Saturday, June 29, 2019

In One Month: Democrats for Life of America Conference

Many of you know that Secular Pro-Life is led by a trio of atheist women: Monica, the conservative; Kelsey, the moderate; and Terrisa, the liberal San Francisco vegan who Fox News warned you about. (We love you, Terrisa!) So who better than Terrisa to represent the secular point of view at the Democrats for Life of America conference?

Secular Pro-Life co-leader Terrisa Bukovinac
The conference will take place July 26-28 in Lansing, Michigan, where Terrisa will share the stage with dozens of incredible speakersincluding pro-life Democratic officeholders, a former abortionist, an immigrant rights attorney, and more. Check out the fantastic agenda and speaker list.

As the abortion industry pushes the Democratic Party to further extremes, alienating rank-and-file Democrats, this conference is sorely needed. Tickets are available here. We hope to see you soon!

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Recap: 2019 Pro-Life Women's Conference

The fourth annual Pro-Life Women's Conference gathered 800 passionate advocates together in New Orleans, and what a weekend it was. This blog post will only capture a fraction of the amazing presentations, projects, and camaraderie. (Be sure to check out our photo album too!) I left feeling so enthusiastic about helping moms, saving babies, and defeating the exploitative abortion industry.

On Friday, we joined a pre-conference coffeehouse meetup organized by New Wave Feminists; they shared their plans to start local chapters and engage in new charitable projects, like delivering supplies to immigrant shelters in Texas and offering new clothes to rape survivors whose clothing is confiscated as evidence. The conference kicked off that evening with dinner and a speech by Michele Sterlace-Accorci of Feminists Choosing Life of New York, who provided an excellent introduction to Erika Bachiochi's pro-life feminist scholarship.

Saturday brought many worthwhile presentations. A panel of physicians spoke on women's health issues. Interestingly, abortion was not their primary focus; for this audience, the risks of abortion are well-known. Instead, they spoke about how modern medicine has largely failed to take women's menstrual symptoms seriously, find root causes, and treat them appropriately. Pro-life women's health groups have an opportunity to do better and build trust with patients, giving them holistic care at every stage of their lives.

A panel on abortion regret and healing featured Christian women who are working within their faith traditions to improve churches' responses to pregnancy outside of marriage. One woman explained that she aborted—twice—after seeing her congregation act judgmentally toward another unwed pregnant woman. Another shared that her mother pressured her into an abortion in the interest of avoiding embarrassment at church. These attitudes must change if we are going to achieve an abortion-free society.

At the Secular Pro-Life exhibit booth, we recruited over 60 volunteers for the launch of a new project (stay tuned!) and had countless delightful conversations. One Catholic woman told us that her favorite response to the "keep your rosaries off my ovaries" nonsense is to say "Ewwww, I don't want to get my rosaries dirty!" I can't recommend that as part of a productive dialogue, but I appreciated her sense of humor!

My favorite presentation on Sunday came from Morgan Hill of the National Safe Haven Alliance. When she was a newborn, she was abandoned in a dumpster and left for dead. Thankfully, she was discovered and given necessary medical care. She is now an advocate for Safe Haven laws, which allow scared mothers to drop off their unharmed newborns at fire stations and hospitals, no questions asked. Every U.S. state has a Safe Haven law, and over 4,000 babies have been safely surrendered. The National Safe Haven Alliance operates a hotline (1-888-510-BABY) that supports mothers in crisis; they focus on finding other solutions, such as parenting, temporary care programs, and adoption, and offer Safe Haven as the last resort. One woman called the hotline after scheduling a late-term abortion. After she was reassured that the Safe Haven law would allow her to remain anonymous, she cancelled the appointment and gave her baby life!

Former Planned Parenthood manager Abby Johnson closed out the conference with a call for pro-life organizations to begin the task of societal reform within their own houses, by ensuring that their staff have paid parental leave. Planned Parenthood is notoriously bad at this, and we must lead by example. In Abby's words: "We can't afford NOT to do it." Abby also cited the conference's ASL interpreters and other accessibility measures as leading by example.

