The fetal heartbeat debate: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck…

Fair minded people across the political spectrum were shocked to learn last week that a fetal heartbeat is no longer a heartbeat.  Though the developing organ pumps blood through the body the same as an adult heart and its continuous beating is required for the baby to survive, the science had apparently changed, suddenly, making this yet another example of the progressive penchant for subordinating truth to political ends.

“There is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks. It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body,” so said Georgia Democrat Gubernatorial candidate and progressive hero, Stacey Abrams at an event last week.  This must have been shocking news to any expectant parents who suffered the heartbreaking experience of having their first ultrasound, only to learn the pregnancy would likely end in miscarriage because no heartbeat could be detected.  The look on the technician’s face alone is enough to know something is horribly amiss.  If the heartbeat cannot be detected, expectant parents can only hope they got the fertilization date wrong, and the heart will begin beating in another week.  Otherwise, the baby is lost.  Even with all of our modern technology, nothing short of a miracle can save it if the heart isn’t beating at about the six week mark.  This is both established science and common sense, but how did the self-proclaimed part of science respond?  They circled the wagons, of course, and insisted Ms. Abrams was right.  A baby has no heartbeat at six weeks, pay no attention to the fact that the developing human dies if it stops, the same as an adult.  The Washington Post’s resident fact-checker, Glenn Kessler declared that “fetal heartbeat” is a “misnomer.  The ultrasound picks up electrical activity generated by an embryo. The so-called ‘heartbeat’ sound you hear is created by the ultrasound. Not until 10 weeks can the opening and closing of cardiac valves be detected by a Doppler machine…”

Mr. Kessler cited a report from National Public Radio this past May, where surprise, surprise, “Doctors Call That [the fetal heartbeat] Misleading.”  At issue was a Texas law, that defines “fetal heartbeat” as “cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac” and that the existence of this heartbeat increases “the likelihood” of an “unborn child surviving to full-term birth.”  Not so fast according to them, “the medical-sounding term ‘fetal heartbeat’ is being used in this law — and others like it — in a misleading way, say physicians who specialize in reproductive health,” by which they mean abortion.  “When I use a stethoscope to listen to an [adult] patient’s heart, the sound that I’m hearing is caused by the opening and closing of the cardiac valves,” explained Dr. Nisha Verma, an OB-GYN who specializes in abortion care and works at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.  “At six weeks of gestation, those valves don’t exist.  The flickering that we’re seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you ‘hear’ is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine.”  By this logic, everything you see through an ultrasound is manufactured by the machine.  Humans are not bats.  We do not have sonar and cannot see sound.  An ultrasound machine uses sound waves to produce an image.  It doesn’t “see” anything.  It doesn’t pick up electrical activity, either.  The picture we see is a representation of the shape gleaned by the echoes of the soundwaves as they interact between fluids, tissues, and bone.  A similar process is used to create images from X-Rays, which represent a spectrum of light we cannot see with our own eyes, and even space telescopes, which pick up on radio frequencies we cannot detect with our normal senses and then transform them into pictures.  Apparently, none of what we see with any of these devices is real anymore.  It’s all manufactured for nefarious purposes.

To be sure, we might expect Dr. Verma to have a limited understanding of the inner workings of a machine as complex as an ultrasound, but certainly she should be an expert on prenatal development as an OB/GYN, right?  Unfortunately, no.  If you look at the prevailing literature, she appears to know precious little about what happens as the embryo develops into a baby.  You might say she knows only how to end these lives, not nurture them if her comments are any indication.  The Journal of Prenatal Medicine describes how a baby’s heart starts circulating blood in the developing body as early as four weeks.  “At the end of the 4th week of gestation, the heartbeats of the embryo begin.  The heart, whose development starts at the 3rd week of gestation, has rapid and irregular contractions capable of pumping the blood inside the vessels.  At this period, the developing circulatory system allows maternal-embryonic nutritive and gaseous changes at the chorionic villi. It is well documented in the literature that, in healthy fetuses, the heart rate (HR) increases from 110 bpm at the 5th week of gestation to 170 bpm at the 9th week of gestation. From then on, there is a gradual reduction in the HR that reaches a mean value of 150 bpm at the 13th week of gestation.”  What’s the old saying about if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck?  Here we have an organ pumping blood through the body, one that would result in the death of the infant were it to stop, but, sure, it’s not a heart.  The party of science suddenly says so.

