Politics & Policy

Heartbeat-Bill Opponents Reveal Their Own Incoherence

Pro-choice demonstrators in London, Britain, May 11, 2019 (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)
Abortion-rights activists want to dismiss the heartbeat of an unborn child as ‘fetal pole cardiac activity.‘

It is difficult to find anyone willing to defend the right to end innocent human life.

This is something we should celebrate. Human beings tend to have an instinctive aversion to harming the innocent. Society stigmatizes those who would openly advocate the right of the strong to subjugate the weak merely because they have the power to do so.

This natural human tendency to abhor injustice and oppression explains why the arguments in favor of abortion rights become increasingly inane with every passing day.

Abortion intentionally terminates the life of a human being residing within his or her mother. This is a fact that can be concealed only with word games. It is not an article of faith imposed on believers by religious groups. It is not a fiction invented by misogynists who want to control women’s bodies. It is a medical reality, available to anyone willing to use their rational faculties to comprehend the mechanics of human reproduction and abortion.

The politicians and activists defending and promoting abortion rights are in essence claiming that women ought to have the right to terminate the life of a distinct human being. There are comprehensible, varyingly defensible ethical arguments for why women should have this right, arguments that privilege the woman’s right to bodily autonomy over the right to life of the developing human being inside her.

Those are not the arguments we’re hearing. As a number of Republican state legislatures advance bills to regulate abortion earlier in pregnancy, abortion-rights supporters are deploying a wide array of ignorant, incoherent, and inaccurate arguments in service of the idea that the abortion debate is a mere matter of women’s health care — that it has nothing to do with whether the government should allow some people to end the lives of some others.

Just last week, CNN contributor Christine Quinn asserted, “When a woman is pregnant, that is not a human being inside of her. It is a part of the mother.” Quinn managed to avoid giving an explanation of how a being with distinct human DNA is anything other than a human being or how a being inside the mother is in fact a part of the mother.

Shortly thereafter, in the wake of Georgia governor Brian Kemp’s signing of a heartbeat bill — which prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at about six weeks’ gestation — opponents of the law allowed us a glimpse inside the twisted ways they craft their nonsensical methods of denying that abortion kills.

“‘Heartbeat’ Bills Get the Science of Fetal Heartbeats All Wrong” was the title of an article published on Monday in Wired, the scare quotes around “heartbeat” a helpful hint as to what author Adam Rogers will be up to in the piece. Here’s what he has to say at the start of his report:

These bills generally say that a “fetal heartbeat” helps predict whether a pregnancy will result in a living baby; the model legislation many states use refers to that fetal cardiac activity as a marker of “an unborn human individual,” defining a moment where alive-ness starts. And, yes, it’s true that detection of cardiac rhythm is a marker for the health of a pregnancy and a good sign that it’ll continue — that, if everything works out, it’ll result in the birth of a living baby.

Rogers carefully uses the term “a pregnancy” to ensure that no one might suspect we’re considering the “cardiac activity” of an individual human being. “You have to note the use of the phrase ‘unborn human individual,’” he cautions a moment later. “This part of the debate over abortion depends on whether you think a 3- to 4-millimeter-long, partially organized blob of cells is a human individual or not.”

Evidently this intrepid science reporter isn’t terribly impressed by the biological reality that this “3- to 4-millimeter-long, partially organized blob of cells” has its own human DNA, entirely distinct from its mother, its father, and, indeed, every other human being in the course of human history. Rogers goes on to quote a variety of apparent medical experts, explaining why fetal heartbeats aren’t really that at all:

“At six weeks, the embryo is forming what will eventually develop into mature systems. There’s an immature neurological system, and there’s a very immature cardiovascular system,” says Jennifer Kerns, an ob-gyn at UC San Francisco and director of research in obstetrics and gynecology at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. The rhythm specified in the six-week abortion bans, she says, “is a group of cells with electrical activity. That’s what the heartbeat is at that stage of gestation. . . . We are in no way talking about any kind of cardiovascular system.” . . .

As the ob-gyn Jen Gunter wrote three years ago, this is, more technically, “fetal pole cardiac activity.” It’s a cluster of pulsing cells. “In the mouse embryo, for example, there is a definite cardiac rhythm in the tiny, little, immature heart at 8.5 days of development, but it is certainly not enough to support viability,” says Janet Rossant, senior scientist and chief of research emeritus at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. “It is just helping to encourage the development of an organized vasculature and circulatory system — a prerequisite for future viability but not sufficient alone.”

Rogers never bothers to explain why a mouse embryo is relevant to the discussion of human heartbeats, nor does he disclose that Gunter is a virulent abortion-rights activist and one of just a few ob-gyns in the country who will perform abortions well past the point of fetal viability.

Feminist actress and abortion-rights advocate Alyssa Milano, though, was convinced by Gunter’s advocacy, demanding that the press refer to heartbeat bills as “fetal pole cardiac activity” bills. This is to be expected. It is much more difficult, after all, to affirm that abortion ends a human life and defend this particular form of killing on those terms than it is to dismiss a fetus as inhuman, a clump of cells, or a parasite within the mother.

Under the guise of being the real champions of science, they reduce a human heartbeat to utter meaninglessness. To avoid defending abortion for what it is, they resort to blatant dehumanization of living human beings. Heartbeat bills such as Georgia’s won’t survive legal challenge, but their chief success is in exposing the abortion-rights movement as being deeply anti-science.


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