The language of life: Common words and phrases to consider

Let’s express ourselves accurately.

pile-of-wordsThis past Saturday, media outlets broadcast the sad news that the lacrosse team from Seton Hall University in Pittsburgh was involved in a bus crash which claimed the lives of the driver, a six-months pregnant coach, and her pre-born child. Some headlines were reporting that the coach, Kristina Quigley, was “1 of 2 victims,” along with the bus driver. Closer observation, however, would have led journalists to report the three victims of this tragic accident. But common language is accustomed to minimizing the pre-born, even if unconsciously.

Language is a very important tool in discussing life, and it can lead hearts and minds toward or away from respect for life. Let’s examine some of the common words and phrases that can be expressed in ways that will either minimize or emphasize the humanity of the unborn.

The unborn

The scientific terms zygote, embryo, and fetus are all accurate descriptions of a pre-born child at various stages of development in utero. It is good to use these terms to distinguish at which stage of development the unborn baby is, but there is no need to confine ourselves to these terms and pass up the opportunity to use more life-affirming phrases at the same time.

We know that abortion-supporters are accustomed to choosing terms that de-humanize the unborn. They use terms like products of conception, contents of the uterus, and the pregnancy to refer to the human being who is hidden by uterine walls. We are all products of conception. We were all contents of a uterus at one point. And our mothers were all pregnant with us before we were born. But these phrases are lacking, and they remove the image of humanity from our brains when we call to mind what the pre-born are.

Instead, we can emphasize the humanity of children hidden away in the womb, using phrases such as pre-born baby and unborn child. We also call to mind the humanity of the unborn by using pronouns like him or her. There is no need to refer to a person as it. If the sex is known, referring to the child by name is a wonderful way to affirm his or her humanity, and it invites others to familiarize themselves with the little human before they ever meet him or her.

“Crisis pregnancy”

Crisis pregnancy is a common term used by both the pro-abortion and pro-life camps. However, this term is very negative, and it emphasizes the mother’s emotions of trepidation rather than the fact that a new life has come into being, and that is always something to celebrate no matter what the circumstances of his conception were. It is very important to support women who find themselves in what they may believe is a crisis situation, but we can begin to eliminate some of these negative emotions by referring to their situation with positive rather than negative connotations.

Rather than referring to her situation as a crisis pregnancy, Janet Morana, the co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, suggests using the term unexpected blessing. In her book, Recall AbortionJanet shares:

No one wishes for a teenage girl to come home with the news that she’s pregnant, but it happens. Something as simple as the words we use to react to that news can have a real impact on keeping abortion-vulnerable women away from the killing centers. If we consider babies a blessing, no matter how they were conceived, we begin to give the new mother the emotional support she needs to realize that life is the only choice.

Pregnancy centers

Referring to pregnancy centers that help women in unexpected situations as crisis pregnancy centers perpetuates the idea that the unexpected blessing is more of a crisis than a blessing. To avoid these negative connotations, consider referring to these wonderful centers as pregnancy help centers or pregnancy resource centers rather than crisis centers. Yes, a woman may feel panicked, and as if she is in a crisis. But the aim of these centers is to diffuse these emotions and replace them with hopeful emotions instead, so why not refer to the centers in that light?


Pro-lifers exert a lot of energy showing the world what abortion looks like, and for good reason. The pro-abortion community would rather sweep away the reality of the gruesome practice with incognito phrases like termination of the pregnancy and exercised her right to choose. Even the word abortion fails to call to mind the reality of the procedure.

Instead, consider phrases such as end the life of the unborn child, or qualify the term with a phrase like the abortion, which killed the child and left his mother devastated. Also, consider being explicit about which procedure is being performed when you can. Rather than saying an abortion performed in the first trimester, consider using the medical term for that procedure: The abortionist performed a suction and curettage surgical abortionInstead of saying “late-term” abortion, consider something like: dilation and evacuation (D&E) surgical abortion performed in the woman’s third trimester of pregnancy. See the difference? If this is not practical (i.e., you don’t have enough information to distinguish the actual procedure), we can at least try to distinguish between chemical abortion and surgical abortion most of the time.

Using these more specific terms helps to call to mind the image of what the woman and her child are subjected to in the particular procedure taking place, rather than just glossing over the word abortion. Some pro-lifers even use the term commit rather than perform to refer to the action of carrying out an abortion, and “underwent” rather than “had” to refer to the woman’s reception of an abortion.

Doctors who perform/commit abortions

Yes, these men and women are typically physicians. They chose a heartbreaking profession, but that does not change the reality that they went through medical school and received credentials to practice medicine. The pro-abortion community often uses the term abortion provider. This term is undesirable because it suggests that in abortion, women are being provided with a service. In reality, we know that abortion hurts women and kills children (it “stops one heart and breaks another,” as the saying goes). To be more accurate in their terminology, many pro-life advocates utilize the term “abortionist” to avoid using the terms abortion physicianabortion doctor, and especially abortion provider


The media tends to refer to pro-lifers as anti-abortionists. This term doesn’t acknowledge the entirety of our message, however. Our stance against abortion stems from our respect for the dignity of life. We are against all forms of disrespect for life, including euthanasia, abortion, and discrimination against the disabled. Therefore, it is more accurate for us to be referred to – and to refer to ourselves – as “pro-life,” or “life advocates.”

The term pro-choice has been embraced by many as the label of the pro-abortion community. However, as we often discuss, supporting abortion is not pro-choice. It confines women to one devastating choice. Rather than referring to abortion-supporters by the nebulous term pro-choice, we can use phrases that are more accurate descriptions what the position supports such as pro-abortion and – this one is more bold but equally fitting – anti-life. Were those who 150 years ago in America supported the choice to own a slave merely pro-choice, or were they pro-slavery?

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but rather a suggestion to consider the language we use when referring to life. Share your alternative phrases to common pro-abortion terms in the comments below.

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