Dr. Jennifer Kerns, an OB-GYN and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, concurred with Dr. Verma.  “What we’re really detecting is a grouping of cells that are initiating some electrical activity,” she explained. “In no way is this detecting a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heart.”  If you’re having trouble understanding how an organ that is already pumping blood through a growing body isn’t a heart and it’s not beating, the problem is actually with you and your inability to grasp the nuance of the medical profession.  “Fetal heartbeat,” you see, is not a clinical term.  “This is a term that is not widely used in medicine,” Dr. Kern insisted. “I think this is an example of where we are sometimes trying to translate medical lingo in a way that patients can understand, and this is a really unfortunate side effect of this type of translation.”  Got it?  A heart is not a heart anymore, and the entire purpose of labeling it such is to mislead a gullible public from the promised land of our scientific betters to promote the patriarchy, or something.  The baby isn’t even a fetus at six weeks, anyway.  “The term ‘fetus’ certainly evokes images of a well-formed baby, so it’s advantageous to use that term instead of ‘embryo’ — which may not be as easy for the public to feel strongly about, since embryos don’t look like a baby,” Dr. Kerns opined. “So those terms are very purposefully used [in these laws] — and are also misleading.”  In this author’s humble opinion, Dr. Kerns should be looking closely in a mirror rather than casting stones, as few statements are more misleading than her insistence that the detection of the fetal heartbeat at six weeks isn’t essential to the baby’s development, as in no heartbeat, no baby.  She claims the presence of this heartbeat doesn’t “predict that pregnancy is going to continue until delivery” because the pregnancy can still end in a miscarriage.  Of course, nothing on this earth can predict that.  It’s like asking if the presence of the heartbeat can predict whether the baby will go on to be a professional baseball player.  “There is nothing specific and meaningful and relevant about the detection of cardiac activity at this gestation that implies anything that’s relevant for women’s health or for pregnancies,” says Kerns. “It is one indicator — among many indicators — that a pregnancy may or may not be progressing with some expected milestones.”  Yes, there is nothing “meaningful” and “relevant” about knowing whether the baby is alive or dead.  At the risk of repeating myself:  If the heartbeat is not detected at around the six week mark, the baby is non-viable.  No heartbeat, no baby.  If the heartbeat were to stop after it were detected, the baby is dead, the same as with an adult.  Obviously, other issues can happen during development, but there are few things more meaningful than a beating heart even in the womb.

As Dr. Tara Sander Lee, a Harvard Medical School alum, and director of life sciences at the Charlotte Lozier institute put it, “One wonders if Ms. Abrams was absent the day her health class covered human development? Even now, all it takes is one quick search of the public database of scientific and embryology research to confirm that the heart is the first functioning organ in a developing human being, with the first heartbeat just 22 days after fertilization.”  She added what should be obvious to anyone not intentionally being obtuse for political reasons, “most Americans instinctively understand that a developing human organ which beats rhythmically and pumps blood throughout the body is, in fact, a heart.”  This might be the understatement of the year, but Ms. Abrams, NPR, and their enablers in the medical establishment are not alone.  Planned Parenthood has also stealthily updated their guidelines to reflect this new belief that a beating organ which pumps blood is not actually a heart.  Previously, when the pro-abortion organization described “What happens during week 5-6” of a pregnancy, they noted that “A very basic beating heart and circulatory system develop.”  Last month, however, they added a new clause:  “It sounds like a heartbeat on an ultrasound, but it’s not a fully-formed heart – it’s the earliest stage of the heart developing.”  One would also be remiss not to mention that the battle, such as it is, remains over what amounts to a four week difference.  The claims being made are absurd, but even if they were true, the people making them insist that the heart is a heart at ten weeks instead of six.  In that case, can we make a deal to ban abortion at that point?  I expect many in the pro-life movement would consider that a tremendous success, but something tells me anything short of abortion on demand until or even shortly after birth wouldn’t satisfy extremists like Ms. Abrams.

Otherwise, it is difficult not to see this whole sorry episode as yet another case study in how readily progressives subordinate science (and everything else) for political ends.  Their political position is and always will be unfettered access to abortion on demand at any stage of the pregnancy.  The science and technology around prenatal development has exploded over the past two decades, giving people a glimpse of what happens within the womb, making the development of a baby visible for all to see, and demonstrating that the baby ultimately born develops key organs and traits very early in the process.  It’s hard to escape the conclusion that we’re talking about a human life.  This has served to make the process of an abortion, which is killing this life by definition, far darker and the stakes far more real, prompting many to reconsider their position, especially at later stages, where doctors can save premature births as early as five months.  Rather than acknowledge this richer and more magical world, revising their positions accordingly, progressives choose to rewrite the science itself and they are willing to spread misinformation like the falsehood about ultrasounds picking up electrical activity to achieve their goals.  Sadly, this is the same phenomena poisoning any rational debate around the transgender community and transgender rights in general.  Up until progressives said so, no one believed that a man could truly become a woman or vice versa.  The biological differences between men and women are written in our genetic makeup, manifesting in different organs and different chemistry during prenatal development.  We do not have the technology to change this, no matter what anyone says, but rather than accepting this truth while believing people should be free to craft their own identities, even if they are different than what most would consider “normal,” they insist “gender affirming” surgery and treatment can rewrite a person’s DNA.  “Affirming” also means “erasure,” as in the removal of organs and chemical processes.  Thus, the entire transgender debate is built on lies similar in form to the recent controversies over abortion.  The debate over how to respond to the coronavirus pandemic was similarly marred:  Anyone who disagreed was smeared as a killer, regardless of the facts, which continually changed to whatever suited the needs of the moment.

This subordination of the truth for political ends will not end well for anyone.  A functioning society requires the belief in a sphere that exists beyond politics.   If everything in the world is subordinate to your political positions, you will require everyone in the world to submit to them.  The choice some radical progressives are presenting is simple:  You either submit to their will, acknowledge that two plus two equals five, or be cast out.  Eventually, however, they will run out of people to banish if anything resembling the free exchange of ideas continues to exist, or at least that is my hope.

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