This is what a human embryo looks like to the naked eye at the ninth week of pregnancy, a point where abortion has now been banned in 14 American states.
An image shared by the MYA Network — a group of clinicians aiming to normalize abortion — shows the gestational sac, which surrounds the embryo during the first few weeks of development.
Clinicians told the Guardian that the developing embryo was also present, but that it was not easily discernible from the other cells at this stage. It is not called a fetus until after the tenth week of pregnancy.
Dr Joan Fleischman, a clinician at the network, said they were sharing the photos because of the ‘misinformation’ online and on placards suggesting embryos at this stage were more discernible.
‘They are stunned by what it actually looks like,’ Dr Fleischman said. ‘People almost don’t believe this is what comes out. they’re expecting to see a little fetus with hands — a developed, miniature baby.’
This summer the Supreme Court overturned a landmark ruling that gave federal protections for abortion, allowing states to regulate the practice themselves.
Twelve states — mostly in the south including Texas, Mississippi and Alabama — have now banned abortion outright, while two — North Dakota and Georgia — have banned it from six weeks.
WEEK NINE: This image shows the development of a human embryo by week nine of pregnancy. It shows the gestational sac, which contains the developing embryo in the early weeks of pregnancy. Clinicians told the Guardian that the embryo was also present in this image, but that it was not easily discernible
FIVE (left) and SIX (right) WEEKS: The above shows pregnancy tissue extracted at five weeks and six weeks of age. Dr Joan Fleischman, a clinician at the MYA network, said people are ‘stunned’ when they see what it looks like to the naked eye
WEEK SEVEN (left) AND WEEK EIGHT (right): The above images show pregnancy tissue at weeks seven and eight. There is still no visible embryo in either. At seven weeks the gestational sac only measures half an inch
A total of 12 states have outright banned abortion, while two others have banned it after six weeks of pregnancy
At four weeks, the embryo tissue is still a smattering of cells. This is the point where the embryo begins to grow and develop within the womb.
Home pregnancy tests can typically detect HCG, the hormone produced during pregnancy, as early as 10 days after conception.
Most women will take a home test soon after missing a period, though some very sensitive tests can pick up the presence of HCG a few days beforehand.
At this point in pregnancy, it is illegal to obtain an abortion in Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Some argue that because the embryo has begun growth at this point, it should be considered a person and be protected by pro-life legislation.
At five weeks, the tissue is less than an inch in diameter. On average, an embryo is around two millimeters in size, and still not yet visible to the human eye.
The unborn child has formed some blood vessels at this point, some of which will connect the mother to her baby and create an umbilical chord.
An embryo at the six week mark is only about four weeks old, because the counter actually begins at the mother’s last menstrual period. At that point, most women do not know they are pregnant.
A flurry of states have passed legislation over the past decade banning abortion at six weeks in so-called ‘heartbeat bills’, including North Dakota, Texas, Louisiana, and Missouri.
Those states passed further restrictive laws after the Supreme Court tossed out the federal guarantee to an abortion in June.
Georgia is the only remaining state with an explicit cut off at six weeks. The other states have since banned the procedure outright with few to no exceptions for cases of rape and incest.
The term has rallied the anti-abortion movement, which grew increasingly emboldened in the lead up to the Supreme Court’s decision as more states passed bans at different points in pregnancy.
But the term ‘heartbeat bill’ is a misnomer, according to obstetrician gynecologists. Rather, ‘cardiac activity’ is more accurate. The heart begins developing in the embryo at around three weeks.
At the six week point, those beats the mother and doctor hear are actually electrical impulses captured by the ultrasound machine and translated by the machine into the sound of a heartbeat, according to Dr Nisha Verma, an OB-GYN who practices in Georgia.
‘A heartbeat is the sound created by the opening and closing of cardiac valves,’ Dr Verma said. ‘There are no cardiac valves, so there is no sound of them opening and closing.’
Some argue that since heart activity is detectable at this point, it is correct to determine that it is the heartbeat of a living being.
It is not until around 17 to 20 weeks that the four chambers of the heart have developed and can be detected on an ultrasound. At that point, the term ‘heartbeat’ in the context of abortion bans is accurate.
At that point abortion is still legal in 33 of the 50 US states.
‘People who have been pregnant may recognize the term heartbeat as something they heard in their first ultrasound appointment,’ Dr Verma said.
‘As a physician, I often use that language with my patients and their families, because they can connect with it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s clinically accurate or that it should be used to restrict my patients’ access to medical care,’ she added.
The gestational sac pictured above is the large cavity of fluid that supports the developing baby in early pregnancy.
Embryo tissue is shown from the youngest point in gestation, four weeks, through nine weeks. Dr Joan Fleischman, part of the MYA Network, told the Guardian that most women in the early stages of pregnancy don’t know what their unborn babies look like and are shocked when they see the tissue for themselves.
Pictured above is some embryo tissue at four weeks’ gestation. At this point the embryo has begun to grow in the womb but is not yet visible to the naked eye. Some argue that at this point, life has already begun because the embryo has begun its growth
This image shows decidua, or tissue to support the pregnancy, and the gestational sac. The gestational sac becomes known as the amniotic sac, which protects the fetus from injury and helps regulate its temperature.
At six to 10 weeks, the gestational sac becomes the amniotic sac. The thin-walled sac encloses the fetus, protecting it from injury and helping to regulate its temperature.
From this point on, a fetus does become visible to the naked eye. By nine weeks it has reached 1.7 centimeters long, or nearly a full inch.
Women who undergo an abortion often misunderstand what their developing babies look like at the point of the procedure, according to Dr Joan Fleischman, part of the MYA Network.
‘They are stunned by what it actually looks like,’ Dr Fleischman told the Guardian.
It is common at political demonstrations revolving around abortion policies to see anti-abortion protesters carrying posters displaying images of near fully-developed fetuses in the womb.
But those posters are very misleading, Dr Fleischman said.
‘That’s when I realized how much the imagery on the internet and on placards – showing human-like qualities at this early stage of development – has really permeated the culture. People almost don’t believe this is what comes out.’
Dr Michelle Gomez, a family medicine doctor part of the MYA Network, added that, ‘We’re just putting out the information and the facts to counter the misinformation.
To say: this is not something that’s scary, or dangerous, or violent. It’s just a picture of something that’s in your body.’