A historical perspective

One can trace the earliest origins of this semantic corruption of key embryology terminology to the 1969 book "The Second Genesis - the coming control of life", by Albert Rosenfeld.

This book was written only a few years after the invention of the birth control pill (BCP). The author, with remarkable perception and honesty, foresaw that there was a "problem" with the newly discovered birth control pill. The problem was that the BCP could terminate embryonic human life by inhibiting implantation. As Rosenfeld wrote:

"Because these substances (the pill) do not prevent the sperm from penetrating and fertilizing the ovum - the classic definition of conception - they are not strictly contraceptives. What they do is prevent the newly fertilized egg from implanting itself in the uterus. Since the interference occurs after conception, some hold that such practice constitutes abortion. A way around this impasse has been suggested by Dr. A.S. Parkes of Cambridge: Equate conception with the time of implantation rather than the time of fertilization - a difference of only a few days." (1)

This initial corruption of foundational embryology definitions suggested by Rosenfeld represented a stark break from the hitherto accepted scientific view which stated that conception of a new human person was the result of the process of fertilization which marked the beginning of a pregnancy.

Conception was synonymous with fertilization, and therefore, pregnancy, as Dr Rosenfeld clearly understood.

Soon thereafter this manipulation of pregnancy-related terminology acquired an imprimatur of apparent scientific legitimacy with the publication of the text Obstetric-Gynecologic Terminology, published by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) in 1972.(2)

In this text, conception was specified to be "the implantation of the blastocyst." Conception was not, according to this revised definition, synonymous with fertilization. Consequently, pregnancy was re-defined as "the state of a female after conception and until termination of the gestation." (3) As a consequence of this new definition, any interference with the viability of the human embryo, from the time of its creation until the time of implantation, was no longer an abortifacient action. According to this 'new' definition, no pregnancy (apparently) existed; hence no abortifacient actions are possible.

Having re-defined conception, which began the process of dismantling the continuum of fertilization, conception and pregnancy, a further reworking of pregnancy was initiated and approved at a meeting of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), in 1985. The Committee on Medical Aspects of Human Reproduction was asked by FIGO to "develop an accurate definition of pregnancy." One might question whether "develop" is Orwellian "Newspeak" for the creation of a definition which would accommodate expanding methods of abortifacient birth control. The following citation is instructive.

"The Committee agreed on the following: 'Pregnancy is only established with the implantation of the fertilized ovum.' Based upon the above definitions of 'conception' and 'pregnancy', an abortifacient acts to interrupt a pregnancy only following implantation." (4)

Consistent with the 1972 actions of the ACOG, many proponents of the 'pregnancy begins at implantation' doctrine now regularly reference back to this text to justify their position. (5) (6) (7) This is the only reference used to support their alteration to the factual embryological meaning of conception. It is clearly an example of "Newspeak", where re-defining of words occurs to suit a pro-abortion agenda. Obviously, when the meaning of a word is changed, the truth is changed. The social and moral ramifications of such actions are wide-ranging and, as those involved in this field of bio-ethics can testify, it is an arduous task to re-orientate words back to their true, scientific foundation. Why? Because over the last four decades the intention to influence key opinion makers in society, such as those cited below, has been well targeted and highly successful.

"It is to be hoped that these official definitions (from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology -1972) and the new scientific data will provide a realistic and scientific foundation for a clearer understanding of the mechanism(s) of action of IUDs among the lay public, theologians, politicians, and health care providers in general." (8) (Emphasis added).

As a consequence of the ACOG action in 1972, and the subsequent redefining of pregnancy in 1985, there has been an increasing trend in the deviations from definitional orthodoxy. Some examples of the re-defining of pregnancy are:

"The prevention of pregnancy before implantation is contraception and not abortion." (9) (Glasier 1997)

"Predictably, some opponents of abortion allege that emergency contraception is tantamount to abortion...even if emergency contraception worked solely by prevention the implantation of a zygote, it would still not be abortifacient ... Pregnancy begins with implantation, not fertilization ... fertilization is a necessary but insufficient step toward pregnancy." (10) (Grimes, 1997)

"Emergency contraception works by inhibiting or delaying ovulation or by preventing implantation. Despite some assertions to the contrary, it is not itself a form of abortion." (11) (Guillebaud, 1998)

"...conception is used synonymously with implantation, nor fertilization." (12) (Trussell, 1999)

"Six to seven days elapse between a coital act and establishment of a pregnancy, defined as implantation." (13) (Grimes, 2002)

"Emergency contraception works by preventing ovulation, fertilization or implantation and does not disturb an implanted egg. Emergency contraception is not abortion: according to definitions endorsed by the federal government and national medical organizations, life begins when a fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining. Thus, if taken in early pregnancy, neither the woman nor the embryo is harmed." (Pruitt, 2005) (14)

Two pivotal aspects contained within the quote from Pruitt demand comment.

