“Heartbeat” abortion laws are based on a radical misunderstanding of science

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The state of Texas recently passed a bill that’s got everyone with a clue worried, to say the least: S.B. 8 bans abortions after six weeks. The law is up for consideration by the Supreme Court but until SCOTUS makes a decision — which they are expected to do this year — the ban is being upheld. This has put a major strain on Texas abortion providers and, well, anyone who believes in choice. Not only that, but medical experts say that the so-called “heartbeat” laws are based on a flawed premise.

Supposedly, the reasoning behind the anti-abortion crusade’s six-week mark is that by that time, ultrasound machines are able to detect a fetal heartbeat and therefore a live birth is possible. This premise, however, isn’t scientifically sound. Fetuses don’t actually have the organized muscle tissue that it takes to make a heart until about the 20th week of pregnancy, MedicineNet reported. Not only that, but most global medical experts agree that a baby does not have a viable chance of survival until the 24th week, according to the U.K.’s National Health Service.

What, then, is the heartbeat sound that ultrasounds find at six weeks? It’s the electrical pulsing of a tube of cardiac cells. “What you see and hear on an early ultrasound is embryonic activity — electrical currents being sent through cells that will develop at a much later time into a heart,” Gabriela Aguilar, an NYC-based obstetrician-gynecologist, told the New York Times. So sure, that tube of cells is a primitive version of what will eventually become the heart, but to call it a heart is kind of like calling an acorn an oak tree.

Some anti-abortion doctors also think that the electric pulse detected by ultrasound “counts” as a heartbeat. “It is a heart tube, but it is still a heart. The shape is different, but that doesn’t change the essence of what it is,” Christina Francis, chair of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told the Times. I am unconvinced by the argument that because a set of cells could potentially become an organ that they should be considered that organ, but you can decide for yourself.


Sergio Flores/Getty Images News/Getty Images



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