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Replace when possible.
The term “abort” frequently appeared in Inclusive Language Initiative surveys and standards reviews. Multiple organizations felt that usage of the word posed an issue worth addressing in their individual companies and projects. Given this widespread interest, the INI has decided to offer its own guidance.
INI recommends replacing “abort” wherever possible. In accordance with the INI’s language framework, the term does not necessarily constitute a first-order concern. However, because it is such a charged term outside of computing, “abort” fails to provide a clear description of the action being taken, and serves primarily to distract. There are numerous other words in the English language that can serve the same purpose in computing without invoking the emotionally charged cultural context of “abort.”
Although the INI debated whether the word “abort” itself or the procedure commonly associated with it (“abortion”) caused the aforementioned distractions, the etymology of the word has a direct and unambiguous link to the termination of a pregnancy. Alternative uses of the word “abort” are in use today, such as in rocketry. However, the INI concluded that the term itself was insufficiently distanced from its original meaning for those alternative definitions to be its primary association.
All this being said, the INI does not advocate for a blanket replacement of the term. “Abort” appears in many standards organization documents, and is deeply embedded in some operating systems. As such, the INI acknowledges that the term may need to be retained in certain contexts to remain in compliance with those standards, or to preserve accurate documentation for bedrock functions and processes that are too fundamental to be changed.
Some organizations have noted that using “abort” in contexts other than the medical or political serves to de-stigmatize the term, thereby promoting reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. Conversely, discouraging the term could be interpreted as accepting a framing that denies a pregnant person’s right to control their body. The judgment of the INI is that the term causes discomfort or offense without providing a necessary degree of technical clarity, and therefore it should be avoided. At some future point, because language changes over time, “abort” may become a less contentious term; at that juncture, the appropriateness of the term may be revisited.
Created: August 2021