The Atlantic Runs Embarrassing Correction After Publishing False Claim About Fetal Hearts

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
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The Atlantic falsely claimed a six-week-old fetus does not have a heart in an error-ridden story about ultrasounds published Tuesday, and was forced to issue a correction after making a series of major edits to the story.

The story is aimed at portraying ultrasounds as a gimmick used by pro-life activists to guilt women into not ending the life of their unborn child. Initially the story falsely stated a fetus has “not heart to speak of” at six weeks, in an attempt to portray the impactful procedure (ultrasound) as misleading to women. The story also got the facts wrong regarding an Ohio bill, and incorrectly said John Kasich is the governor of Indiana.

Hours after publishing, The Atlantic began making edits, including toning down the original headline and subheadline to reflect their inaccurate statement regarding fetal heartbeats. The initial headline read, “How the Ultrasound Pushed the Idea That a Fetus Is a Person,” and the subhead read, “The technology has been used to create an imaginary ‘heartbeat’ and sped-up videos that falsely depict a response to stimulus.”

The headline later Tuesday was changed to read, “How Ultrasound Became Political” and the claim about fake heartbeats was removed from the subhead, which was changed to read, “The technology has been used to create sped-up videos that falsely depict a response to stimulus.”

In truth, there’s nothing imaginary about either the heart or the heartbeat of a six-week-old fetus, as The Atlantic later noted. “This article originally stated that there is ‘no heart to speak of’ in a six-week-old fetus,” a correction at the bottom of the story now reads. “By that point in a pregnancy, a heart has already begun to form. We regret the error.”

A line in the piece that initially read, “It is dubious to call this movement a ‘heartbeat’; there is no heart to speak of,” was deleted.

The Atlantic also corrected the facts on the Ohio abortion bill, which was vetoed by Gov. John Kasich. One version of the story claimed it was an Indiana bill vetoed by Gov. Mike Pence, and another version incorrectly stated that it was an Indiana bill vetoed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Bill McMorris with The Washington Free Beacon noted the corrections as they came throughout the day, capturing a number of screenshots that depict the stealth edits before the correction was issued.

“Abortion is the only subject in which media attacks scientific consensus,” he tweeted, along with screenshots highlighting the error regarding the existence of a heart in a six-week-old fetus.

“LOL @TheAtlantic changed the entire tenor of the piece without any notice of update/correction,” he added, noting the headline changes.

And in another tweet: “Lots going on in @TheAtlantic Office right now. A spokesperson Let me know that corrections are Ongoing & it will post update notice Later”

New York Post op-ed editor Seth Mandel joked in a tweet: “Looking forward to The Atlantic’s follow up: How Maps Pushed the Idea the Earth Is Round.”

“When the corrections are complete, this will be an article about pirarucu fishing in the Amazon,” someone else tweeted.

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