NRL News

ACOG, Abortion Advocates Overanxious to Dispute Fetal Development Video            

by | Apr 15, 2024

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D. NRL Director of Education & Research

The word “abortion” is never mentioned. There is no political advocacy, no pictures of mangled bodies, no discussion of elaborate claims about the unborn composing symphonies or leaping buildings in single bounds. Rather just clean, clear computer generated images of unborn children growing in the womb and displaying the physical characteristics and capacities recognized medical texts say they do at those particular stages of human development.

And yet the medical establishment and its pro-abortion allies have sounded the alarm and mounted a campaign against Baby Olivia: A Never Before Seen Look At Human Life In The Womb. This is the video prepared by the pro-life group LiveAction in August of 2021 that is now being considered for use by some state legislatures as part of their state’s public school family life educational curriculum.

For people who are at all familiar with fetology, or even expecting moms with popular baby development books, none of this is controversial or surprising. But to guardians of the abortion establishment, such information constitutes a  real threat 

The video in dispute

The offending video starts with fertilization, as sperm joins ovum and “Olivia’s” new life begins. The video notes that she implants in the uterus about a week later and her cells began to organize as an embryo. At 22 days after fertilization, the video shares that Olivia’s heartbeat can be detected.

Consistent with what many medical texts tell us, the video shows the appearance of arms and legs by 4 weeks and movement can be seen between 5 and 6 weeks.  In the 6th week post-fertilization, the video relates that brain activity can be recorded and that bones begin forming.

The short video continues, showing how the child will suck her thumb, swallow, touch her face, stretch, how she is playing in the womb at 11 weeks, how mom will sense her movement between 14 and 18 weeks. The video mentions how at 20 weeks, with a lot of help, some babies have survived outside the womb.

At 27 weeks, not only are her eyes responding to light, but the video tells how she can recognize her parents’ voices and even recognize songs and stories.

Abortion advocates of ACOG object

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a medical society that has become increasingly pro-abortion over the past few years (see here), was one of the groups labeling this video misleading and manipulative.

In a statement given to CNN, ACOG said “Like much anti-abortion misinformation, the ‘Baby Olivia’ video is designed to manipulate the emotions of viewers rather than to share evidence-based, scientific information about embryonic and fetal development.”

Without specifying, ACOG said “Many of the claims made in this video are not aligned with scientific fact, but rather reflect the biased and ideologic perspectives of the extremists who created the video. ACOG is strongly opposed to the spread of misinformation about reproductive health” (CNN, 4/6/24).

ACOG didn’t detail its complaint to CNN, apparently satisfied with simply raising nebulous concerns and relying on the organization’s presumed expertise to dismiss it outright. But elsewhere the group argued that the video makes fetal development seem more advanced by using a different method for calculating gestational age than is standard (Chalkbeat, 3/28/24). But the more you study this complaint, the more it becomes apparent that it is ACOG and not LiveAction that is clouding the issue and misleading the public.

ACOG, like the medical establishment has done for years, relies on a method of dating pregnancy and calculating due dates developed in the early 19th century by a Dutch doctor named Franz Naegle that calculates the due date based on a woman’s last menstrual period, or LMP.  Before doctors had access to ultrasound or fully understood the process of ovulation or fertilization, Naegle found that adding 40 weeks or 280 days to a woman’s LMP generally gave a good estimate of when the baby would be born. His method has generally been followed since, though ultrasounds and other testing help doctors pinpoint that date more accurately.                   

There is nothing wrong with using the forty week Naegle metric. But every good doctor knows that the ovulation and then the sexual act that brings man and woman together are not going to happen until several days after the LMP.  The fertilization that is actually responsible for the beginning of a new human life, and thus the pregnancy proper, does not occur until a couple of weeks into the count.

Though some doctors correlate the Naegle pregnancy scale to the developmental stages of the fetus, all know that to calculate the actual age of the child one subtracts two weeks from Naegle’s LMP based scale to identify when fertilization–the actual beginning of that new life–occurs.

Thus a pregnancy measured at ten weeks on the Naegle scale, sometimes referred to as “gestational age,” actually involves a child about eight weeks old. If there is any confusion about this, it is because the medical establishment continues to use a pre-modern measurement and is unclear with patients about the way this is calculated relative to the development of the child.

The producers of Baby Olivia make clear from the very beginning that they are talking about the actual age of the unborn child.

On the page where the video is presented, after being asked “How is the age of baby Olivia calculated?” the response to this first FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) is “We dated Baby Olivia’s growth and development based on the moment her life began – fertilization.”

If that weren’t clear enough, from the first moments of the video the make clear that they are beginning at fertilization. LiveAction states repeatedly, particularly with their first milestones, that these are measured “around 1 week after fertilization,” or “just 22 days after fertilization,” or “At 6 weeks after fertilization.”  This is how the most reputable fetological texts mark the developmental timeline.

If anything, ACOG’s complaint seems to be more of a turf war, a dispute about who gets to control the narrative and women’s perceptions. The information LiveAction shares is both clear and scientifically sound.  Any confusion that remains is only there because ACOG wishes it so.

