Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Several members of Congress are criticizing the Associated Press for its use of the term "fetus" in a news story to describe a fully-born human infant, completely outside his or her mother's womb.
The House passed the "Born Alive Infant Protection Act," on a voice vote the evening of March 12.
Shortly after the House passed the bill, an AP story by Staff Writer Jesse Holland ran under the headline, "House OKs Fetus Protection Bill."
"A fetus outside a woman's body that has a heartbeat or is breathing on its own would be considered 'born alive' and given legal protection under a bill approved by the House," the story's lead stated.
"The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, approved by voice vote Tuesday night, would amend the legal definition of 'person,' 'human being,' 'child' and 'individual' to include a fetus that is either breathing or has a heartbeat once out of the womb as part of an abortion procedure," it continued.
John Cusey, staff director of the House Pro-Life Caucus, thought the use of the term was improper and called the AP to complain.
"The key thing was that it called a child a fetus," Cusey told CNSNews.com. "It's just factually, scientifically, according to the definition in the dictionary, incorrect."
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the word "fetus" is defined as, "an unborn or unhatched vertebrate especially after attaining the basic structural plan of its kind; specifically: a developing human from usually three months after conception to birth."
Cusey asked the editor on duty to correct the story so that it was not referring to a fully born child as a fetus, and explained the purpose of the bill.
"He said, 'Are you telling me that the House voted tonight that a baby is a baby?'" Cusey relayed. "And I said, 'Yes, that's exactly what I'm telling you.' But he wouldn't believe me."
The author of the original story called Cusey later in the evening to explain that editors had reviewed the story and determined that fetus was the "correct term" for the article "as opposed to baby or infant."
The next day (March 13), 17 members of the House Pro-Life Caucus wrote AP's Washington Bureau Chief, Sandy Johnson, to question the use of the term.
"As supporters of H.R. 2175, the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, we were surprised to see that the Associated Press story on the passage of the bill last night called a completely born baby a 'fetus' in the title and throughout the story," the letter stated.
"Regrettably, the AP did not correct its error and instead informed Mr. Cusey later ... that the editors had decided that the term 'fetus,' as opposed to baby or infant, was used correctly in this article," the letter continued.
In fact, the AP continued to use the term "fetus" to refer to a fully born child in later stories, including one early the morning of March 13.
"The legislation is aimed at an abortion procedure critics call 'partial-birth' in which a fetus is partially delivered before being destroyed," the second AP article, also written by Jesse Holland, stated.
But the bill, as the letter to the AP points out, has nothing to do with 'partial-birth,' or any other kind of abortion.
"To be completely clear, H.R. 2175 makes no reference whatever to the unborn child or 'fetus,' or to abortion, except the following rule of construction: 'Nothing in this section shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo-sapiens at any point prior to being 'born alive' as defined in this section,'" the letter continued.
"In other words, the bill changes nothing with respect to the legal status of unborn or partially born humans. The bill, which we have included with this letter, is concerned exclusively with the legal status of fully born human babies," it concluded.
The AP story also reported that, "An identical bill, sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum, (R-Pa.), is pending in the Senate." However, the Senate had already passed Santorum's bill as an amendment to S. 1052, the "Patient's Bill of Rights."
CNSNews.com contacted Johnson for further comment.
"You know, I'm not interested in any stories about that," Johnson stated.
The "Associated Press' Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law" provides no definition of the word "fetus" or the words "baby," "child," or "infant."
Under the term "abortion," the "AP Stylebook" provides these instructions, "Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice. Avoid abortionist, which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions; use a term such as abortion doctor or abortion practitioner."
Cusey noted that AP was alone in their decision to use the term.
"UPI and Reuters wrote it correctly. AP is the only one that wrote it that way and, when it was called to their attention, they refused to back down," he explained.
"They're the only ones that fit in that category because Congressional Quarterly actually wrote it incorrectly and then, after it was brought to their attention, they changed how they were writing about it," he concluded.
Source: "Members of Congress Blast Associated Press 'Fetus' Story" By Jeff Johnson, CNSNews.com Congressional Bureau Chief, March 20, 2002