Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Gynecologists say "fetal heartbeat" bills popping out of legislatures in the South and Midwest are built largely on medical ignorance and fraudulent language

Alabama is one of about a dozen states that are in various stages of trying to pass "fetal heartbeat" laws that generally would outlaw most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy -- before many women even know they are pregnant. The legislative efforts, which tend to be centered in the South and Midwest, "represent the largest assault on abortion rights in decades," according to a recent Associated Press report.

A group of high-profile gynecologists -- people who know a thing or two about the human biology related to pregnancy -- say "fetal heartbeat" bills tend to be based on medical ignorance and fraudulent use of the English language.The gist of their argument: At six weeks, there generally is no fetus and there is no heart; that makes it pretty difficult to claim there is a "fetal heartbeat." From a recent report at The UK Guardian:

“These bills present the idea that there’s something that looks like what you or a person on the street would call a baby – a thing that’s almost ready to go for a walk,” said Dr Jen Gunter, a gynecologist in Canada and the US who runs an influential blog. “In reality, you’re talking about something that’s millimeters in size and doesn’t look anything like that.”

That early in a pregnancy, Gunter said, an embryo does not have a heart – at least, not what we understand a human heart to be, with pumping tubes and ventricles. At six weeks, a human embryo throbs, but those tissues have not yet formed an organ, so the pulsing should not be confused with a heartbeat.

Notice Gunter's use of the term "embryo." That's because that's what it is at six weeks, not a fetus. Also notice that she says a "human embryo throbs" at six weeks. But those throbs are not heartbeats because there is no such organ:

It would be more accurate to call these bills “fetal pole cardiac activity” measures, said Gunter. Though it doesn’t roll off the tongue, the term would capture the state of an embryo at six weeks, which appears more fish-like than human baby.

Other gynecologists agree:

“When throbbing of some tissue begins, it’s not a heart,” said Dr Sara Imershein, a gynecologist and obstetrician in Falls Church, Virginia. “Really, we call it an embryo until about nine weeks from last menstrual period,” or roughly three weeks after the new laws prohibit termination of pregnancy. . . .

"It’s a process – the heart doesn’t just pop up one day,” said Imershein. “It’s not a little child that just appears and just grows larger”, in contrast to imagery often invoked by anti-abortion campaigns of embryos as tiny, miniaturized infants.

The Alabama Senate is expected to vote today on a bill that wold ban virtually all abortions in the state, pending the signature of Gov. Kay Ivey -- and likely court challenges. The vote is expected to come down to 31 men and three women in the Senate.

The "pro life" movement, it seems, is built on a mountain of contrived language, apparently designed to deceive and base the public discussion on religion, hysteria, emotion, and threats -- anything other than facts and medicine:

Misleading names like “heartbeat”move the debate away from medical considerations for a woman’s decision to get an abortion, said Gunter.

Similarly, the phrase "late-term" is misleading. A normal human gestation is 40 weeks. Medically speaking, "late-term" means 41-42 weeks.

But anti-abortion activists twisted the phrase into a political construct understood to be any abortion after the 21st week, late in the second trimester. “Nobody is doing late-term abortions – it doesn’t happen,” said Gunter of the medical definition. “But it’s become a part of our lexicon now.”

In Alabama, Republican sponsors of a "fetal heartbeat" bill admit it is designed to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. That, of course, is serious business, so you might think drafters of the bill would at least base it on scientific facts and correct medical language. But you would be wrong; in essence, it's a political stunt:

Gunter said six weeks is not enough time to make informed medical choices. It’s before most women know they’re pregnant, and before fetal malformations can be diagnosed. The risks of medical conditions, such as lupus, won’t be apparent that early. There are some heart conditions “where we say, you should not be pregnant”, said Gunter. “The risk of death is 50%. We know that the second the pregnancy test is positive. But what if that person doesn’t seek medical care until they’re eight weeks?”

“The whole point [of these bills] is to introduce terminology that makes people think differently about pregnancy,” said Gunter.

In practice, she said, six-week measures are effectively abortion bans – a fact that misleading names such as “heartbeat bill” could obscure. “We can’t use the incorrect language in the bills,” said Gunter. “Because once you start using incorrect language, you’ve basically conceded.”

(To be continued)


Anonymous said...

LS: I am sure that you will get a lot of flack for publishing this essay. Please just let me say: Thank you for educating more people about this bill.

Anonymous said...

Pro Lifers have to ignore science and correct language because they can't win the abortion rights argument otherwise. They do this with other issues.

Anonymous said...

So glad these gynecologists have interjected some sanity into this discussion. It takes bravery for them to speak out.

Anonymous said...

These bills probably wouldn't get anywhere if we didn't have such a "Godly" man in the White House, with his "Godly" Supreme Court picks.

Anonymous said...

But . . . but . . . my pastor stood in the pulpit on Sunday and said there is a fetal heartbeat. Who should I believe?

