Q&A: How Do You Feel About the Word Abortion?

Mar 17, 2015 | Articles, Opinion, Q&A

Maybe what we need is to say the word out loud more. Maybe that’s part of destigmatizing abortion.

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We asked our web site and support group administrators “How do you feel about the word ‘abortion’? How have your feelings about the word changed in the years since you had yours?”


For me even after hearing my doctor say abortion, I still didn’t want to believe it. I was a sucky pro-choice person back then. I thought abortion was reserved for other people, not me, the happily married woman. But I always said I never knew what I would do if my birth control pills had failed before marriage.

I remember recoiling when my OB said the word abortion for the first time. Although I was pro-choice, I thought I would never be on that end of making a choice.


I don’t have a problem with the word “abortion” anymore. Before I found our private support group, though, you bet I did. I don’t know if I was in the minority, but the word really made me pretty indignant. And I always considered myself pro-choice. Maybe what we need is to say the word out loud more. Maybe that’s part of destigmatizing abortion.


I was pro-choice beforehand too but struggled because of the connotations of “abortion” pertaining to an unwanted pregnancy. As much as I initially disliked the word abortion, it was among the search terms I used when I was first looking for a support group.

Now it seems like the more open we are about that word, the more we destigmatize abortions. Using it instead of a euphemism shows that we have nothing to be ashamed of. That comes as a relief. Euphemisms are something we’ve taken a lot of flack for from both the pro-life and pro-choice movements over the years. Both point to them and say we’re “denying” we had abortions, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s just hard enough to discuss this loss without opening a political can of worms, especially early on.

I do believe a “nothing to be ashamed of” approach is healthier and more positive than a euphemistic approach. I think activism and storytelling in response to the overwhelming legal limits put on abortion in the past several years has laid the groundwork for us to safely come out of the proverbial pro-choice closet. But as a grief support community we have to meet our newcomers where they’re at; if they’re not ready yet to refer to what happened to them as abortion, we have to respect that and encourage them to use the terms they’re comfortable with.


The word abortion is straight and simple and real. But it can be hard for women ending a wanted pregnancy to read the word. I would guess that easily 70% of the women coming here had a hard time with it, but I could be wrong. They come around eventually and some go on to really become politically dedicated. But in the beginning… it’s tough for some. It shocked me to see that reaction to the word, but I have a different background.


I think we are also in a position (because of our large community size) to have a significant impact on awareness, and generally convince people that they need to stop judging why any woman has an abortion, as well as to help destigmatize the term.


I know and understand that others have had and still do have issues with word “abortion” but I have never really had an issue with the term. I have always looked at it from a medical standpoint—my natural miscarriages and my “heartbreaking decisions” have all been classified as “abortions” in my medical records.

I will also never forget a support group member saying that in her language there is no way of differentiating a miscarriage from an abortion. It’s all “abortion” unless you add other words to separate that a decision was made. That is exactly the case in the medical field too. I have had a missed abortion, threatened abortion, spontaneous abortion, therapeutic abortion, etc.  Technically, I am now labeled on my medical chart as a “habitual aborter.” Yep. I had to learn to really not let the word bug me or I would likely be a head case. Society has given the word abortion an entirely different definition than what it actually means. I would love to play a role, no matter how small a role, in possibly helping to fix that.

I am guessing that most people likely use “interrupting a pregnancy” or “pregnancy termination” which is what you hear said by genetic counselors and also in books that are given out and/or suggested by medical professionals. The book, A Time to Decide, A Time to Heal was sent to me by my genetic counselor. It uses “pregnancy interruption” quite a bit.

It’s interesting and awesome to watch the change occur in others. People who would not dare utter the word or share they had an abortion when they first came here are now telling their story to others and helping to fight for other women’s rights.


I too was initially horrified to discover my earlier miscarriage had been labeled a “spontaneous abortion.” I was actually offended because in my mind I would never have an abortion.

And then when the 20-week ultrasound went from pure excitement to absolute hell, I still said there was no way I could terminate or have an abortion. How could I ever forgive myself? But over the next few days, I decided I really could never forgive myself if I let my son suffer during the short time he was expected to live. I had an abortion. But being able to say that word and be okay with it took time. It honestly took learning what so many other women went through to get an abortion (traveling across the country, facing protesters at such an emotionally painful time, etc.) for a much-wanted pregnancy that made me realize I needed to embrace the term and do what I could to help others become more comfortable with the term.


I do not think that there is an inherent problem hidden in the word abortion. I do see a world of problems in the way our culture treats abortion and those who seek it, and I think a certain meanness is constantly working to poison the word. I don’t blame anyone for opting out of that judgment and cruelty. So even though I use the word abortion to accurately and candidly describe my experience, even though I do so carefully, and take pride in my work to break down some of this stigma, I also fully support those who favor more comfortable language.

In a perfect world, choosing words would not mean entering any battle, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in this world, and I think that we all deserve the most basic kindness and gentleness after a loss. If this means looking for more comfortable language, then, by all means, craft your language gently.

My doctor named his clinic Boulder Abortion Clinic. He displays Abortion on his clinic’s brick walls and he prints it across his letterhead, yet it was he who first offered me an alternative term. “Some women in your situation prefer to say that they’re interrupting their pregnancies.” It was a very thoughtful gesture from someone who has devoted his long career to providing abortions.

I have found more comfort in embracing the word abortion than in shunning it. It is part of my self-care and self-respect. I am a woman who chose abortion. To reject the word abortion would be to reject myself, to deny my very sound reasons, to treat myself with the meanness and exclusion of this taboo. I don’t want to live like that.

That said, I do not always tell people about my abortion. Sometimes I tell them about my stillbirth. This, too, is true, for the final three days of my procedure were induction, labor, and delivery of my baby, born still. Mine was as much a stillbirth as any spontaneous stillbirth. Just because I believe in the truth and importance of my abortion does not mean that I owe anybody specific information about my loss. Another important aspect of self-care is to keep yourself safe in your community. Sometimes this means omitting the word Abortion.

—Kate C.

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