If you're sad you missed out on this year's conference, I have good news for you! Tickets are already available for the 2020 Pro-Life Women's Conference, to be held in Indianapolis.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Baby Chris is 13 Weeks Old

[This is part 14 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

Thirteen weeks after conception (15 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is about the size of an apple and weighs two and a half ounces.

Photo by Alicia Petresc on Unsplash
According to the American Pregnancy Association, at 15 weeks, the baby's skin "is very thin, and the blood vessels can actually be seen through the skin." Also this week, the "ears are continuing to develop externally and look more recognizable," while the eyes "are moving towards the nose from the sides of the head. The baby’s bones are beginning to ossify, meaning that if an x-ray is taken, the skeleton would be visible. Babies at this age have also been seen sucking their thumbs on ultrasound pictures."

Baby Chris's existence may become apparent to the outside world at this time. Every mother is different, but it's common for the "baby bump" to appear between 12 and 16 weeks.

Baby Chris has an obvious human appearance, which likely contributes to massive public opposition to abortion at this stage of pregnancy. Unfortunately, laws to restore the right to life for babies in the second trimester have been enjoined by the courts and will not go into effect until the Supreme Court has the courage to directly revisit Roe v. Wade.

Download the free See Baby app to learn more about life in the womb!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Advice Column: Dealing with Online Bullies

Today's advice-seeker wants your two cents on the nightmare that is social media. Here is her question (which has been edited for length and to omit personally identifying details):
For the last several years I've been sympathetic to the pro-life position, supportive of really early gestational limits (e.g. 10 weeks) and disliked the vilification of pro-lifers, but I wasn't politically anti-abortion. However, I am now leaning towards a politically anti-abortion position. 
One thing that is really making it hard for me to be open about this position, and I realize this sounds cowardly, is fear of people's opinions. 
This fear does not arise from nowhere. In debates on far less divisive topics, like education policy, I've been called a c***, Nazi b****, "in love with Trump" (I supported McMullin), etc. The attacks come from both sides of the political spectrum. It got so bad, I deleted facebook.
How do you recommend being open about one's views and dealing with potential negative comments?
Our response:
I wish I had the solution to this, but I do not. Abortion supporters bully pro-lifers on the internet because it's effective. By demoralizing those who would defend babies, the defenses are often weakened. It's the human condition, and beating yourself up for "cowardice" isn't going to make you any more confident. I can only offer two pieces of advice.
First, don't debate with the goal of persuading the bullies. Their minds are closed. Instead, keep the spectators at the top of your mind. When on-the-fence people see you, a pro-life person, advocating your position with compassion and reason while your opponents froth at the mouth, that can have a huge impact. 
Second, remember that it's okay to take a break. You can't help anyone if you're burned out. Walking away from facebook sounds like it was the right call. If you aren't up for a debate, double down on your charitable endeavors instead. I've made a practice of donating a box of diapers to a pregnancy care center after a stressful, self-pitying day. When you help others, you can't help helping yourself -- and don't give a second thought to whether the trolls notice you volunteering. You could single-handedly eliminate world hunger and they'd still support abortion. Keep your focus where it belongs: on women and babies in need. 
Readers, what can you add?

Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Monday, June 17, 2019

Baby Chris is Twelve Weeks Old

[This is part 13 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

One-third of this pregnancy is over! Baby Chris has entered the second trimester, and this week, his or her weight has increased about 58%. He or she is now about the size of a lemon.

The bladder is developing smooth muscle cells, the taste buds are maturing, and the arms have lengthened. Fingernails and toenails are forming. Baby Chris's nervous system is sensitive enough to respond to light touch in most places. Baby Chris can squint, frown, grimace, suck, and chew.

Follow Baby Chris's journey to birth by downloading the free See Baby app on your devices!

Friday, June 14, 2019

In One Week: Pro-Life Women's Conference

The fourth annual Pro-Life Women's Conference will take place next weekend, from Friday, June 21 through Sunday, June 23, in New Orleans!

This year's theme is "When Women Lead," and it will feature presentations by female physicians, activists, attorneys, and more. As always, it's family-friendly and there will be opportunities for enrichment through art, self-care, and general pro-life feminist awesomeness. New this year: ASL interpreters, a fashion show, and awards!

