Stacey Abrams’s latest conspiracy theory is about unborn babies' hearts
Stacey Abrams’s latest conspiracy theory is about unborn babies' hearts

Stacey Abrams has just said something that was absolutely insane. It’s possible she misspoke — the media is already running cover for her . But they shouldn’t, because beneath her wild conspiracy theory are other false assertions and bad science.

Let’s peel this onion, layer by nutty layer.

First, there’s the face-value conspiracy theory:

Taken literally, she is saying that ultrasound machines were designed to deceive patients by people who wanted to “convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body.”

One is tempted to add the “without evidence” to her assertion, but it’s too unhinged a statement even to warrant that epithet. No sane person believes that General Electric and Siemens designed their ultrasound machines in order to subjugate women.

It’s possible that she misspoke. This was a panel, after all, and maybe she meant that the ultrasound doesn’t pick up the "thump-thump" sound of a heartbeat (which is true but irrelevant) or the very notion fetal heartbeat was “designed” to subjugate women (which would also be false).

So let’s consider that second claim by looking at sources outside the pro-life movement. Searching medical journals, you find plenty of references to a fetal heartbeat, even at six weeks. A 2011 article in the Journal of Prenatal Medicinenoted : “At the end of the fourth week of gestation, the heartbeats of the embryo begin.”

The authors, obstetricians in Italy, continued, “The heart, whose development starts at the 3rd week of gestation, has rapid and irregular contractions capable of pumping the blood inside the vessels.” Journal articles with statements like this are everywhere.

Here’s a 2009 journal article about “the normal range of embryonic heart rate and fetal heart rate at six to 11 weeks of gestation.” Would Abrams argue that a six-week in-utero baby has a “heart rate” but no “heartbeat?" That would be quite an assertion. Or would she say this journal article, whose primary author is a Polish doctor specializing in fetal cardiology, is in on the conspiracy to control women’s bodies?

So that dismantles the claims that a “fetal heartbeat” is some sort of misogynistic trick to oppress women. "Fetal heartbeat" or "embryonic heartbeat" are common medical descriptions of something that doctors and scientists all over the world have written to describe.

The next possible defense of Abrams is that even if the phrase "fetal heartbeat" isn't just a conspiracy to oppress women, it's still somehow a misnomer. But this is also wrong. We can show that by establishing there is a fetal heart at six weeks and that it beats.

The fact that unborn babies have hearts at six weeks is not really up for debate. Again, check that article from the Journal of Prenatal Medicine, which states that the heart’s “development starts at the third week of gestation.”

This Atlantic article , which tried to claim something similar to what Abrams said, had to run a massive correction that began thus: This article originally stated that there is ‘no heart to speak of’ in a six-week-old fetus. In fact, the heart has already begun to form by that point in a pregnancy.” So yes, the baby at six weeks has a heart.

Does it beat? Well, it contracts, pumping blood. Recall that, "at the end of the fourth week," the heart "has rapid and irregular contractions capable of pumping the blood inside the vessels." And that’s what a heartbeat is.

The next layer down in this Abrams conspiracy theory onion is the claim that the sound of the heartbeat is “manufactured.” That’s not wrong so much as it is meaningless. Abrams could say that a transvaginal ultrasound isn’t recording the sound of the heartbeat, but that’s not quite true either. The only thing an "ultrasound" records is sound, echoing off of tissue — hence the name.

But Abrams could change that to say that the heartbeat isn’t audible — which would be totally meaningless. The heartbeat of a tiny baby inside amniotic fluid, inside a womb, inside a woman’s torso isn’t really audible to the human ear. But that’s a million miles from what Stacey Abrams is claiming. It shouldn't be too surprising that her election denialism goes hand in hand with other conspiracy theories.

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