The impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn the long-standing abortion precedent established in Roe v. Wade has been enormous. In just a few months, it’s already changed the courses of the lives of countless Americans. Some had children they didn’t plan for because they were unable to terminate pregnancies; others chose to move to a state where abortion was still legal; still others were forced to carry a nonviable pregnancy beyond the point at which it would be humane to terminate it. It’s reshaped a political landscape that, in an ordinary environment, would likely have followed the historical precedent for midterms and been disastrous for the president’s party.
One of the decision’s more unusual outcomes, though, has been a concerted effort to rebrand certain abortions—ones that involve a patient who is especially sympathetic to those who normally oppose the procedure—as something else, somehow.
Ted Cruz joined that push on his podcast last week, insisting that television host Chrissy Teigen was mistaken about her experience when she revealed that she’d had an abortion in 2020 to treat a pregnancy that had led to a partial placental abruption, a life-threatening complication. Cruz explained that he didn’t see her personal medical experience the way Teigen did: “She may want to characterize it as abortion in this political context, but she described it at the time as a miscarriage, and it certainly sounds like that was an accurate description,” Cruz said on the show.
He also told host Liz Wheeler, “If there’s a medical procedure in that context, it’s not an abortion.”
That might feel true to Cruz based on the vibes, but according to medical professionals, the context of the procedure doesn’t change what the procedure is called. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “abortion is a medical intervention provided to individuals who need to end the medical condition of pregnancy.” The National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine notes that “an abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy.” Kaiser Permanente agrees: “Abortion is the early ending of a pregnancy.” None of these definitions is context-dependent; the procedure is the same whether a politician is sad that a patient is losing a much-wanted pregnancy or mad that someone is terminating one they did not anticipate.
Still, in the wake of the SCOTUS decision, there’s been a push from anti-abortion advocates—beyond just Texas’s junior senator—to redefine “abortion” as solely those procedures that they find morally objectionable. Over the summer, an anti-abortion activist testifying before Congress insisted that an abortion performed on a child who is the victim of rape “would not be an abortion,” for unclear reasons. In May, after the draft opinion of the SCOTUS ruling leaked, the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a right-to-life organization based in Washington, D.C., released a “fact sheet” explaining the difference between “abortion” and “life-threatening situations requiring a separation of a mother and her unborn child.” It claims that “an induced abortion should not be confused with a medical indication for separating a mother from her unborn child. The two differ greatly, on both the goals and procedures.” The goal in both cases, however, is for the person who is pregnant to not be pregnant at the end of the intervention. The procedure the organization recommends for “separation of a mother and her unborn child” is a C-section—which, when performed to remove a nonviable fetus, is still a medical procedure to end a pregnancy (an abortion), and which comes with increased health risks to a patient facing an already-complicated pregnancy.
Other organizations that have attempted to redefine “abortion” to exclude certain procedures carry more authority than the Lozier Institute or even Senator Cruz, however. Those are the legislatures in states where the procedure is banned, including Texas, which carves out three narrow exceptions to the law’s definition of the word in the state. Procedures that are carried out “to save the life or preserve the health of an unborn child,” which most would agree is not an abortion, if it will result in the delivery of a healthy live baby; to “remove a dead, unborn child whose death was caused by spontaneous abortion,” which is another term for miscarriage; or to “remove an ectopic pregnancy,” when the egg implants outside of the uterus, do not fall under the law’s definition of an abortion (the language may vary in other states with abortion bans, but the exceptions tend to be consistent). While the part of the state health and safety code that defines abortion has been on the books since 1989, the Dobbs decision and resulting abortion ban in Texas have led some doctors to express concern about—or outright refuse to perform—the procedure even within these exceptions, fearing that a prosecutor or politician might disagree with their medical judgment. Teigen’s procedure, as she described the situation, involved neither a miscarriage involving a dead fetus nor an ectopic pregnancy, which means that under Texas law, it would be defined as an abortion.
Nonetheless, during his podcast, Cruz declared that “it is the law in all fifty states, and it should be the law in all fifty states, that doctors can intervene to save the life of the mother, even if it means tragically losing the child.” That’s mostly true (even if it’s complicated by the doctor’s need to weigh medical judgment against the possibility of prosecution)—but the intervention Cruz describes, according to both established medical guidance and Texas law, is an abortion, regardless of what feels most true to the senator.