Secular Pro-Life is once again proud to sponsor this amazing event. Come by our exhibit booth and participate in the soft launch of our new project! (If you can't make it, don't worry; we'll have a wider launch later this summer.)

Still on the fence? Check out what happened at the first, second, and third conferences, and you'll be convinced to register.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Are Human Embryos Human Beings from the Beginning?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Pro-choice advocates will insist that the human embryo doesn't become a human being until birth or at least sometime late in pregnancy. Pro-life people generally agree with the scientific consensus that human life begins at fertilization; once the ovum cell is fertilized by the sperm cell, a new, genetically distinct human organism comes into existence. But I sometimes come across pro-life advocates who believe human life begins at implantation or around that time, not at fertilization.

As an example, Don Marquis, famous for his essay "Why Abortion is Immoral", believes the view that human life begins at fertilization to have serious problems ("Abortion and the Beginning and End of Human Life", Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics 34 (1): 16-25 (2006)). His view of personal identity is animalism (aka the biological view of personal identity), which Eric T. Olson argues convincingly for in his books and articles. But Olson, despite believing we are essentially animals and are identical to the embryo as long as we are biologically continuous with it (in other words, as
long as the embryo develops into me in a continuous fashion), does not believe we are identical to the embryo at the single-cell zygote stage for this reason: he believes human beings become individuals after the potential for twinning is lost. Olson writes:
According to the Biological View, I started out as an embryo. Does that mean that I came into existence at the moment of conception? Not necessarily. The Biological View implies that I came into being whenever this human organism did. But it is unlikely that this human organism came into being at conception -- that is, that it started out as a fertilized egg. When a fertilized egg cleaves into two, then four, then eight cells, it does not appear to become a multicellular organism -- any more than an amoeba comes to be a multicellular organism when it divides. The resulting cells adhere only loosely, and their growth and other activities are not, at first anyway, coordinated in a way that would make them parts of a multicellular organism. The embryological facts suggest that a human organism comes into being around sixteen days after fertilization. (Eric T. Olson, "Was I Ever a Fetus?", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 57 (1), 95-110, 1997)
Pro-choice philosopher Peter Singer and embryologist Karen Dawson, in an attempt to argue embryonic stem cell research should be pursued, argue an embryo created in a lab is not a human being because it lacks the potential to grow into an older human being on its own. An embryo in a petri dish can survive for about five days and then it will die if not implanted into a uterus. They write,
But can the familiar claims about the potential of the embryo in the uterus be applied to the embryo in culture in the laboratory? Or does the new technology lead to an embryo with a different potential from that of embryos made in the old way? Asking this question leads us to probe the meaning of the term 'potential'...While the notion of potential may be relatively clear in the context of a naturally occurring process such as the development of an embryo inside a female body, this notion becomes far more problematic when it is extended to a laboratory situation, in which everything depends on our knowledge and skills, and on what we decide to do. This line of argument will lead us to the conclusion that there is no coherent notion of potential which allows the argument from potential to be applied to embryos in laboratories in the way in which those who invoke the argument are seeking to apply it. (Peter Singer and Karen Dawson, "IVF Technology and the Argument from Potential"in Embryo Experimentation: Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues, ed. Peter Singer, et al (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 76-77, as quoted in J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics, (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2000) p. 270)
Still other people, even some pro-life advocates I've talked with, believe that we shouldn't consider an embryo at fertilization a human being because it can grow into things which aren't humans, such as an empty sack or a tumor.

All three of these arguments are seriously flawed and reflect a faulty understanding of how human development works. I'll briefly reply to each argument in turn below.


Olson believes that the embryo at its earliest stages is not an organism, but rather the organism exists as a unified whole at around sixteen days after fertilization. Now despite the fact that all embryology textbooks place the start of the organism at fertilization and not at any point after that, occasionally you'll still have people arguing that it's not an organized individual until after that point. Olson is simply wrong when he says that the embryological facts suggest that a human organism comes into being around sixteen days after fertilization because the entire field of embryology would disagree with him.

