Guest Column

Why the term ‘heartbeat’ is reasonable to use when it comes to abortion laws

embryonic heart circulatory system drawing

(National Review) In recent years, supporters of abortion have decided that it is politically inconvenient to continue using the term “heartbeat” in reference to unborn children at an early stage of development and have thus tried, with some success, to foist a change in the language on the rest of us. Here is New York Times reporter Elizabeth Dias talking about what are colloquially called “heartbeat bills” that ban abortion after six weeks’ gestation:

It’s important to note, though, that this was a powerful messaging tactic and that embryos don’t have fully developed hearts that early in a pregnancy. Most experts actually describe what is detected at this point as an electric pulse from a primitive tube of cardiac cells.

In previous installments of this campaign, Times reporters have lamented that even doctors use the h-word (“the word has even crept into the medical literature”). The Times itself used to have no compunction about using the word, which appeared as recently as 2021 in reference to the early stages of pregnancy in (deliciously) a Linda Greenhouse column. I’m sure she’ll have mastered the new messaging tactic the next time this comes up — just as Planned Parenthood has adjusted its own word choice.

Here, by contrast, is Jörg Männer, writing in 2022 in the Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease:

The term “heartbeat” is used to describe “the regular movement that the heart makes as it sends blood around your body”. . . . With regard to the embryonic heart, we should not speak of a beating heart before coordinated regular movements of its walls generate a unidirectional fluid flow within the vascular network of the embryonic cardiovascular system. In human embryos this functional state seems to be reached during CS-10 [Carnegie Stage 10].

The author goes on to review the literature, concluding that CS-10 can begin as early as the fifth and as late as the seventh week of gestation. The term “heartbeat bill” thus has a reasonable basis in science.

The moral significance of heartbeats in the early stages of human development is something we can debate. People should not let appeals to a supposed expert consensus intimidate them out of using the normal term for them.

Editor’s Note: This article was published at National Review and is reprinted here with permission.

The DOJ put a pro-life grandmother in jail for protesting the killing of preborn children. Please take 30-seconds to TELL CONGRESS: STOP THE DOJ FROM TARGETING PRO-LIFE AMERICANS.

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