Abortion Activist Claims Heartbeats of Unborn Babies are “Imaginary” and They’re Not Really Alive

Opinion   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Jan 27, 2017   |   12:01PM   |   Washington, DC

The Atlantic embarrassed itself this week by publishing a factually incorrect article that claimed unborn babies’ heartbeats are “imaginary” at 6 weeks of development.

The author, Moira Weigel, a writer, Harvard graduate and doctoral candidate at Yale University, used the piece to attack pro-life efforts such as the Ohio Heartbeat bill, which would have prohibited abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, usually around 6 weeks.

Some of Weigel’s “facts” were completely incorrect, as was the headline and subhead of her original article. It later removed some of Weigel’s language, ran a correction and changed the headlines on the piece.

The Federalist’s Sean Davis appears to have been the first to notice and call out The Atlantic for the blatant errors.

He wrote:

… on Tuesday, The Atlantic writer Moira Weigel took a sledgehammer to basic science and then did her best to vacuum its brains out before anyone could figure out what just happened.

The article’s headline is bad enough—”How the Ultrasound Pushed the Idea That a Fetus Is a Person”—but its subhed is the real work of art: “The technology has been used to create an ‘imaginary’ heartbeat and sped-up videos that falsely depict a response to stimulus.”

There are numerous other gems throughout the piece, such as her implication that only male doctors are allowed to use ultrasounds.

Weigel went after the Ohio Heartbeat bill and blamed ultrasound technology for spurring on the pro-life effort.

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She wrote:

The idea would have been unthinkable before the advent of a technology developed in 1976: real-time ultrasound. At six weeks, the “heartbeat” is not audible; it is visible, a flickering that takes place between 120 and 160 times per minute on a black-and-white playback screen. As cardiac cells develop, they begin to send electrical pulses that cause their neighbors to contract. Scientists can observe the same effect if they culture cells in a petri dish.

Doctors do not even call this rapidly dividing cell mass a “fetus” until nine weeks into pregnancy.* Yet, the current debate shows how effectively politicians have used visual technology to redefine what counts as “life.”

Weigel’s original piece also contained this line where the asterisk is now: “It is dubious to call this movement a ‘heartbeat’; there is no heartbeat to speak of.”

At the end of the article, another asterisk indicates that the piece was corrected. In small print, the correction reads: “This article originally stated that there is ‘no heart to speak of’ in a six-week-old fetus. By that point in a pregnancy, a heart has already begun to form. We regret the error.”

Forbes contributor Lance Salyers captured a screen shot of the original headline:

The new headline and subhead read, “How Ultrasound Became Political: The technology has been used to create sped-up videos that falsely depict a response to stimulus.”

Weigel’s Twitter account also now is private.

It is well established that an unborn child’s heart begins to beat during the earliest stages of pregnancy, typically between four to six weeks after fertilization. In October, researchers at the University of Oxford announced findings that the heart may actually begin beating earlier – as soon as 16 days after conception.

Weigel is not the first to ignore the science about fetal development in an attempt to avoid humanizing the unborn child. In December, NPR minimized facts about fetal development by describing the Ohio Heartbeat bill as “tied to sounds from the fetus.” NPR also put the words “heartbeat bill” in quotes.

Though The Atlantic did not correct it, Weigel also wrongly implied that pro-lifers are manipulating ultrasounds to “redefine what counts as ‘life.'” Just like the heartbeat, the beginning of a human life also is well-established in the scientific community: It begins at conception. Even some abortion advocates will admit this to be true.

Modern technology has become uncomfortably inconvenient for abortion supporters like Weigel, who would have the public believe that an unborn child is not valuable or worth protecting. And thanks to the internet and pro-life efforts, facts about an unborn baby’s development, images of babies in the womb, research findings and more are easily accessible.

As Davis wrote Tuesday at The Federalist: “Like most treatises from abortion activists about how babies aren’t real people, Weigel’s comes across more as a sad attempt to convince herself than a credible attempt to convince her readers. No amount of euphemisms can obscure the truth that unborn babies are alive, that their hearts beat just as ours do, and that the abortion industry is dead set on killing as many of them as possible.”