He compares the early embryo to an amoeba; as an amoeba does not become a multicellular organism when it divides, neither does the early embryo. But here, Olson is making the same kind of elementary mistake that a pro-choice advocate makes when they assert that sperm and ovum cells are alive but we don't grant them a right to life, so the embryo doesn't have a right to life. Olson is confusing the parts of the embryo (the cells) with the whole embryo, itself. An amoeba, by definition, is a unicellular being. So when it divides it only divides into other unicellular beings. And of course, some early embryos have the potential to split when they become twins, and two individuals will exist instead of just one as was the case before the split. So twinning is more comparable to the amoeba splitting. The cells of the embryo dividing are not comparable to the amoeba splitting because these are the cells of the embryo which are dividing while the embryo remains the same kind of thing it has been since day one -- a human embryo, whose cells divide because it is in the nature of human beings to grow and develop.

Olson's other point is that the cells of the embryo are not coordinated in a way that would make them parts of a multicellular organism but only loosely adhere to each other. This is a fairly common claim you hear but it's simply wrong. Olson is misrepresenting the facts of embryology here. Developmental biologist Michael Buratovich addresses this argument. He writes,
The embryo...prepares for future events. For example, at the two-cell stage, the blastomeres synthesize a cell adhesion protein called E-cadherin. E-cadherin acts like cellular superglue, and the two-cell stage embryo makes it in anticipation of compaction, which occurs two days later. (Michael Buratovich, The Stem Cell Epistles: Letters to My Students About Bioethics, Embryos, Stem Cells, and Fertility Treatments, (Cascade Books, Eugene, OR, 2013), p. 58.)
He also shows, referencing philosophers Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, that this idea of Olson's ignores the goal-directed behaviors of the embryo. There are at least three goals of the embryo: get to the uterus and implant, form the structures necessary for successful implantation, and preserve its structure against the many hazards it might encounter. (Buratovich, ibid.) So the early embryo is still a coordinated whole organism, even at the very early stages of development. Olson is mistaken about the facts of embryology.

Singer and Dawson

Singer and Dawson (hereafter SD) argue that because the embryo conceived in a laboratory is completely dependent upon what we do to it, on our knowledge and skills, this means that the potential of an embryo created in a lab is wholly different from an embryo conceived naturally. But this dubious conclusion they draw from the unique circumstances of the conception of an embryo created in a lab relies on a faulty understanding of potential.

It should be quite obvious that SD's argument is simply a more sophisticated version of the viability argument. The argument is essentially because an embryo is not viable in a petri dish in a lab, creating an embryo in a lab means that it does not have the same kinds of potential as one who is conceived naturally and relies on the natural processes of the mother's body. But this shows no such thing. As happens quite often, embryos created in a lab can be implanted into a woman's uterus and then will continue to develop normally, as if they had been conceived naturally in the woman's Fallopian tube. This shows clearly that the embryo created in the lab has the same kinds of potentialities that an embryo conceived naturally does. It just will not continue to develop because it is not in an environment in which it can survive. An astronaut on a spacewalk or a deep sea diver swimming in the depths of the ocean are both completely dependent on our knowledge and skills to survive, on the technology they use to survive in those harsh environments. But this certainly wouldn't justify a view that because they are now in environments in which they can't ordinarily survive they suddenly have lost the potentialities that other human beings their age possess. In fact, it would be absurd to make that argument. Embryos created in a lab have the same potentialities because they are the same kind of entities -- human beings.


The final argument I will address is the argument that human life doesn't begin at fertilization because the embryo can simply grow into an empty sac, or some other kind of entity like a hydatidiform mole. But this argument doesn't work, either. Whatever is human is human from the very beginning. It's not the case that a human embryo will develop into an empty sac or a mole. If the entity in the womb is an empty sac or a mole, then it was always an empty sac or a mole. We just weren't able to detect what it was yet. Even so, an embryo is an embryo from the very beginning, even if we can't know for sure that it's an embryo until later on, when the pregnancy can be detected.