Anonymous said...

The right will do anything to control women and take over their bodies.

Anonymous said...

Gee, I wonder how that vote will go today in the Alabama Senate. 31 men and 3 women? Awesome.

Anonymous said...

Lots of reports out there about Trump paying women to have abortions. Just another sign that he's a "Godly" man. This report puts the number at eight such payouts . . .


Anonymous said...

I wonder what Stormy Daniels thinks of this.

legalschnauzer said...

Trump is driving this anti-abortion train, as NBC News reports:

It’s been a rough two years for reproductive rights. Since Donald Trump took office, a series of attacks on both abortion and contraception have come from the state and federal levels. A re-emboldened anti-abortion movement has emerged, and they’re gunning for major legal changes — and, they hope, a Supreme Court that would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion broadly legal across the United States.

What triggered this shift? Trump’s Supreme Court judges — including, most recently, Brett Kavanaugh. How appropriate that opponents of a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body have decided that their best hope is in a Supreme Court made more conservative by a judge accused of sexual assault.

Among the more aggressive efforts to limit abortion are “heartbeat bills,” which functionally outlaw abortion by making the procedure illegal as early as six weeks from a woman’s last period. Most women don’t realize they’re pregnant until they miss a period — by which point they will be running up against the limits of a heartbeat law. By the time they take a pregnancy test and schedule a doctor’s appointment, they are likely to be beyond the date that an abortion would be legal.

More than a dozen states have put these laws before their legislatures, even though they are flatly unconstitutional and illegal. Ohio, Mississippi and Kentucky have made them law; Georgia is soon to follow. Because they violate Roe v. Wade, none of these laws are actually in effect. But they are being litigated up the chain, wasting a plethora of resources on what should be settled law.


legalschnauzer said...

These abortion-rights challenges are expensive, but the GOP doesn't care. Alabama taxpayers should care, but they apparently don't:

Last time Alabama lost an abortion case, it paid the American Civil Liberties Union enough money for 33 classroom teachers. Or 41 state troopers. Or 50 prison guards.

Now Alabama is preparing to do it again, with legislators putting the state forward as the costly test case in the federal battle between conservatives and civil rights groups. Today the Alabama Senate is expected to vote on a new abortion bill.


Anonymous said...


Readers should play close attention to your comment @10:58, where the first paragraph notes it's been a rough year for abortion AND CONTRACEPTION. If the fundies get their way on abortion, they will be coming after birth control next. Count on it. This stuff is even more scary than most people realize.

Anonymous said...

Alyssa Milano is right. Women should go on a sex strike to protest these "fetal heartbeat" bills.

legalschnauzer said...

@12:24 --

Strongly agree. Many in the public might not know, or have forgottten, that a birth-control case (Griswold v. Connecticut) paved the way for Roe v. Wade. Griswold is where SCOTUS found the martial-privacy right that it used as the basis for Roe. So, yes, abortion rights and contraceptive rights are very much tied together.

Anonymous said...

Just wondering: is Gov. Kay Ivey also a member of the Federalist Society? They do seem to attract ultraconservative gay folks. Or do they not allow women to join?

Anonymous said...

LS -- Important point @10:58. These heartbeat bills are illegal. Shows fundies don't care about rule of law.

legalschnauzer said...

Alabama Senate approves abortion bill on 25-6 vote. Now, goes to Gov. Kay Ivey:


After several hours of contentious debate, the Alabama Senate tonight voted 25-6 to pass what many say will be the strictest abortion ban in the nation. The controversial abortion bill all but bans the procedure in the state. The bill would make it abortion a felony in Alabama, setting up what could be the country’s strictest anti-abortion law. A similar measure has already passed the Republican-controlled House but controversy erupted last week in the Senate after an attempt to add amendments that would allowed exceptions for victims of rape or incest. Another attempt to add rape and incest exceptions today also failed and led to a filibuster attempt. Proponents of the measure pushed for a “clean bill” without amendments in order to clear the way towards a legal fight in the U.S. Supreme Court and a review of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Complete coverage of the abortion debate can be found here: https://topics.al.com/tag/abortion/index.html

e.a.f. said...

what a bunch of un educated ignorant hicks. lets hope it stays confined to the south.

why these men want to control women's bodies is beyond me. they don't even control themselves because in case those guys haven't figured it out, males are the cause of pregnancy. that egg is just fine until some male sperm comes along and fertilizes it. Now my suggestion is a law be created to prevent males from impregnating females. that ought to deal with the un wanted pregnancy issue.

Didn't know the Alabama senate was full of Taliban members. well only the Taliban is serious about controlling women's bodies to such a degree. As the female politician in Alabama said, get out of her womb.

these republican males are always talking about less government interference, yet they want to tell women what they can do with their bodies. perhaps women ought to tell those guys what to do with theirs. they can all line up for a major snip job.