“The New York Times is not alone. Other national newspapers, including the LA Times and USA Today, as well as television and radio reporters are using the medically inaccurate language of “fetal heartbeat” when referring to laws banning abortion in early pregnancy. This framing is based on junk science.
The Texas law bans abortion at six weeks of pregnancy, which is around four weeks after fertilization. At this point in pregnancy, an embryo develops a group of cells that gain the capacity to fire electrical signals, described by Dr. Saima Aftab as “a little flutter in the area that will become the future heart.” Aftab is the medical director of the Fetal Care Center at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami. This electrical signal can only be detected by a highly sensitive ultrasound device.
That’s because, at this embryonic stage, there is no heart—and no heartbeat.”