Its not a medical term. Its an emotional one.
It's not a medical term. It's an emotional one. Yanik Chauvin / iStock

In Wednesday night's final presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace and the Republican nominee used a phrase that was nearly as offensive as that "nasty woman" interlude. They talked about "partial birth abortions," as if that's accepted parlance for late-term abortions.

The problem?

It's not.

"Partial birth abortion" isn't a medical term. It's a scary-sounding phrase invented by anti-abortion activists to describe one particular kind of late-term abortion that's rarely performed—and to make you feel icky about late-term abortions in general. Which aren't "icky" so much as plain heartbreaking, because they're often needed when fetal anomalies make the fetus "incompatible with life."

Less often, they're performed to protect the health of the woman. In extreme cases, women seek late-term abortions because they've had to save money to be able to afford the procedure (abortions are expensive) or they've been burdened by the cost of travel and missed work—especially if they live in states with a shortage of clinics, or mandatory waiting periods, and need to cross state lines to access care.

Late-term abortions are also rare. Procedures after 21 weeks of pregnancy accounting for just 1.3 percent of all abortions.

Plenty of nominally pro-choice people I know are uncomfortable with the idea of late-term abortions, and I get it. The right wing has done a great job of painting women who seek late-term abortions as lazy, evil sluts, and we're not dumb: We know it's a baby. But not only is it profoundly unkind to set up a hierarchy of "good abortions" and "bad abortions," it actually parrots conservative messaging on the subject. After all, if one abortion is bad, why not ban that one kind and—oh wait, now no women in your state can get an abortion without the opinion of six doctors and a member of the clergy.

If you're still not convinced, please read this interview with a woman who had an abortion at 32 weeks. You'll see pretty quickly why it's important that these procedures remain legal:

Tactfully, they put us in a room pretty quick, but then a nurse came in who had no idea, all smiling and talking about where we would put the baby. After that, one of the nurses went out and put the sad sticker on our door, as we called it—this purple sticker, which basically means, “be cool in here because bad shit’s going down.” After we got the sad sticker, everyone was very sensitive.

One of the OBs from the high-risk practice was there. He talked us through the process: they would induce labor, basically, which he said would take some time. Then they would give me an epidural, and I’d go to sleep, and then after I woke up—I couldn’t push, remember, so they’d be using forceps to basically pull the baby out. The doctor said, and I quote, “Once we give you the epidural, you won’t feel a thing.” And, because I was not delivering a live baby, I was allowed to have morphine. They were giving me anything, offering me Xanax. I had a really sweet nurse who was from our neighborhood and so we were just talking about it, trying to be as normal as possible.

You can read the rest here, and you should. But whatever you think of these procedures, they aren't "partial birth abortions," because that isn't a medical term. It's an emotional one.

Oh yeah, and that whole thing about "rip the baby," Donald Trump? That's not what happens. Not even close.