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Is the treatment of an ectopic pregnancy an abortion?

Some posts claim abortion is a treatment for a certain type of pregnancy, while others claim it's not.

ATLANTA — Viewers online and on social media continue trying to understand what the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade means. Confusion and misinformation are circulating online about abortions and if they play a role in treatment for various types of pregnancies.

Some posts claim abortion is a treatment for ectopic pregnancies, while others claim it's not.

Dr. Melissa Kottke, Associate Professor in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine, explains that treatment for this type of pregnancy could be surgical -- but is not the same as an induced abortion.

"The treatment for an ectopic pregnancy is a life-saving procedure, and it is not the same as an induced abortion. An ectopic pregnancy is never viable; an ectopic pregnancy can't be moved from one location to another," said Kottke. 

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Compared to the start of a normal pregnancy, which begins when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus, an ectopic pregnancy is a potentially life-threatening condition that happens when a fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus. They can also be called "tubal pregnancies," which is the most common type of ectopic pregnancy. 

Credit: Emergency Medicine Residents' Association
Visual showing fertilized egg implantation in a normal pregnancy vs. an ectopic pregnancy.

Ectopic pregnancies usually occur outside the fallopian tube and can cause it to rupture, which can prompt internal bleeding that can require immediate surgery.  

Kottke explained to 11Alive that there are two ways to treat this type of pregnancy. 

"One of them is medical, and one of them is surgical," she said. "And depending upon the patient's condition, and that current and specific clinical situation, that dictates which treatment path is chosen."

Some social media users have said ectopic pregnancies can be treated with "abortion pills," but that's not necessarily true. In the cases where an ectopic pregnancy can be treated medically, the drug used is different. Some patients qualify to be treated with methotrexate when experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, according to research cited in the National Library of Medicine.

For medically induced abortions, or "the abortion pill, patients must take two different drugs, mifepristone, which is a hormone blocker, and misoprostol, as explained by Planned Parenthood.

So in short, the treatment for ectopic pregnancies is not considered an induced abortion.

The OBGYN said that a fetus could not survive outside the uterus in an ectopic pregnancy and that quick, emergency treatment is important to protect the mother's life. 

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"Treatment of the ectopic pregnancy by surgery or medical management is the standard of care to prevent serious complications," said Kottke. 

Kottke explained how an abortion, also known as induced abortion, ends an intrauterine pregnancy and does not result in a live birth. 

The Atlanta OGBYN noted that it's important to understand how pregnancy and the medical situations that real people experience are complex. 

"It is unethical for them to be legislated because law cannot accommodate the nuances that we encounter in clinical settings," said Kottke. 



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