The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists took a position against some state’s recent abortion bans and says term “fetal heartbeat” does not “reflect medical accuracy or clinical understanding.”
The president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called the bills “arbitrary” bans not reflective of fetal development or science.
“Arbitrary gestational age bans on abortion at six weeks that use the term ‘heartbeat’ to define the gestational development being targeted do not reflect medical accuracy or clinical understanding,” said Dr Ted Anderson, president of ACOG. The organization represents 58,000 physicians across the US.
“Pregnancy and fetal development are a continuum. What is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops,” Anderson said.
“Thus, ACOG does not use the term ‘heartbeat’ to describe these legislative bans on abortion because it is misleading language, out of step with the anatomical and clinical realities of that stage of pregnancy,” Anderson said. The ACOG president called on politicians to base policy on “science and evidence.”
State abortion bans have been enacted from Ohio to Kentucky, in a new and severe strategy from rightwing groups pushing to make abortion illegal. The bans, dubbed “heartbeat” bills by supporters, have the practical effect of banning abortion before most women know they are pregnant.
Abortion is legal in all 50 states despite the bans. Anti-abortion campaigners hope the court battles will prompt the US supreme court to reconsider the 1973 landmark decision Roe v Wade, which legalized abortion. The laws are all expected to be challenged in court, and are highly unlikely ever to go into effect.
While states have long sought to heavily regulate abortion, outright bans on the procedure were once rare. Nevertheless, abortion care has not always remained accessible. Highly restrictive state regulations have driven many clinics out of business. There are six states that each have only one abortion clinic. In Missouri, the state’s last remaining abortion clinic is fighting the state health authorities in order to stay open.
Obstetrician and gynecologist Dr Sarah Horvath said that accurately describing the bans is important, to avoid confusion among patients and providers alike.
“I don’t think the coverage tends to line up with medical reality,” said Horvath. “No one seems to know what is allowed – and what isn’t – even when it’s medically appropriate,” she said.
Several state bans allow for criminal penalties for doctors performing abortions, including a 99-year penalty in Alabama. Physicians said the bans, if they ever went into effect, will have life-threatening consequences for women.
“There’s this noble ideal you all have,” she said, but added, “But one is a viewpoint, and one is science and medicine.”
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