Associated Press rejects terms 'fetal heartbeat,' 'late-term abortion'; pro-lifers react

A man looks down at his smartphone as he walks past the offices of the Associated Press in Manhattan, N.Y., May 13, 2013.
A man looks down at his smartphone as he walks past the offices of the Associated Press in Manhattan, N.Y., May 13, 2013. | Reuters/Adrees Latif

The Associated Press' guidelines advising journalists against using terms like "fetal heartbeat" and "late-term abortion" has drawn the ire of pro-life activist organizations who feel the directive obfuscates the abortion issue. 

The news agency's "Abortion Topical Guide" tells journalists to avoid using the terms "fetal heartbeat bill," "heartbeat bill" and "six-week abortion ban." The AP claims the words are "overly broad and misleading given the disagreement over details, such as what constitutes a heartbeat at varying gestational ages."

While ultrasound technology can detect "flickering" as early as six-weeks gestation, AP argues that the embryo has only started to form a "rudimentary heart."

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AP says media outlets should refer to this as "cardiac activity," referring to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' (ACOG) language guide. The ACOG claims that the language in abortion-related policies often relies on "anti-choice rhetoric." 

"Do not use the term 'late-term abortion.' The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines the late term as 41 weeks through 41 weeks and 6 days of gestation, and abortion does not happen in this period," AP Style Book wrote in a Tuesday tweet

Instead, the agency advises journalists to use the term "abortion later in pregnancy if a general term is needed." 

"Most U.S. abortions take place in the first trimester. By some definitions, any abortions after that — at 13 weeks or later in pregnancy — are considered later abortions. Others use the term for abortions that occur at about 20 weeks or later, or near the time when a fetus is considered viable," the AP guidelines read. 

Dr. Donna Harrison, CEO of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, argued that the AP's decision shifts the abortion conversation in a biased direction instead of a neutral and scientific one. 

Harrison said ACOG advises against calling it a heartbeat in the context of abortion, citing the organization's "Practice Bulletin 200." The bulletin discusses diagnosing miscarriages and, as Harrison points out, claims that doctors search for the embryo's heartbeat to determine the pregnancy's viability. 

Kristi Hamrick, the chief media and policy specialist for Students for Life of America, also responded to the AP's guidelines, accusing the outlet of "gaslighting." 

Citing a report from the Cleveland Clinic on fetal heartbeats, Hamrick told CP Friday that "all heartbeats involve an electrical impulse, putting all of humankind in the same category, born or preborn."

Regarding late-term abortions, Hamrick cited a 1997 New York Times article in which Ron Fitzsimmons, the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, admitted that such abortions occur more often than his colleagues acknowledge. He also added that many are performed on "healthy fetuses."

The communication strategist said California, New Mexico and Maryland allow late-term abortions. An all-trimester abortion clinic, Partners in Abortion Care, recently opened in Maryland.

"The pro-life movement will need to educate the public, legislators and the courts on scientific facts, as the AP and others pretend that babies in the womb are something different than the rest of humankind, with different internal parts," she wrote.

Monica Snyder, the executive director of Secular Pro-Life, wrote in a Friday statement that her organization doesn't have a stance about whether people say "late-term abortion," "later abortion" or "abortion later in pregnancy."

The organization does have strong opinions about whether journalists' reporting on late-term abortions is accurate. Snyder stressed that no evidence exists that abortions occurring at or after 21 weeks are always or primarily done for medical reasons. 

An April study cited by Secular Pro-Life profiled women who had abortions at 24 weeks or later. The study found that, while some women aborted due to a fetal abnormality, others had an abortion due to a lack of resources to obtain an earlier one or because they didn't know they were pregnant until later. 

"Katrina Kimport, a prominent abortion rights advocate and researcher, has argued there should be no gestational limits on abortion in part because there will always be some women who don't realize they are pregnant until quite late in pregnancy," Snyder wrote. "AP and ACOG can argue for whatever phrase they like, but the public deserves to understand that abortion later in pregnancy is often elective." 

Snyder acknowledged that "late-term abortion" may be an imprecise term, but "fetal heartbeat" is not. 

"The medical community has long used 'fetal' to refer to even embryonic stages of pregnancy without controversy," she stated. "More importantly, the reality that embryos develop hearts very early in pregnancy was not contested or controversial until the rise of anti-abortion 'heartbeat' laws."

"By 6-7 weeks gestation the embryo has a chambered heart using coordinated muscle contractions to unidirectionally pump blood through veins to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide," Snyder continued. "Of course it's a heartbeat." 

Tara Sander Lee, the director of life sciences at the pro-life research organization Charlotte Lozier Institute, made a similar statement about fetal heartbeats to CP in September. The scientist responded to Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams' claim that the sound of a fetal heartbeat at six weeks is just "manufactured." 

"A baby's heart is actively beating at six weeks gestation and will have already beat nearly 16 million times by 15 weeks," she stated. "In fact, at six weeks, when Stacey Abrams says a heartbeat doesn't exist, that baby's heart is actually beating at about 110 beats per minute (bpm)."

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at:

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