Abortion expert adds his complaints

ACOG has not publicly lodged other specific criticisms of the video of which we know. But one of their vaunted experts, Daniel Grossman, who ACOG uses to write their abortion clinical guidelines, chimed in with several criticisms of his own.

Grossman, a noted abortion researcher and promoter from the University of California – San Francisco, tries to argue that dates are off. He writes that a fetus depicted at 11 weeks is actually a 13 week old fetus, implying that some sort of deception or manipulation is involved.

“I think the danger of having biased and inaccurate information like this in schools is that it is being used to form and influence public opinion that ultimately affects the legality of abortion—and potentially IVF, contraception, and other medical care,” Grossman told CNN.                     

It is Grossman, however, that is being sloppy and deceptive with language here. An unborn child in the 13th week of pregnancy, measured according to LMP in the Naegle scale, would not really be 13 weeks old, but would actually be only 11 weeks old relative to the date of his or her conception. Clearly Grossman and the abortion establishment are the ones trying to manipulate public opinion here.

Attempting to throw shade on a most basic scientific fact, Grossman told CNN that “The claim that life begins at the moment of fertilization is not a medical fact. In medicine, a pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg implants in the wall of a uterus.”

Implantation is an important milestone, establishing the home where the child should be able to grow and thrive over the next nine months. But even if one wishes to follow what Grossman claims to be the current convention on “pregnancy,” it does not change the fact that a new genetically distinct human being who never existed before comes into being not when that child implants in the womb, but when sperm and egg join to become that new living, single celled human zygote.

That being’s life clearly begins at conception, at fertilization, not implantation. To argue otherwise is spin, not science.

Grossman also complains about the video’s mention of the baby’s heartbeat at three weeks.  Grossman claims that the heart does not fully form until nine weeks and that the most that can be said is that there are rhythmic contractions of the cardiac tube seen on ultrasound at 5-6 weeks.

Again, note that Grossman is still trying to use the old Naegle scale, measuring pregnancy from LMP, so all these dates have to be adjusted downward to account for fertilization occurring after two weeks. So his admission of “rhythmic contractions of the cardiac tube” at 5-6 weeks are actually in the third to fourth week of the child’s life, precisely where the video puts them.

No one has asserted that the heart is fully formed at three weeks or that the fetus is capable of writing a novel or a symphony at six or seven weeks because of the presence of brain waves. But how does “cardiac” – which Mirriam Webster defines as “of, relating to, situated near, or acting on the heart” (emphasis added) – and “rhythmic contractions” – which are clearly the pulses a doctor hears on a stethoscope or a sonographer notes on an ultrasound – not simply a euphemism for “heartbeat”?

If Grossman is acknowledging “rhythmic cardiac contractions” at 5-6 weeks of pregnancy, then he is essentially admitting that the fetus has a measurable heartbeat at 3-4 weeks post-fertilization.

CNN also has Grossman disputing a claim from the video that a fetus born prematurely at 20 weeks can survive “with a lot of help.” Grossman counters that just 10% of babies born at 22 weeks live long enough to be discharged from the hospital.

Again, this is Grossman trying to use a different dating method to make a fully accurate statement from the video appear erroneous. A 20-week old baby measured by the Naegle scale Grossman is using would clock in at 22 weeks LMP. Both are acknowledging the same fact–that a certain, though admittedly small percentage, of babies born at this stage will survive at that point, we all grant, “with a lot of help.”

Keeping women in the dark about fetal development

It is telling that there are a lot of statements by Grossman and ACOG about what is not the case, what capacities a baby does not possess or cannot do at a given stage of development and not a whole lot of acknowledgment of what amazing milestones the child is rapidly passing.  ACOG has its own “How Your Fetus Grows During Pregnancy.” It is hard enough to find, but tucked away somewhere on the website, ACOG grants that somewhere between “weeks 1 to 8 of pregnancy”  “Cardiac tissue” begins to develop and the brain and spine “begin to form” and “Webbed fingers and toes poke out from developing hands and feet.”

This is vague and a very broad range, but it would seem to be at least a tacit admission of the child’s rapidly appearing human organs and features. But does it mean that ACOG is ready to support legislation protecting those developing human beings or even making sure that women considering abortion are aware of these facts?

Sadly, no. They are too busy opposing any sort of limits on abortion, defending the killing of babies for any reason, at any stage of development.

If anything, they seem committed to fostering ignorance of fetal development among the general public, fearing that a woman who believes her baby’s heart begins beating at 3-4 weeks (from fertilization), or even 5-6 weeks (by the Naegle LMP-based pregnancy scale) might change her mind and forego a scheduled abortion.

This is clearly the aim of Grossman and ACOG’s critique of the “Baby Olivia” video here.  There is little genuine scientific dispute over the facts, but more of a complaint about the appropriate terminology and timescales. The medical experts prefer vaguer clinical euphemisms and dating conventions that mask the reality of the child’s humanity and worth over scientific and moral accuracy.

Science and truth aren’t threatened by Baby Olivia. But the abortion establishment sure is.