Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and suffrage activist Stacey Abrams has upset conservatives by attempting to correct a common misconception about when in pregnancy a fetal heartbeat can be detected in the womb.
“There is no heartbeat at six weeks,” Ms. Abrams said during a panel discussion at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center in Atlanta on September 20, during which she appeared as part of her campaign to unseat the Peach State Republican. incumbent Brian Kemp, against whom she ran unsuccessfully in the 2018 midterm elections.
“It’s a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body away from her.”
A clip of his comments was later shared by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and went viral – as was no doubt the RNC’s intention – causing the mandatory outcry.
Ms Abrams was charged with participating in a “QAnon-plus Conspiracy Level” by Fox News pundit Will Cain, who hypocritically suggested that she argued ultrasound devices were routinely handled and labeled “a very sick person” on Twitter by commentator Meghan McCain, who claimed to have heard her own daughter’s heartbeat precisely at this point in her own pregnancy in 2020.
Kansas Senator Dr. Roger Marshall, an obstetrician-gynecologist long opposed to abortion, was moved to wonder: “Why do radical Democrats hate unborn babies? »
Pro-life activists often cite the six-week milestone as a reason to oppose abortion.
However, at this stage there is no fetus in the womb, only an embryo that has not yet developed the four chambers and valves whose opening and closing create the sound of the heartbeat as the blood is pumped into the body.
Speaking to NBC News earlier this year, Atlanta obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Nisha Verma explained, “From a medical perspective, when I place a stethoscope against a patient’s heart, this “lub dub” sound is emitted by the opening and closing of the heart valve. At six weeks, these valves no longer exist.
“It’s an electrical impulse that translates into the sound we hear from the ultrasound machine.”
Offering a more detailed explanation, Dr. Saima Aftab, Medical Director of the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida, said Live Science the pulse was essentially “a small beat in the area that will become the baby’s future heart”, which occurs because the group of cells that will one day be the “pacemaker” of the heart gradually acquire the ability to emit electrical signals .
“It doesn’t translate to heart viability in any way,” Dr. Aftab said.
The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) also sought to resolve the misunderstanding, stating, “It is clinically inaccurate to use the word ‘heartbeat’ to describe the sound that can be heard on ultrasound at any time. early pregnancy.
“In fact, there are no heart chambers developed in early pregnancy that this word is used to describe, so there is no recognizable ‘heartbeat’.
“What pregnant women can hear is the ultrasound machine translating the electronic pulses that indicate fetal heart activity into a sound we recognize as a heartbeat.”
ACOG says it’s not at all accurate to use the phrase “fetal heartbeat” until the heart is fully developed, which it says occurs between 17 and 20 weeks of age. gestation.
“Embryo heart activity” is its preferred term until week eight and “fetal heart activity” thereafter, once growth of what will become heart muscle has begun.
For Dr. Verma, the confusion between the electrical impulse emitted and a heartbeat is completely understandable, since expectant parents naturally want to anthropomorphize their pregnancy as soon as possible and doctors commonly use simplified language to explain complex medical processes to their patients.
“I think it’s good for people with a wanted pregnancy to come in at six weeks and see that twinkle and feel connected to that like a heartbeat,” Dr. Verma said.
“There is no problem using the term ‘heartbeat’ alone. The problem is using this incorrect term to regulate the practice of medicine and imposing these artificial deadlines to regulate abortion.
Dr. Jennifer Kerns, an obstetrician-gynecologist and associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco, also told NPR in May, “I think this is an example where we sometimes try to translate medical jargon from a way that patients can understand. , and that’s a really unfortunate side effect of this type of translation.
Dr. Kerns went on to discredit the whole notion of using “heartbeats” as a credible measure of pregnancy.
“There is nothing specific, meaningful and relevant about detecting heart activity at this gestation which involves anything relevant to women’s health or to pregnancies,” she said. .
“It’s one indicator – of many indicators – that a pregnancy may or may not progress with certain expected milestones.”
Georgia in 2019 introduced a law prohibiting abortion where a “detectable human heartbeat” was evident, which recognized the electronic blip as a heartbeat, a decision that was overturned by a federal judge as unconstitutional. but which a federal appeals court has since ruled can now go into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade on June 24.
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