“There is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks,” Abrams, who is running a campaign centered on abortion access to unseat Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), said during a panel discussion in Atlanta on Tuesday. “It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body away from her.”
A clip of the moment went viral after it was shared by a Twitter account run by the Republican National Committee, inflaming its followers. Talking heads on Fox News cast her as an anti-science conspiracy theorist. Conservative commentator Meghan McCain called her a “very sick person,” noting she heard her own child’s “heartbeat” when she was six weeks pregnant. And Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), a doctor known for spreading misinformation about abortion, wondered: “Why do radical Dems hate unborn babies?”
But according to obstetrics and gynecology experts, Abrams is correct in saying there is no heartbeat at six weeks. At that stage of the embryo’s development, the chambers and valves of the heart ― the opening and closing of which create the heartbeat sound ― don’t exist yet.
It is clinically inaccurate to use the word “heartbeat” to describe the sound that can be heard on ultrasound in very early pregnancy. In fact, there are no chambers of the heart developed at the early stage in pregnancy that this word is used to describe, so there is no recognizable “heartbeat.” What pregnant people may hear is the ultrasound machine translating electronic impulses that signify fetal cardiac activity into the sound that we recognize as a heartbeat.
Dr. Nisha Verma, an OB-GYN in Atlanta, explained to NBC News in April that the sound people hear during ultrasounds at six weeks of pregnancy is manufactured by the ultrasound machine.
“It’s an electrical pulse that’s translated into the sound we’re hearing from the ultrasound machine,” she said.