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The definition of an abortion varies slightly depending on the medical or legal source consulted, but it is broadly considered a procedure undertaken to end a pregnancy.
Whether an abortion is performed as a result of a legal exception does not change its classification as an abortion.
The story of a 10-year-old rape victim having to travel from Ohio to Indiana to get an abortion has gained international attention. President Joe Biden talked about the case while giving a speech on abortion rights.
"Ten years old. Raped, six weeks pregnant. Already traumatized. Was forced to travel to another state," Biden said July 8. "Imagine being that little girl. Just — I’m serious — just imagine being that little girl. Ten years old."
U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., made reference to this case during a House Judiciary Committee hearing about "the threat to individual freedoms in a post-Roe world" on July 14.
He asked witness Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group: "Do you think a 10-year-old would choose to carry?"
"If a 10-year-old became pregnant as a result of rape and it was threatening her life, then that’s not an abortion," Glenn Foster responded after some back-and-forth.
We reached out to Americans United for Life for comment, but did not hear back.
We had never heard this argument before, so we looked into whether abortions administered because of exceptions in abortion law change the definition of an abortion. They don’t.
The definition of an abortion varies slightly depending on the medical source or expert consulted.
In medical terms, abortion is broadly considered a procedure undertaken to end a pregnancy.
The National Institutes of Health defines an abortion as a procedure "to end a pregnancy."
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists uses the term induced abortion, which "ends a pregnancy with medication or a medical procedure." In an email to PolitiFact, the organization made a distinction between this and a spontaneous abortion, "the clinical terminology for miscarriage."
The Mayo Clinic provides a definition for a "medical abortion" as "a procedure that uses medication to end a pregnancy." It adds that a medical abortion can be used "to complete an early miscarriage or end an unwanted pregnancy."
Legal scholars tend to approach the matter differently than those in the medical community. When it comes to a legal definition, what constitutes an abortion is often dictated in part by whether the patient made a conscious decision to terminate the pregnancy.
According to the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, an "abortion is the intentional termination of a pregnancy."
Abortion laws across the states have used similar definitions.
In Ohio, the law defines an abortion as "the purposeful termination of a human pregnancy by any person, including the pregnant woman herself, with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus or embryo. Abortion is the practice of medicine or surgery."
Even though there are differences in the medical and legal definitions of abortions, they all revolve around the ending of a pregnancy.
The reason for terminating does not change the fact that the ending of that pregnancy is an abortion. That goes for abortions that are performed as a result of common exceptions under abortion laws: rape, incest or the health or life of the mother.
"The definition of abortion is not dependent on the reason for needing an abortion," a spokesperson with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told PolitiFact.
Laws restricting abortion have been coming into effect across the country after the June 24 Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Most of these laws include limited exceptions, meaning a patient can legally get an abortion for the life or health of the mother or a medical emergency. Only about one-third of the laws allow abortions in cases involving rape and incest.
Chart created by PolitiFact Senior Correspondent Louis Jacobson
"Regardless of those exceptions, terminating a pregnancy is an abortion," said Daniel Grossman, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at University of California San Francisco. "An abortion means terminating a pregnancy, regardless of the reasons for terminating that pregnancy."
Foster said, "If a 10-year-old became pregnant as a result of rape and it was threatening her life, then that’s not an abortion."
An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. Neither medical nor legal definitions say the classification of an abortion is contingent on whether or not a law includes an exception.
Cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life or health is at risk are often included as exceptions in laws restricting abortion. But that does not change the classification of the procedure as an abortion.
We rate the claim False.
Email exchange with American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, July 15, 2022
Email exchange with Daniel Grossman, director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health and a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at University of California, San Francisco, July 15, 2022
White House, President Biden Delivers Remarks on Protecting Access to Reproductive Health Care Services, July 8, 2022
House Committee on the Judiciary, What’s Next: The Threat to Individual Freedoms in a Post-Roe World, July 14, 2022
PolitiFact, How treatment of ectopic pregnancy fits into post-Roe medical care, June 30, 2022
Mayo Clinic, Medical abortion, accessed July 15, 2022
National Institutes of Health Medline Plus, Abortion, accessed July 15, 2022
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Abortion Care, accessed July 15, 2022
Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, abortion, accessed July 15, 2022
Ohio Laws and Administrative Rules, Section 2919.11 Abortion defined, acceessed July 15, 2022
PolitiFact, Now that Roe is gone, what happens in the states?, June 24, 2022
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