Maureen Condic explains it like this, is important to appreciate that simply because two living entities share some common elements or overlap in a sequence of biochemical events, they are not necessarily the same kind of entity.
Distinct biological entities that share some initial molecular events are similar to two musical works that begin with the same notes...For example, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "The alphabet song" are identical until the fourth measure, yet they are distinct (albeit, very similar) songs. While listening to a CD recording, it would be impossible to determine which work is being performed until the first distinguishing note is heard, yet once this point is past, all prior notes provide clear evidence that a particular song was indeed recorded on the CD and was being played out from the first note. The CD does not begin playing random notes that resolve into a specific song, nor does it begin with one song and later "transform" into the other, nor does it begin playing "both" or "neither" song until the first distinguishing note is produced. From the beginning, it plays the single, specific song that is recorded on the CD. Indeed, prior to the CD being played, a sufficiently detailed examination of the recording (for example, analyzing the data encoded on the disc using a scanning probe atomic force microscope) would determine the precise song it contains without any ambiguity. (Maureen L. Condic, "A Biological Definition of the Human Embryo" in Persons, Moral Worth, and Embryos: A Critical Analysis of Pro-Choice Arguments, ed. Stephen Napier, (Springer Publishing, Philadelphia, PA, 2011), p. 216, emphases in original)
It's just simply not the case that the embryo will develop into something non-human later on. A human embryo exists from the beginning, even if we don't have the ability to tell what it is from that point.

These are not the only arguments I've seen for why life doesn't begin at fertilization, at least in some cases, but instead at implantation (or sometime near). But these are, I think, three of the most persuasive arguments for the position. As I have shown here, each of the arguments rely on fundamental misunderstandings of some element of human development, whether it's the biological aspects or the philosophical aspects. Once those misunderstandings are resolved, it remains clear that human life does indeed begin at fertilization.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Baby Chris is Eleven Weeks Old

[This is part 12 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

Eleven weeks after conception (13 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is about three inches long. It's been a busy week for the development of facial features. The tiny nose and lips have formed, allowing Baby Chris to make complex facial expressions.

Although Baby Chris continues to receive most nutrients via the umbilical cord, he or she also swallows amniotic fluid, from which the digestive system can successfully extract water and glucose.

Close-up of an 11-week-old's hand, via the Endowment for Human Development

This is the final week of Baby Chris's first trimester. Only 28% of Americans believe that abortion should be allowed after this point. Unfortunately, the consensus in favor of protecting babies in the second and third trimester cannot be implemented until Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey are overturned.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion, 11.3% of abortions in the United States occur after the first trimester. In 2017, when there were approximately 879,000 abortions in the United States, we can estimate that 99,327 second- and third-trimester babies were killed.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Pro-choice articles euphemizing "heartbeat."

Definitions of "heartbeat."
To my knowledge there's no unifying authoritative definition of "heartbeat." Embryology textbooks do use the term. For example:
"Blood flow begins during the fourth week, and heartbeats can be visualized by Doppler ultrasonography." - The Developing Human, Moore et al, 10th Edition (2013) 
"The heartbeat is initiated around the twenty-first day, and its continual beating is required for normal heart development." - Larsen's Human Embryology, Schoenwolf et al, 5th Edition (2015) 
But in neither case do they explicitly define the word "heartbeat." Merriam Webster defines the term as "one complete pulsation of the heart." Mosby's Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professions (9th Edition) defines "heartbeat" as "a complete cycle of cardiac muscle contraction and relaxation." By these definitions the embryo does have a heartbeat from approximately 3-4 weeks postfertilization/5-6 weeks LMP onward.

The embryonic heart.
As we explained in more detail here, by 4 weeks postfertilization/6 weeks LMP, the embryo's heart is beating as it uses coordinated muscle contractions to unidirectionally pump blood, exchanging well-oxygenated blood from the chorionic sac with poorly oxygenated blood from the embryo's body via multiple paired veins. The heart has also started partitioning into four chambers (atria and ventricles), which are observable by 5 weeks postfertilization/7 weeks LMP.

All of this information is taken directly from the embryology textbook The Developing Human by Moore et al, 10th Edition, 2013. Keep these facts in mind as you read the descriptions below.

(Click to enlarge.)

