House Republicans riffed on Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams during a hearing on Thursday over comments she made earlier this month about fetal heart tones.
“There is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks. It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body,” Abrams said last week during a campaign event at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center in Atlanta.
“I believe that abortion is a medical decision, not a political decision. Arbitrary politically-defined timelines are deeply problematic because they ignore the reality of medical and physiological issues,” she added.
Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) cited the remarks during a Thursday hearing regarding abortion, pressing expert witnesses to respond to Abrams’ claims, as did two other GOP colleagues, The Hill reported.
“Within the first four weeks of pregnancy, the baby develops a heartbeat, despite, by the way, claims of my home state’s gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, this is not merely a manufactured sound,” said Hice.
The outlet noted further:
Abrams’s comments undercut the rationale for so-called “fetal heartbeat” bills popular among some on the right, which ban abortions after about six weeks, although some people may not even know they are pregnant at that stage.
An appeals court in July allowed Georgia’s fetal heartbeat bill to go into effect immediately, part of myriad actions in GOP-led states following the Supreme Court’s decision in May to overturn Roe v. Wade and the federal right to an abortion.
Abrams’ remarks appear to reflect the current position of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which states on its website under a “Guide to Language and Abortion”: “It is clinically inaccurate to use the word ‘heartbeat’ to describe the sound that can be heard on ultrasound in very early pregnancy.”
The organization added that heart chambers do not develop until roughly 17-20 weeks of gestation, meaning, “What pregnant people may hear is the ultrasound machine translating electronic impulses that signify fetal cardiac activity into the sound that we recognize as a heartbeat.”
Not surprisingly, Dr. Nisha Verma, an OBGYN who works for the ACOG, did not directly Thursday to inquiries from Republicans that heartbeats detected at six weeks of pregnancy were a “manufactured sound.”
Previously, however, she told NPR that “The flickering that we’re seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you ‘hear’ is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine.”
But, The Hill noted, there is no consensus on the issue within the medical community. Johns Hopkins Medicine notes that a fetal heart begins beating within four weeks of pregnancy.
Dr. Monique Wubbenhorst, a physician invited to testify by Republicans, responded that the heart sounds detected early in a pregnancy, at six weeks, are not just “a random contraction of cells.”
“There’s coordinated movement that’s well documented,” she said. “The fetal heart is beating early in pregnancy and the other point that I think is important to make is that we rely on assessments of the fetal heart rate, presence or absence of the fetal heartbeat in order to assess fetal health.”
Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) submitted a study for the record titled, “Role of ultrasound in the evaluation of first trimester pregnancies in the acute setting.”
“It finds that in normal fetal development, a heartbeat is expected at or around six weeks,” he said.