Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams trampled heavily on science when she claimed, “there is no such thing as a heartbeat at six weeks. It is a manufactured sound designed to convince people that men have the right to take control of a woman’s body.”
The heartbeats that she says don’t exist are my life’s work as a diagnostic radiologist. Day in and day out, pregnant women lay down on our examining table, breathless with anticipation. “Is the baby alive?” they want to know. They know they are pregnant, but it is only when the transducer goes down on the perfectly flat belly and the pulsing whoosh-whoosh of doppler sound that is the fetal heartbeat fills the room that we can assure her the baby lives.
It is probably one of the prettiest sounds in medicine, and it never fails to bring a smile to everyone who hears it, from mom and dad to physician and technician, and to anyone that is walking by the room. It is a sign of life, and life very distinct from the mother’s. The mother’s heart beats at around 75 or 80 beats per minute, perhaps slightly faster when she’s nervously lying on the table. But the embryo? The embryo’s heartbeat is quick as lightning, and can often be up to 160 beats per minute — or more. A sluggish heart rate is a bad sign. A brisk and regular rate is cause for celebration.