Vague and evasive articles.
A number of outlets have run articles quoting pro-choice medical professionals making at best misleading and at worst flatly false claims about the embryonic heart. As we go over these articles, please notice the following themes:

1) None of these articles specifically define "heartbeat." Most just describe the embryonic heart in markedly vague terms and then declare its activity doesn't qualify as a heartbeat without explaining why not.

2) Nearly all the articles quote medical professionals directly working for or affiliated with abortion rights advocacy groups, but generally the articles omit mention of these affiliations (the exception being Jezebel, which is refreshingly upfront).

Anti-Abortion Extremists Are Controlling the Narrative on 'Heartbeat Bills' Jezebel, 6/5/19
  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat."
  • The author references the Guardian article listed below.
  • Dr. Catherine Romanos, family physician and abortion provider: Calling the embryo's cardiac flutter a "heartbeat," she said, is tantamount to pseudoscience--and capitulation to the efforts of Republicans and anti-abortion activists who have forced their language into the mainstream.

Doctors' organization: calling abortion bans 'fetal heartbeat bills' is misleading, The Guardian, 6/5/19
  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat."
  • Dr. Ted Anderson, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), states "What is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops."
  • Author Jessica Glenza states "Instead of using 'fetal heartbeat bills', as the laws are often called by anti-abortion campaigners, the Guardian will make 'six-week abortion ban' the preferred term for the laws, unless quoting someone, in order to better reflect the practical effect of the laws."
    • Glenza is either unaware of or neglects to mention the fact that so far nearly all of the legislation outlaws abortion not at a specific gestational age but when a heartbeat is detectable. (See the text of the bills for Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio.) 
    • Currently, only Missouri's heartbeat legislation outlaws abortion based on gestational age: the bill states no abortion shall be performed at 8 weeks or later.
    • It's unclear, then, why "six week abortion ban" would better reflect the laws than "fetal heartbeat bills."

Dear News Media: It's not a heartbeat when there is no heart, Medium, 5/28/19
  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat."
  • Author Kathy Gill: "At four weeks after conception, an embryo has no heart."
  • Gill references the LiveScience and Wired articles listed below.
  • Gill implies there's no heartbeat until the 20th week: "It takes muscle to generate a heartbeat. British researchers reported in February that the fetal heart 'does not have fully organized muscle tissue until the 20th week.'"

Embryos Don't Have Hearts, The Cut, 5/24/19
  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat." although OBGYN Sarah Horvath (also of ACOG) implies a colloquial understanding - the "lub dub":
    • Horvath: "The characteristic 'lub-dub' of the heart is created by the valves in a four-chambered heart opening and closing." 
    • This definition wouldn't exclude the embryonic heart. As early as the 4th and 5th week (postfertilization) valves control the blood flow into and through the heart (Moore et al, Figures 13-10 & 13-11).
    • The article neglects to mention that ACOG is committed to increasing access to abortion
  • Author Katie Heaney: "Though pulsing cells can be detected in embryos as early as six weeks, this rhythm--detected by a doctor, via ultrasound--cannot be called a 'heartbeat,' because embryos don't have hearts."
  • OBGYN Robyn Schickler: What is detectable at or around 6 weeks can more accurately be called "cardiac activity." Essentially communication between a group of what will eventually become cardiac cells. 
    • This article at least states up front that Schickler is a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, although it doesn't mention the group's stance on abortion. On their website they talk about "anti-choice politicians" and explain that they "advocate for the right to access safe and affordable abortion care in our communities."
  • OBGYN Jennifer Kerns: "These are cells that are programmed with electrical activity, which will eventually control the heart rate--they send a signal telling the heart to contract, once there is a heart."

  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat," although author Rachael Rettner potentially implies a colloquial understanding:
    • Rettner:"The 'beat' isn't audible; if doctors put a stethoscope up to a woman's belly this early on in her pregnancy, they would not hear a heartbeat." So possibly she believes a heartbeat must be audible via stethoscope to count as a heartbeat?
    • But audio detection of heartbeat is imprecise. Even fetal Doppler (significantly more sensitive than a stethoscope) can't reliably detect heartbeat until 10 to 12 weeks according to WebMD.
    • Whether we can yet hear the heartbeat doesn't change whether the process that causes the sound--the heart's contractions as it pumps blood--is already happening.
  • Dr. Saima Aftab: At 6 weeks the ultrasound detects "a little flutter in the area that will become the future heart of the baby." She says this happens when a group of cells gain the capacity to fire electrical signals.

