What it means to Have a Heart

By Peter Bleyer, M.D.

From Holly Gatling, executive director, South Carolina Citizens for Life. “In the American Thinker below article, our friend, pro-life physician Peter Bleyer, M.D., destroys the pro-abortion lies and pseudoscience.”

In 1993, when I began medical school at Wake Forest University, one of my first courses was embryology, a course in which all medical students learn in painstaking detail the developmental stages of human life, beginning at fertilization.

At no time during this class, did the professor ever say, “and at this point, life begins” and never did any student raise the question.  To do so would have indicated a level of seriousness insufficient to complete one’s studies.  It is clear that after fertilization and prior to death, no life changing event occurs, either just before or just after any other specific point in human development.  No one knows better than the physician how human life begins at fertilization and that which resides in the womb is completely human.

Rather than acknowledge the humanity initiated at fertilization, many physicians have adopted a fantasy version of medical science in which, using brute condescension, they claim the unique power to ascertain when life begins, while never actually having the courage to state when that is. For many years, this version of medical science has been spread across the internet, using names of doctors and their impressive sounding organizations, along with complex medical language, all designed to shield these ideas from criticism.

Serving as the volunteer medical director of two South Carolina Crisis Pregnancy Centers, one in the Myrtle Beach and a second in Charleston, I have become intimately familiar with the extremes to which my colleagues will go to deny what they learned in their first days of medical school, all in order to profit from the tragedy a woman endures with a crisis pregnancy.

Money is the root of all evil, and the medical community is using it in tremendous amounts to prevent passage of our state’s heartbeat bill (S474, the Fetal Heartbeat and Protection from Abortion Act) and similar legislation across the country.

Last June, the Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease published, “When does the Human Embryonic Heart Start Beating?” in which a physician and embryology researcher describes in great detail the supporting data that has allowed the dating of embryonic cardiac activity. He concludes, “the first heartbeats of an individual human embryo may be expected to appear during a time span that starts at 20 days after fertilization and ends at 35 days after fertilization.” 

At Gottingen University in Germany, medical professor Joerg Maenner, M.D. explains “heartbeat” as “the regular movement that the heart makes as it sends blood around your body.”  It is interesting to note that his chosen definition comes from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, highlighting medical science’s general agreement with the near universal common understanding of heartbeat. Electrical activity which triggers the contractions needed to pump the blood, begins within myocytes, the heart’s muscle cells.

In an effort to defeat numerous state sponsored heartbeat bills, many likeminded individuals in the media are now working closely with large physician groups to make the relatively new claim that the 4-week-old fetus (6th week of pregnancy) does not really have a heart or heartbeat.  As just the latest front in the methodical battle to dehumanize the fetus, the media is overloaded with supposed news pieces, which promote this claim. 

Found under, “Heartbeat bills: is there a fetal heartbeat at six weeks of pregnancy?” NBC showcases a particularly misinformative opinion piece, beginning with a quote from a pediatric and fetal cardiologist, “While the heart does begin to develop around six weeks, the heart as we know it does not yet exist.”

As the heart doesn’t fully develop until after birth with closure of the foramen ovale (a physiologic hole in the fetal heart), the physician’s point appears to be rationalization of abortion even into the first month after delivery.   Following this form of unique medical logic, one would say that a human’s skeletal system, which is not fully developed until the mid-teens, is not composed of bones until the growth plate composed of cartilage changes into solid bone.

If there is ever a fetal bone bill, NBC will find a pediatric and fetal orthopedist they will quote, “While the bones begin development around 3 weeks, the bones as we know them do not yet exist.” Although, insultingly illogical, this declaration goes unchallenged.

“The correct medical term for what’s observed at this point (6 weeks of pregnancy) is cardiac activity. It’s not until about 10 weeks that there is an actual structure that has 4 tubes and connects to the lungs and major vascular system like we would think of as a heart.”  This comment is presented as that of a professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  How cardiac activity can exist without a heart, I do not know.

I do know that at this age, the fetus is propelling blood through her arterial system to supply the oxygenated blood, which the child needs to survive.  Most doctors I know (we) think of the heart as the only organ that performs this task.

After informing the reader that a medically unnamed organ is pumping blood through the fetus at 6 weeks, the article generously redefines heartbeat for those readers of average intelligence.  According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), a heartbeat can now only occur after chambers of the heart have more formally developed. Moreover, what is heard on the 6-week fetal ultrasound is no longer a heartbeat. Without any references to the development of this new definition, one is left to logically conclude that “heartbeat” has recently been redefined in response to the numerous state heartbeat bills.

Under “clinical explanation” ACOG states further, “What pregnant people may hear is the ultrasound machine translating electronic pulses that signify fetal cardiac activity into the sound that we recognize as a heartbeat.”  After explaining how unsophisticated pregnant people may be, ACOG tremendously oversimplifies the function of an ultrasound machine, suggesting if the fetus had an actual heartbeat, the ultrasound would generate the same sound one hears in the stethoscope, a capability ultrasound technology does not have. 

ACOG does not find it helpful to let the reader know that the sound the ultrasound generates for adult heartbeats is “translated” in exactly the same manner.   An analogy of their verbiage would be to state that if an x-ray fails to detect a piece of glass under the skin in a traumatic wound, the glass does not exist, even though the x-ray doesn’t have the capability to detect glass.

“If you are invested in the pregnancy, you may want to anthropomorphize that pregnancy as soon as possible, and that’s a heartbeat for people,” states the professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the final lines of the opinion piece.

After reviewing Webster’s definition of anthropomorphize, “to attribute human form or personality to things not human”, I just sat at my computer for a while, reminiscing about our five joyful pregnancies and contemplating the deep sense of loss my patients have experienced with pregnancy loss.  In the real world of medicine, many physicians assume god like power, callously devaluing innocent human lives, especially those carried by mothers in crisis pregnancies, turning their back on the doctor patient relationship they are obligated to establish with both mother and child.

All this is done in an effort to justify barbaric procedures, which allow the physician to profit handsomely from the tragedy many of these women experience. In a moral world seeking truth, abortion as we know it would never exist. But money is much more attractive than medical ethics, which brings us to this pathetic point at which it becomes incumbent upon legislative bodies to force physicians to do what they already are ethically obligated to do.

Truth is frequently the enemy of power and wealth.  Pro-abortion physicians will never address the humanity of the unborn child, talk about the regret many women have after abortion, admit that aborted girls have no women’s rights or acknowledge that a disproportionate number of aborted children are African American.  Rather they will collect a large paycheck and lead us to believe only they know when life actually begins and that all innocent human life does not have equal value.