Thanks to unconscionable inaction by the U.S. Supreme Court, the nation’s most draconian anti-abortion law took effect in Texas this month. President Joe Biden wasted no time condemning the Court for carrying out its “unprecedented assault on constitutional rights.” In addition to banning nearly all abortions in Texas, the law encourages “vigilante interference in the patient-physician relationship,” according to the Texas Medical Association.
As medical experts have been reviewing this horrific law, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the medieval legislators who drafted it got the underlying science wrong in so many ways. The law warns, “A physician may not knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child.” However, as NPR’s “All Things Considered” explained on Friday, “fetal heartbeat” is not a medical term, and the way it’s defined in the Texas law is highly misleading.
The Texas law defines “fetal heartbeat” as “cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.” The law also claims that a pregnant woman can use this to assess “the likelihood of her unborn child surviving to full-term birth.” However, the sound that doctors hear when listening to a person’s heart in a stethoscope is not at all the sound heard in an early ultrasound.
According to Dr. Nisha Verma of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the stethoscope sound is caused by the movement of cardiac valves, which don’t exist at six weeks of gestation. The flickering observed in an early ultrasound is merely electrical activity, and the sound of it is “actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine,” she pointed out.
Another major problem with the law is with the concept of the “six-week” abortion ban. “Pregnancy math is confusing,” writes primatologist/biological anthropologist Michelle Rodrigues in a compelling opinion piece published today by Scientific American. “[I]t’s unclear whether legislators involved are simply ignorant on reproductive biology or recognize that it’s an indirect way to ban all abortions.”
Rodrigues points out that the six-week ban really limits abortion care to only four weeks, which is about a month before the embryo is even considered a fetus. Also, “at only four weeks post-conception, and three weeks post-implantation, there is a limited window to even affirm pregnancy,” she explains. That window is limited even further when a woman’s menstrual cycle is more than the “typical” 28 days.
Finally, as Dr. Ghazaleh Moayedi explained on NPR’s “All Things Considered” a few days before the law took effect, her mere “existence as an OB-GYN, as an abortion provider” appears to put her in violation of the law, even though she plans to comply with it. “There’s a lot of vagueness in this bill that is intentional. And it’s intended to cause confusion and chaos in our state,” she pointed out.
The Texas abortion law was clearly written by misogynistic and grossly ignorant legislators who have no business crafting laws for an enlightened democracy in the year 2021. It’s time Congress puts an end to this offensive nonsense and codifies Roe v. Wade once and for all.