Live Action defines abortion as “the intentional killing of a preborn child.” In some cases when a medical emergency arises, the group says, it may be necessary to induce labor early, when the baby has little – or even no – chance of survival. But this differs from abortion, Live Action says, because the death of the baby is not intended, but rather accepted as an undesired outcome of treating the mother’s medical condition.
This distinction is important, Knobel said, because how one defines abortion determines whether one believes it is ever medically necessary.
“Live Action is referring correctly to the social meaning the term abortion has taken on — the direct, intentional killing of a pre-born child,” she said. In contrast, the Facebook fact checkers are “referring to the technical medical definition, and according to the very old, very technical, non-social medical definition, ‘abortion’ actually is sometimes medically necessary.”
Knobel suggested that the difference in the definitions can cause confusion.
“The medical meaning gets used as a tool to insist that what conservatives want will kill and oppress women,” she said. “Because when people read headlines, it’s the social, not the medical meaning of abortion they assume. So they come away believing that abortion (understood socially) is necessary for women’s health, when of course that’s not true.”
Live Action objected to the August fact-check, saying the doctors who carried it out also performed abortions, and that one is a board member of the pro-abortion group NARAL. Live Action said it is a violation of Facebook policy for fact-checkers to advocate on the issues they fact check.
On Sept. 12, Live Action founder Lila Rose said Facebook had removed the page violations and was investigating the matter. Rose said that Live Action could still face future penalties pending the result of that investigation.
But as pro-life legislation moves forward at both a state and federal level, the debate over definitions is not over. Knobel stressed that wording is important in preserving the legality of life-saving procedures that do not intend to end a human life.
For example, she said, a woman may spontaneously miscarry, but her body does not naturally expel the baby, and a dilation-and-curettage procedure is necessary to remove the baby’s body.
This is similar to the dilation-and-evacuation procedure commonly used in second trimester abortions. Using the procedure to remove the remains of already-deceased baby may fall under some technical definitions of abortion, but would not match the social definition of abortion, Knobel said.
A 2015 Oklahoma law currently being challenged in court bans dilation-and-evacuation abortions. But the text of the legislation explicitly clarifies that a procedure intending to save an unborn child’s life, or to remove the body of a dead unborn child, is not considered an abortion under the law.
(Story continues below)
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This type of clarification is important to avoid confusion, Knobel said.
“[I]f our efforts ever succeed, we need to make sure we don’t make laws the prohibit things we don’t actually intend to prohibit.”