Weird Science at Planned Parenthood, Where Men Get Pregnant and Heartbeats Aren’t Heartbeats

Planned Parenthood’s rhetoric is shifting, with ‘pregnant people’ replacing ‘women’ and a ‘basic beating heart’ strategically reframed as ‘cardiac activity’

Dr. Bhavik Kumar testifies on abortion restrictions Thursday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in Washington, DC.
Dr. Bhavik Kumar testifies on abortion restrictions Thursday before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in Washington, DC. (photo: U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform)

Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, has updated its language recently on issues of gender and early fetal development as its leaders hone their rhetoric to fit their new role as a top provider of hormones to transgender-identifying teens, and embrace the latest dehumanizing narrative claiming that unborn babies don’t have heartbeats.

During a hearing on abortion restrictions this week, Dr. Bhavik Kumar, abortionist and medical director for Primary and Trans Care at Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, in Houston, Texas, told lawmakers that “men can have pregnancies, especially trans men.” Kumar did not elaborate on what other group of men he thinks can have pregnancies besides “trans men.”

Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., asked him, “Are you saying that a biological female who identifies as a man and therefore becomes pregnant is ‘a man?’” Kumar replied that “somebody with a uterus may have the capability of becoming pregnant whether they are a woman or a man,” adding that “not every person with a uterus has the ability to become pregnant.”


‘Pregnant People’

Kumar’s response is in line with Planned Parenthood’s general language shift around pregnancy. The organization’s social media, press releases, and websites now employ the term “pregnant people” over “women,” a notable shift given their longstanding mantra of promoting abortion as fundamental to women’s rights. The shift is likely related to the group’s rapid expansion into offering hormones to transgender-identifying teens and young adults. 

Planned Parenthood’s “informed-consent” approach to hormones does not involve the requirement of therapy prior to beginning hormone treatments and has sparked criticism. The group quietly went from offering these services to transgender individuals in 16 states at 65 locations in 2015 to currently offering these services in 41 states at more than 200 of their centers to more than 35,000 individuals nationwide. 

Dr. Kyle Bukowski, an associate medical director at Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, wrote last year about the “inherent tension in acknowledging an organizational history rooted in the women’s rights movement that led to Roe v. Wade, but also left out many non-white, non-cis people.” He concluded that “while there is a tension and reckoning that must be acknowledged between a gendered past and a more inclusive future, that has not stopped Planned Parenthood from moving forward on their commitment to transgender and non-binary folks. While it may be challenging to use language like ‘people who become pregnant’ as opposed to ‘pregnant women,’ it is a minor discomfort that nowhere near exceeds the benefits.”


‘Cardiac Activity’

Another update Planned Parenthood has recently made to its rhetorical language is regarding the timing of when an unborn child’s heart begins to beat. According to sources like John Hopkins Medicine, the fetal heart has begun to beat at six weeks and, up until July, Planned Parenthood’s website said that “a very basic beating heart and circulatory system develop” by six weeks of pregnancy. The website now reads that at six weeks “a part of the embryo starts to show cardiac activity. It sounds like a heartbeat on an ultrasound, but it's not a fully-formed heart — it's the earliest stage of the heart developing.”

Julia Bennett, digital education and learning strategy at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement to The Washington Post regarding the updates to the website that “as anti-abortion lawmakers and activists seeking to control people’s health care decisions continue to peddle misinformation and even codify medical inaccuracies into law, it’s critical that people get unbiased information from actual experts, like health care providers and educators.” 

Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia Stacey Abrams also employed this type of rhetoric last week, claiming "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."

Rep. Clyde referenced this statement in a question for another witness, Dr. Nisha Verma, a fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health. He asked, “is a heartbeat at six weeks a manufactured sound?” She did not comply with his request for a yes or no answer, instead answering that “like so many things in medicine it’s complex.”

Verma stated in an interview earlier this month that “when I use a stethoscope to listen to an [adult] patient’s heart, the sound that I’m hearing is caused by the opening and closing of the cardiac valves,” but “at six weeks of gestation, those valves don’t exist, the flickering that we’re seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you ‘hear’ is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine.” This narrative about the fetal heartbeat being “electrical cardiac activity” was also put forward by The New York Times in February. 

Pro-life radiologist Grazie Pozo Christie, a policy advisor for the Catholic Association and EWTN radio host, wrote in response to these contentions that “doppler ultrasound, the kind we use to detect the heartbeats of unborn children, works by measuring sound waves that bounce off of moving objects, such as the blood cells traveling through the fetal heart. The computer receives the data which it translates into pictures and sounds, so that we can see and hear what is hidden deep inside the mother’s womb.” She said, “calling this sound ‘manufactured’ is like calling the X-ray of a hand or foot a ‘manufactured’ image.”