As Ocasio-Cortez wrote, "six weeks pregnant" is essentially the same thing as saying someone's period is two weeks late. "Most of the men writing these bills don’t know the first thing about a woman’s body outside of the things they want from it," she continued. "It’s relatively common for a woman to have a late period [and] not be pregnant." AOC is correct and this is just another glaring example of how many of the lawmakers behind draconian new abortion laws are either completely unaware of how reproductive systems work or are wilfully turning a blind eye to basic human biology.
As most people know, a late period is often the first indication that you might be expecting. But a delayed menstrual cycle is common for a variety of reasons beyond pregnancy, such as stress, reproductive issues, or even medications. Typically, a person won't be able to know for sure if they're expecting until two and a half weeks or so past unprotected intercourse or a "birth control failure incident," explains Michael Guarnaccia, MD, MPH, FACOG, a double board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and Ob/Gyn at Extend Fertility in New York City tells Refinery29.
"For context, this [law] kicks in within days of a typical at-home test working," Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. She's right. Home and doctor office pregnancy tests work by measuring the amount of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (aka hCG) in someone's urine. When a person gets pregnant, hCG enters their blood stream, then their urine, and eventually generates a positive reading. That means, if you take a pregnancy test too soon, there's a higher chance it could result in a false negative. In fact, studies have shown that most tests aren't sensitive enough to pick up on hCG before or on the first day of a missed period.
For these reasons, many women may not know that they're pregnant until around six weeks into their pregnancy. And "pregnancy," as calculated by medical professionals, starts on the first day of your last menstrual cycle — if an egg is fertilised. "The development of pregnancy is counted from the first day of the woman’s last normal menstrual period (LMP), even though the development of the foetus does not begin until conception, which is about two weeks later," explains the American Pregnancy Association. That's why pregnancies technically last 40 weeks or 10 months, instead of the more popularly known nine months. So, an abortion cut off date around the same time that most people would even be discovering that they're pregnant is ignoring "basic biology" as Ocasio-Cortez wrote. Furthermore, most foetal heartbeats aren't even detectable until closer to between eight and 10 weeks.
In the past, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has opposed fetal heartbeat legislation, because these laws prohibit health care providers from providing "ethical, necessary care to their patients," Thomas Gellhaus, MD, ACOG president wrote in 2017. "Women often are unaware they are pregnant prior to six weeks [after their last menstrual period], and surgical abortion before six weeks may be difficult or impossible due to limitations on ultrasound imaging so early in pregnancy," he wrote. "Moreover, complications that threaten the woman’s health and serious foetal anomalies cannot be detected until later in pregnancy."
Pro-choice organisations, such as the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, plan to challenge this law in court. "This bill is part of an orchestrated national agenda to push abortion care out of reach," Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement to Refinery29. "And we won’t stand for it."