Semantics Don’t Change Truth: The social motivations behind new definitions


No matter how many times man redefines human life, God’s truth doesn’t change.

The FDA’s recent controversial approval of “ulipristal acetate—an emergency contraceptive effective for up to 5 days” after exposure—made headline news in the September issue of Ob.Gyn. News.1 Like similar medications with an approved 3-day window, the newer drug contains a hormone which not only delays ovulation but also alters the environment inside the uterus to prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.2 And like the others, it claims to not cause abortion if the woman happens to already be pregnant.3

But what does “being pregnant” really mean? Some clever sleight of hand has been underway for years to allow “guilt-free” abortions by redefining the words involved. In reality, the use of hormones “after-the-fact” has been going on since the 1970s, long before the specially approved drugs were available, by the creative dosing of prescription oral contraceptives with physician advice. The 1988 advent of RU486, freely acknowledged to cause abortion and approved in the United States since 2000, created a stir and prompted some medical and pharmaceutical personnel—people who were often not involved in the conventional “surgical” abortion industry—to face issues of conscience—asking themselves, “am I willing to participate in abortion?” RU486 was obviously an abortifacient.4

Once upon a time, conception was synonymous with fertilization; in the new millennium, conception became synonymous with implantation.

What about non-surgical termination of pregnancy before implantation—the so-called “morning-after pill”? Stedman’s Medical Dictionary 27th edition, copyright 2000, offered a bandage for the conscience of the general medical community and the society they serve: it redefined conception.5Once upon a time, conception was synonymous with fertilization; in the new millennium, conception became synonymous with implantation, which typically occurs 6-9 days later. Stedman’s semantic alteration, like an earlier change by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, reflected not medical science but sociological and political correctness.

The move to redefine conception actually started in 1959 when Dr. Bent Boving at a Planned Parenthood symposium pointed out “the social advantage of [implantation preventatives] being considered to prevent conception rather than to destroy an established pregnancy.”6

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists followed Boving’s advice in 1965 by adopting this definition: “conception is the implantation of an ovum.”7 Since fertilization cannot be detected until the time of implantation—when the physical connection to the mother’s body allows a hormone from the developing placenta to enter the mother’s bloodstream—the reasoning was that the beginning of pregnancy could be redefined to the time when we can medically detect it. This reasoning is tantamount to asking whether a man alone on a desert island really exists if no one knows he’s there. Such reasoning amounts to philosophical meandering, not science.

Thus those who cling to the idea that pregnancy begins at conception have been gradually derailed. And with the widespread adoption of these “socially advantageous” definitions having no genuine basis in science much less in biblical morality, people who wish to prescribe or take “emergency contraceptives” need no longer be afraid they might cause an abortion because now no pregnancy actually exists—even if it does.

Dr. Donna Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, testified against approval, telling the FDA that “ulipristal worked as an abortifacient.” She has declared in a letter to members that the labeling of this drug is “deceptive and dangerous to women and their newly conceived baby.” She asserts that the FDA is “deliberately misleading women by mislabeling ella [the European name for the drug] only as contraception and not as an abortifacient.”8 We applaud her stand for the truth.

Semantics don’t change truth. The FDA’s recent decision continues to reinforce the worldview that a baby’s life hasn’t even started until man says it has. But God created human life. He therefore gets to set the rules. And no matter how many times man redefines human life, God’s truth doesn’t change. The Bible should be the foundation for our thinking in every area. To explore this topic more fully, see The New Answers Book 2, When Does Life Begin?

Answers in Depth

2010 Volume 5


  1. FDA Approves EC Effective Up to 5 Days, Ob.Gyn. News September 2010.
  2. The FDA-approved label states that the “likely primary mechanism of action of ulipristal acetate for emergency contraception” is inhibiting or delaying ovulation by postponing follicular rupture when taken immediately before a woman ovulates. The statement adds: “However, alterations of the endometrium that may effect implantation may also contribute to efficacy.”
  3. The FDA is asking the manufacturer to conduct additional studies on the effects when the drug is inadvertently taken when “already pregnant, or when it fails.”
  4. Incidentally, the new drug and RU486 are actually the same class of drugs, selective progesterone receptor modulators.
  5. In the 26th edition (1995) of Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, conception was defined as the “act of conceiving, or becoming pregnant; fertilization of the oocyte (ovum) by a spermatozoon to form a viable zygote.” In the 27th edition (2000) of Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, conception is defined as follows: “Act of conceiving; the implantation of the blastocyte in the endometrium.”
  6. quoting from “Implantation Mechanisms,” in Bent Boving (ed. C. G. Hartman). 1963. Mechanisms Concerned with Conception, New York: Pergamon Press. p. 386.
  7. Terms Used in Reference to the Fetus. ACOG Terminology Bulletin 1, September 1965. Chicago: American College of Obstetrics ad Gynecology. The ACOG definition was refined in 1972, changing the word ovum to blastocyst, but maintaining that conception, and therefore pregnancy, begins at implantation.
  8. Quoted in the Ob.Gyn. News article.


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