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Journalists’ style guide rejects “fetal heartbeat” and “pregnancy center”

Female writer frustrated, writers block

fizkes | Shutterstock

Female writer frustrated, writers block

J-P Mauro - published on 02/08/23

The Associated Press style guide, the most commonly used guide in journalism, directs writers to avoid or explain certain terms.

The Associated Press (AP) has updated its stylebook, the most commonly used editorial guidelines in journalism, to eschew the phrase “crisis pregnancy center” and instead use “anti-abortion center.” The change is one of several adjustments to pro-life phrases that have critics suggesting that the AP is more interested in driving a narrative than reporting news. 

The Daily Signal, which found in its investigation that the changes were actually enacted in late November, reports that the AP called the term “crisis pregnancy center” misleading.

They wrote: 

“If using the term anti-abortion center, explain later that these often are known as ‘crisis pregnancy centers’ (with quotation marks) and that their aim is to dissuade people from getting an abortion,” the style guide entry states. 

Chuck Donovan, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America’s research branch, called the change “pernicious” and noted that pregnancy centers are very upfront about their refusal to offer abortions. He said: 

“The aim of pregnancy help centers is just that, help. They are staffed by medical and counseling professionals and dedicated volunteers who provide an astounding array of free services to women facing unexpected pregnancy.”  

Fetal heartbeat

According to Fox News, other phrases the AP has done away with include “fetal heartbeat,” “late-term abortion,” and “six-week abortion ban.” If used, the AP directs writers to put them in quotes and provide an explanation for why these terms are undesired. 

In the case of “fetal heartbeat,” the AP claims that technology can detect “flickering” as early as six weeks, when the AP says an embryo “has only begun forming a rudimentary heart.” After just calling it a “rudimentary heart,” the AP suggests that such an organ would be incapable of having a “heart beat,” and instead directs writers to use “cardiac activity.” 

In an interview with Fox, Dr. Christina Francis, CEO-Elect for the American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists (AAPLOG), suggested that the semantic differences in the language provided by the AP is a nod towards a pro-abortion agenda.

She described the state of cardiac development in a six-week old embryo: 

“By six weeks’ gestation, the human embryo has developed an organ that contracts rhythmically to pump blood through its body, aiding in the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood — in other words, a heart.” 

Catholic World Report notes that some have already called the changes a bid to fall in line with pro-abortion lingo that will influence readers wherever the AP style guide is used. Kristi Hamrick, chief media and policy strategist at Students for Life of America, called the AP “tongue-tied with political correctness” and went on to cite several other semantic changes that could be applied to other areas of society: 

“Without any sense of irony, they want to call Pregnancy Resource Centers ‘anti-abortion centers,’ diminishing the love and support such nonprofits offer to mothers and their children, born and preborn,” Hamrick said. “With that logic, hospitals must be ‘anti-death centers’ and our food support through the federal government named ‘anti-starving’ programs.”

[Editor’s note: While Aleteia in the main follows AP style guidelines, there will be an exception in these cases.]

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