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The Correct, Scientifically Accurate Term Is "Embryonic Heartbeat"
This post, like all De Civ posts prior to November 2021, was originally published at my WordPress blog. It imported badly to Substack, and I suggest you read it there instead: https://www.jamesjheaney.com/2019/07/26/the-correct-scientifically-accurate-term-is-embryonic-heartbeat/
*extremely Doc Brown voice* EIGHTY EIGHT BEATS PER MINUTE!**
We have recently seen the passage of a number of "heartbeat bills." These laws provide legal protections to unborn children who have achieved a detectable heartbeat. Embyronic heartbeat begins around the fourth week after the last menstrual period (or roughly two weeks after conception). However, with current technology, it only becomes detectable around the eighth week LMP. Every pregnancy is different, but, on average, heartbeat bills end up restricting abortion after about eight or nine weeks. This strategy is somewhat successful, because many voters are comfortable with legal abortion on demand as long as the child is still a "blob of cells," but become uncomfortable once the child begins to take on human characteristics like a heartbeat. No one would accuse this view of coherence, but that's life in a country with a vast, muddled middle on abortion. You attach unborn-child protections to a relatable human milestone, and you can gin up the votes to get them passed in a few states. Of course, the pro-choice Cathedral* is unhappy about this. If there is a conflict between the political underpinnings of abortion rights and reality, it is always reality that has to go. (We've seen this before on this blog... and, of course, the very term "pro-choice" is a euphemism: what choice? Who, whom?) So, on May 31st, the press dutifully invented a brand new term for fetal heartbeat: "embryonic pulsing." A few days after that, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) announced the henceforth official terminology for "fetal heartbeat": "electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart." This whole thing was a bit awkward. Ordinarily, the journalism arm of the Cathedral knows better than to start using the new euphemisms before they have been officially promulgated by the "medical experts." The New York Times jumped the gun, which exposed the game they are playing. We should take a moment to notice that, despite ACOG's official decree, it's not actually "fetal tissue." At this age, it's still embryonic tissue. Yes, a medical doctor speaking on behalf of tens of thousands of medical doctors made an obviously false medical statement in a sentence that was supposed to clarify medical reality. Yes, it's the very same distinction that pro-lifers get hammered on all the time by the exact same people. ("It's not a fetus; it's a blastocyst!") No, it's not surprising. It all makes sense once you realize that they don't actually care about the embryo/fetus distinction; they only use these terms so they can avoid the ordinary English term: "baby." ACOG holds pro-lifers to strictly accurate terminology for prenatal development, but they have no reason to hold themselves to the same standard. So, the new official term is medically inaccurate. But ACOG hath spoken, and We the People are supposed to pretend that ACOG is an objective body of experts acting on pure rationality. "Fetal heartbeat" is now going to be safely suppressed for being, they say, "medically inaccurate." Please remember that they are lying. I try to reserve that strong term, "lying," for clear cases of deliberate deception. But that's exactly what we have here. The medically accurate, scientifically correct term is "embryonic heartbeat." This term has been in the literature for generations. It is universally accepted and unchallenged, a poster child for "scientific consensus." Just look at a tiny fragment of the literature:
"Embryonic Heart Rate as a Prognostic Factor for Chromosomal Abnormalities" (Journal of Ultrasound Medicine, 2009; deals with embryos younger than nine weeks)
"Evaluation of normal gestational sac growth: appearance of embryonic heartbeat and embryo body movements using the transvaginal technique."(Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1991; deals with embryos between five to twelve weeks' gestation) (of
"Embryonic heart rate in the early first trimester: what rate is normal?" (Journal of Ultrasound Medicine, 1995; embryos are six to eight weeks' gestation)
"Embryonic heart rate in human pregnancy." (Journal of Ultrasound Medicine, 1991; embryos are three to seven weeks old)
"Slow embryonic heart rate in early first trimester: indicator of poor pregnancy outcome." (Radiology, 1994; "embryonic heart rate" is determined "prior to 8 weeks gestation")
"Predictive value of the presence of an embryonic heartbeat for live birth: Comparison of women with and without recurrent pregnancy loss." (Fertility and Sterility, 2004; embyronic heart rate obtained "between 6 and 8 weeks of gestation)
"Predictive value of early embryonic cardiac activity for pregnancy outcome." (American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1991; embryos are 5 to 9 weeks' gestation)
"A close look at early embryonic development with the high-frequency transvaginal transducer." (American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1988; embryos are as young as 5 weeks 6 days when "the heartbeat appeared.")