  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat."
  • Author Adam Rogers: "What the bills call a heartbeat--it's not that." "It's a cluster of pulsing cells."
  • OBGYN Sarah Horvath of ACOG: "Our ultrasound technology has gotten good enough to be able to detect electrical activity in a rudimentary group of cells." "Heartbeat" conjures an organ which expands and contracts, but a six-week embryo has yet to develop that structure.
  • OBGYN Jennifer Kerns: "[The rhythm specified in the bans] is a group of cells with electrical activity. ... We are in no way talking about any kind of cardiovascular system."

Euphemism list:
  • cardiac flutter - Jezebel
  • electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue - Guardian
  • pulsing cells - The Cut
  • cardiac activity - The Cut
  • what will eventually become cardiac cells - The Cut
  • cells programmed with electrical activity - The Cut
  • little flicker - The Cut
  • a little flutter - LiveScience
  • detection of cardiac rhythm - Wired
  • cluster of pulsing cells - Wired
  • fetal pole cardiac activity - Wired
  • electrical activity in a rudimentary group of cells - Wired
  • group of cells with electrical activity - Wired

Further Reading:

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

When we say "heartbeat" we don't mean "fetal pole cardiac activity." We mean "heartbeat."

Recently a FB follower shared this post to our page:

(Click to enlarge)
The text reads, in part:
This is what an embryo at 6 weeks looks like. There is no real heart beat because it’s heart isn’t nearly complete - they’re heart “vibrations” (vibrations are caused my cellular activity where the heart WILL be. Meaning, yes, the title of the “heartbeat bill” is misleading, purposely). There is no brain, meaning no pain receptors. It does not feel pain. This is what you’re stripping women’s right away for. I, your sisters, your mothers, aunts, friends - we all have beating hearts and brains. Our lives are more important than this. 
**Stop listening to pro life talking heads that use purposely emotional language to manipulate your view. They are not doctors or scientists.**
•This is not a “baby”. They use pictures of 6 month old babies to pull on your heart strings. This is an embryo. This is not “10 fingers, 10 toes” babbling cooing baby they’re trying to get you to imagine.

The post is certainly right that this image is not of a "baby." The image is actually from Etsy, described as "Baby Memorial/Honor Sculpture." The tiny figures pictured are clay sculptures which the seller says are "for those who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy during the first trimester and are searching for a tangible keepsake to honor their precious Angel." The Etsy page includes reviews from mothers describing how much it means to them to have a way to mark their grief and loss. How ironic that the OP uses art specifically meant to help people value and mourn prenatal life to instead deride those very viewpoints--and all while claiming to be representing science. It's kind of amazing.

Here's an image of an embryo around 6 weeks post-fertilization (or 8 weeks LMP - after the beginning of the last menstrual period) courtesy of The Bump:

As the prenatal website explains, "You may have your first prenatal appointment right around now. At this visit an ultrasound may be performed to determine how far along you are. You may even hear—and see—baby’s heartbeat."

The Bump's use of the word "heartbeat" is representative of not only many prenatal websites but also descriptions medical professionals give pregnant women during routine prenatal care. Using "heartbeat" to describe embryonic activity at this stage is neither new nor unique to anti-abortion advocates.

Some pro-choice people argue that when medical professionals say "heartbeat" in these contexts, they're just using layman's language with their patients, just as an OBGYN might say "baby" when talking to a woman with a wanted pregnancy. That doesn't make "baby" a medical or technical term.

