Med Humanities 39:98-104 doi:10.1136/medhum-2012-010284
  • Original article

‘Miscarriage or abortion?’ Understanding the medical language of pregnancy loss in Britain; a historical perspective

Open Access
  1. Andrew Moscrop
  1. Correspondence to Dr Andrew Moscrop, Narrowboat St Crispin, Weirs Lane, Oxford OX1 4UP, UK; andrewmoscrop{at}
  • Received 5 September 2012
  • Revised 23 January 2013
  • Accepted 28 January 2013
  • Published Online First 21 February 2013


Clinical language applied to early pregnancy loss changed in late twentieth century Britain when doctors consciously began using the term ‘miscarriage’ instead of ‘abortion’ to refer to this subject. Medical professionals at the time and since have claimed this change as an intuitive empathic response to women's experiences. However, a reading of medical journals and textbooks from the era reveals how the change in clinical language reflected legal, technological, professional and social developments. The shift in language is better understood in the context of these historical developments, rather than as the consequence of more empathic medical care for women who experience miscarriage.

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