"What's new in first trimester ultrasound." (Radiologic Clinics of North America, 2003; "the primitive heart begins to beat at the end of the third week after fertilization")
"Transvaginal versus transabdominal Doppler auscultation of fetal heart activity: A comparative study." (American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1996; embryos are between 6 and 9 weeks of gestation when "fetal heart rate" is detected.)
I pulled all those off Google Scholar in twenty minutes. There's tons of them. I had room to be choosy for this article, but give me an hour and I can find a hundred more examples of peer-reviewed medical doctors and scientists talking about "embryonic heartbeat" like it's the most natural thing in the world. That alone doesn't prove anything. Maybe ACOG's official new terminology is even more popular than "embryonic heartbeat." So now we ask: how often does the phrase "electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart" show up in peer-reviewed scientific literature?
Zero times! Of course, Google Scholar's not the be-all end-all of academia, but it seems safe to say that, when Google Scholar can immediately find hundreds of matches for Phrase A, and zero matches for Phrase B, then Phrase A is the more common and scientifically accurate one. How about the New York Times' even more made-up phrase, "embryonic pulsing"? That gets three matches on Google Scholar, but one's an English paper and two are about a scanning technique. None are about embyronic heartbeats. Why? Because doctors refer to those as "embryonic heartbeats." It's the New York Times and its friends at The Daily Beast et. al. that doesn't want to make the heartbeats go away. (They should re-read Poe's "The Telltale Heart;" it will resonate!) One more: in December 2015, Dr. Jen Gunter, a late-term abortionist who is sometimes treated as a neutral source by mainstream media, asserted that the most correct term would be "fetal pole cardiac activity." She's since been quoted favorably on this in outlets like Wired and Forbes. Does her euphemism have any more traction than the others? At first glance, you might think so! There are 38 results for "fetal pole cardiac activity" on Google Scholar! Doesn't hold a candle to the 735 for "embyronic heartbeat," but still, that shows some scientific uptake of her terminology, right? But that's when you realize that the matches for "fetal pole cardiac activity" are actually for lists: things like "...fetal pole, cardiac activity, and gestational sac," or, "If a fetal pole/cardiac activity is detected..." or, "presence of a fetal pole +/- cardiac activity." Some of the authors of these articles even appeared on my list above as users of "embryonic heartbeat!" So it appears that nobody in the literature has used the actual phrase to describe an actual embryonic heartbeat except Dr. Jen Gunter... and, of course, a mainstream media that is desperate to escape the simple, uncomfortable reality of "heartbeat."
This is a 38mm embryo, deceased at 8-9 weeks, which is at the upper end of the age we're talking about. We hesitate to include images of dissected people on De Civitate, but, as with *any* medical discussion, it's difficult for the lay reader to understand the topic without it.** Now that the Cathedral has denounced the term "embryonic heartbeat" as wrongthink, you can expect it to disappear within a year or two. New articles will have the phrase stripped out and replaced with the new, politically correct terminology... even if it makes the articles less clear and less accurate. The authors of the articles I've cited will either keep their heads down or apologize for ever having used it. (They're probably mostly pro-choice anyway.) Anyone who does use the term now will be accused of having "an agenda." They've pulled this very same language trick before: with the beginning of pregnancy (it's at fertilization), with the word "abortionist," with the very idea of an "unborn child." I already see it happening with "embryonic heartbeat." That's why I wanted to get this down, on the record, before it's washed away by the overwhelming coercive power the abortion industry can bring to bear on the scientific and journalistic communities: they are lying. The only people who have ever challenged the scientific term "embryonic heartbeat" are people who find that language politically inconvenient. It's an uncontroversial term with consistent usage and universal acceptance that dates back decades. So, when you hear a complaint that a "heartbeat bill" uses medically inaccurate or unscientific terminology, remember: They are lying. They are lying. They are lying.
*I spent about 15 minutes trying to find a good, succinct, link that would define "the Cathedral" concept for those unfamiliar with it. But the term comes from Mencius Moldbug, who did nothing succinctly, and I don't think anybody who has tried to boil it down has succeeded. So, sorry to throw an 11,000-word article at you in an aside, but it's a pretty good one.
**Image credits: human heart development by OpenStax College. Fetal remains by Wikipedia user "Anatomist90." All images used under their open CC BY 3.0 licenses.