But "heartbeat" is appropriate both for the layman and as a medical description. As The Developing Human by Moore et al (10th Edition, 2013) explains in "Chapter 13: Cardiovascular System":
The cardiovascular system is the first major system to function in the embryo. The primordial heart and vascular system appear in the middle of the third week (Fig. 13-1). This precocious cardiac development occurs because the rapidly growing embryo can no longer satisfy its nutritional and oxygen requirements by diffusion alone. Consequently, there is a need for an efficient method of acquiring oxygen and nutrients from the maternal blood and disposing of carbon dioxide and waste products.
In other words the embryonic heart exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide even before it fully develops into the more complex heart we're familiar with. Those insisting we say "fetal pole cardiac activity" instead of "heartbeat" or describing the embryonic heart as just "electrically induced flickering" or--more ridiculously--"vibrations" try to imply that the four chambered heart doesn't happen until months later; that's completely incorrect. Here's a diagram from Moore et al of the heart at 35 days (approximately 5 weeks post-fertilization):

(Click to enlarge)

At this point the embryonic heart already has four chambers. It's reductive to describe this development as no more than "pulsing cells."

Additionally, by 4 weeks the embryo has three paired veins draining into the heart: vitelline veins return poorly oxygenated blood from the umbilical vessel, umbilical veins carry well-oxygenated blood from the chorionic sac, and cardinal veins return poorly oxygenated blood from the embryo's body to the heart. Here is an illustration from figure 13-5 of Moore of the heart at 24 days postfertilization:

Here are the veins illustrated at 6 weeks:

This image is from Figure 13-4, the caption for which states, "Initially, three systems of veins are present: the umbilical veins from the chorion, vitelline veins from the umbilical vesicle, and cardinal veins from the body of the embryos."

More from Moore:
  • "The heart begins to beat at 22 to 23 days (Fig. 13-2)."
  • "Blood flow begins during the fourth week, and heartbeats can be visualized by Doppler ultrasonography (Fig. 13-3)."
  • "The initial contractions of the heart are of myogenic origin (in or starting from muscle). ... At first, circulation through the primordial heart is an ebb-and-flow type; however, by the end of the fourth week, coordinated contractions of the heart result in unidirectional flow."
  • "Partitioning of the AV canal, primordial atrium, ventricle, and outflow tract begins during the middle of the fourth week."
By 6 weeks the heart is chambered and moving blood unidirectionally through coordinated contractions--that is, the heart is rhythmically pumping blood. Of course the heart has more development to do, but the pro-choice side is hand wavy at best to insist we can't say "heartbeat"--and they are flatly wrong to say embryos don't have hearts! Which side is anti-science, again? 

The embryonic heart is "a bunch of pulsing cells" in the exact same way the embryo herself is "a clump of cells"--in a way meant to downplay that abortion kills prenatal humans. It's continually remarkable to me that the pro-choice side seems to badly need to obfuscate the humans abortion destroys. I suspect if arguments regarding bodily rights and fetal personhood were stronger, fewer pro-choice people would recoil so hard at what are otherwise basic and generally uncontroversial facts.

Of course, and as always, the fact that a human organism has a heartbeat doesn't in itself establish moral worth. But it's one thing to argue that the embryonic heart is irrelevant; it's another to suggest it doesn't exist. I'll take my scientific education from an embryology book, not Etsy, thanks.

Post-publication update: I've seen so many stories now purporting to scientifically explain away the embryonic heart, I'm just going to start collecting them here:
Read more details about why these articles are misleading here.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Baby Chris is Ten Weeks Old

[This is part 11 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

Baby Chris has put on some serious weight this week: a whopping 77% increase, according to the Endowment for Human Development. He or she now weighs about half an ounce and is the size of a lime.

Common behaviors at this stage include thumb sucking, eye movement, and yawning.

The intestines, which protruded into the umbilical cord due to lack of space when Baby Chris was six weeks old, have now receded into the abdominal cavity. The corpus callosum, vocal cords, fingernails, and toenails are developing.

If you haven't seen this movie, are you even pro-life?
(Yes, I know the creators are abortion advocates. It's still great in spite of them.)

Keep watching Baby Chris grow and learn fun facts about the unborn babies in your life by downloading the free See Baby app.

P.S.—The ultrasound photo at the top of this post was donated by Secular Pro-Life supporter Jean I., and it depicts her son in 1998. She also sent in her son's senior class photo, 17 years later!