What Do You Call A Doctor Who Performs Abortions? A Doctor

Anti-abortion. Pro-choice. Anti-choice. Pro-abort. Words obviously convey a message, and for many news outlets, it’s a message they are trying to pay more attention to. Which is why National Public Radio’s Ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, spent some time examining his own outlet’s use of the term “abortion doctor.”

We don’t say a physician is an STD doctor. Or a child-birth doctor. Or a breast-exam doctor.

So as listener Marcia Bryant of Cleveland, OH, objected, why did a Morning Edition broadcast earlier this week refer to an obstetrician as an “abortion doctor”?

She’s right. Alternative titles are more accurate, avoiding the over-simplification of labeling OB/GYNs after one of the many services they provide.

In dealing with the issue earlier, NPR’s own internal style guide says: “Do not refer to murdered Dr George Tiller as an ‘Abortion Doctor.’ Instead we should say Tiller operated a clinic where abortions are performed. We can also make reference to the fact that Tiller was a doctor who performed late term abortions.”

The outlet then apologized for any word choices that could be construed as incendiary, and promised to be more “accurate in framing an issue in all its complexity” in the future.

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  • stacey-burns

    In a related note, the tendency of the media–in this case, during an instance of NPR’s own backtracking–to refer to doctors who provide abortions as OB/GYNs also does a disservice.

    OB/GYNs can, do, and should provide abortion care, of course. But so can, do, and should family medicine doctors, pediatricians, internists, and emergency medicine physicians. Not to mention nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and physician assistants who are trained to provide early abortion care.

    By calling doctors who provide abortion care as one aspect of their profession “abortion doctors,” the media exaggerates the role abortion plays in a physician’s practice. By calling all abortion providers “OB/GYNs,” the media implies that only OB/GYNs are qualified to provide abortion care. This may not seem significant, but aspiring doctors and nurses absorb these messages–it may not even occur to a young medical student that she could provide abortion care unless she is an OB/GYN. And it may not occur to a patient to ask her general practitioner if she can provide an abortion.

  • polpuffin

    The term “pro-life” to refer to opponents of legal abortion is highly inflammatory and inaccurate. The effective propaganda machine of the anti-woman side of the issue put that locution into the lexicon of the media many years ago. Some media outlets have abandoned that term, using the more accurate “abortion opponents,” “anti-abortion advocates,” “foes of legal abortion,” and the like. 


    On the other side, the term “pro-choice,” which hadn’t been invented when I began my 30 years of abortion rights activism, has become the preferred term to refer to those who support unfettered legal abortion and access to the procedure.


    Polly Rothstein, whose bio is in RH Reality Check’s files.



  • bethpendergrass

    Thank you Stacey!  


    As a health educator in a clinic that performs abortions, I have only worked with family practice doctors who perform this procedure.  Often, my patients express concern that they are not seeing an OB/GYN specialist.  They are very surprised to learn that surgical abortion (especially in the first trimester, when most abortions are performed) is one of the very simplest, safest and most commonly performed surgical procedure in the country.  We are a teaching clinic as well and the residents that train with us all report that it is very difficult to obtain a rotation in abortion care.