The 'fetal heartbeat' that defines Texas' new abortion laws doesn't exist, say doctors

On May 21, 2019, protesters against restrictions on abortion gathered at Texas State Capitol. Eric Gay/AP
Texas's new, draconian abortion ban hinges on the time that a fetal beat forms -- at six weeks.

Doctors say that a heartbeat is not present after 6 weeks.

Six-week-old fetus does not have a heart, so the sound of the machine thumping is the result.

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Texas has recently passed new laws that prohibit abortions after six weeks. This is the time when a "fetal beat" appears and most people are aware they are pregnant.

Doctors are now claiming that the "fetal pulse" is not a valid medical point in fetal development. This casts doubt on the Fetal Heartbeat Bill's credibility.

The opening and closing of heart valves causes human heartbeats to produce thumpthump sounds.

NPR spoke with Dr. Nisha verma, an OB/GYN who specializes on abortion care and works at American College of Obstetricians and Gynologists. She said that the heartbeat is not present in 6-week-old fetuses.

She stated that at six weeks gestation those valves didn't exist.

These valves take between 9-10 weeks to form.

"The ultrasound shows that the flickering we see is electrical activity. The sound you hear is actually produced by the ultrasound machine. Dr. Verma also added.

NPR was also informed by Dr. Jennifer Kerns who is an OB-GYN, and associate professor at University of California, San Francisco. She said that the noise is not a sign of a functioning heart or functional cardiovascular system.

Dr. Kerns said that doctors use this term to simplify complex medical discussions with patients. It is similar to the term "tummy ache", rather than "gastroenteritis" or "dizzy spell", and should not be used for making laws.

The correct term is also an embryo at six weeks after conception.

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Kern explained to NPR that "fetus", while it may be appealing, may not have the same appeal as "embryo". Kern said that "fetus certainly conjures images of a well formed baby so it's beneficial to use that term rather than "embryo". "It may not be as easy to feel strongly about because embryos don’t look like babies, so that may not be as easy for people to feel strongly about," Kern says. These terms have been deliberately used in these laws - they are misleading."

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a number of laws have been created to restrict abortion access based on the false notion that a fetal beat is a real possibility. However, the Texas law is the most recent to take effect.

Anyone who legally needs an abortion in Texas must drive more than 200 miles.

Data shows that abortion bans, as Texas's new law is, do not prevent abortions. They are just legal and safe. Amnesty International states.

A Guttmacher Institute study found that abortion rates in countries that ban abortions are actually higher.

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