First, women are harmed by the use of so-named emergency contraception. Adverse effects caused by the morning-after pill range from nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and breast soreness, to reported cases of ectopic pregnancy, requiring life-saving surgery. (15)

Second, if the human embryo (disparagingly referred to as a "fertilized egg") fails to implant, it dies.

In my view, the quotes from Grimes, Pruitt, Glasier, Guillebaud and Trussell are, in the strictest sense of the word, non-sense. They are ideologically based definitions. They are not founded on reputable embryology. A woman is pregnant because fertilization has been completed and conception has occurred, not because implantation has taken place. Implantation is, from both a time and developmental perspective, separate to conception/fertilization. Implantation of the human embryo takes place around the sixth day after fertilization (16) with the human embryo now a multi-cellular structure known as a blastocyst.

As Mosby's correctly states: "Pregnancy - the gestational process, comprising the growth and development within a woman of a new individual from conception through the embryonic and fetal periods to birth." (17)

One final semantic deception needs mentioning. Those who seek to promote postcoital birth control re-name the human embryo a "pre-embryo", (18) a "fertilized ovum" (19) or a "fertilized egg." (20) (21) These are deceptive terms without any basis in human science. Indeed the term 'pre-embryo' was coined in the late 1970s by frog embryologist Clifford Grobstein and has had a profoundly expansive and damaging influence on human sexual reproductive ethics.(22) (23) These definitions are solely ideological and are fully in conflict with contemporary human embryology. As biochemist, biologist and Professor of Medical Ethics Dr Dianne N. Irving has noted: "The scientific fact is that there is no such thing as a "pre-embryo" in the real world. The term is a complete myth. It was fabricated out of thin air in order to justify a number of things that ordinarily would not be justifiable." (24)

To recall: "Human development begins with fertilization, a process during which a sperm unites with an oocyte (ovum)." (Their emphasis).(25) This distinction in terminology is critical. The full range of bioethical issues linked to the MAP is centred upon this point.

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(1) Rosenfeld A. The Second Genesis: The Coming Control of Life. Vintage Books 1975 ISBN 0-394-71214-5 p.128

(2) Hughes EC, ed. Obstetric-Gynecologic Terminology. Philadelphia: FA Davis. 1072

(3) Tatum HJ, Connell EB. A decade of intrauterine contraception: 1976 to 1986. Fert Steril 1986; 46(2): 173-192

(4) Tatum, op.cit., p.186

(5) Grimes, op.cit., p.1079

(6) Trussell J, Rodriguez G, Ellertson C. New Estimates of the effectiveness of the Yuzpe regimen of emergency contraception. Contraception 1998; 57:363-369

(7) Trussell J, Raymond EG. Statistical evidence about the mechanism of action of the Yuzpe regimen of emergency contraception. Obstet Gynecol 1999; 93: 872-876

(8) Tatum, op.cit., p.186

(9) Glasier A. Emergency postcoital contraception. NEJM 1997; 337:1058-1064

(10) Grimes, op.cit., p.1078

(11) Guillebaud J. Time for emergency contraception with levonorgestrel alone. Lancet 1998; 385:416

(12) Trussell T, Rodriguez G, Ellertson C. op.cit., 1999, p.147

(13) Grimes DA, Raymond EG. Emergency Contraception. Ann Intern Med. 2002;180-189

(14) Pruitt SL, Mullen PD. Contraception or abortion? Inaccurate descriptions of emergency contraception in newspaper articles, 1992-2002. Contraception. 2005;71:14-21

(15) Sheffer-Mimouni G, Pauzner D, Maslovitch S et al. Ectopic pregnancies following emergency levonorgestrel contraception. Contraception. 2003;67:267-269

(16) Larsen, op.cit., p.19.

(17) Mosby's, op.cit., p.1309

(18) Grimes, loc. cit.

(19) Harper C, Ellerston C. Knowledge and perceptions of emergency contraceptive pills among a college-age population: A qualitative approach. Family Planning Perspectives. 1995; 27:149-154

(20) Ashraf H, McCarthy M. UK improves access to "morning after pill". Lancet 2000;356:2071

(21) Pruitt, op.cit., p.15

(22) Irving D. When Does a Human Being Begin? 'Scientific' Myths and Scientific Facts. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy (1999), 19:3/4:22�47

(23) http://www.consciencelaws.org/Examining-Conscience-Ethical/Ethical36.html (Viewed February 21, 2010)

(24) Irving D, op.cit.

(25) Moore, op.cit., pp. 14 & 531