Portraits of Wildflowers

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Archive for September 24th, 2022

Purple passionflower

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I found myself sauntering (and at 95° sweltering) along a walkway in Houston’s Memorial Park on the bright afternoon of September 17th after I’d noticed while driving through the park that many native species seem to have been planted there. (All the ones I recognized were native, so I assumed the others were, too.) The most striking wildflower I saw there—one I’d walked past on the outward segment of my sauntering and only noticed when I’d made it most of the way back to my car—was a purple passionflower, Passiflora incarnata. Me being me, I did some closer abstractions of the flowers on this vine.



Today’s post is the first of I don’t know how many that will cover the days we spent in Houston, at Brazos Bend State Park, and on Galveston Island.


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Two frequent themes in my commentaries have been: (1) We need to be accurate in reporting facts and incidents; (2) We should be wary when people try to change the longstanding meaning of a word or phrase. Those two things came together in a recent brouhaha brought about when Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said: “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.”

Let’s examine this. Can an ultrasound detect, at least sometimes, activity from the heart area in a human embryo that has been developing for six weeks? The answer turns out to be yes. Stacey Abrams was therefore incorrect in calling the sound “manufactured.” Could she have meant that the embryo was “manufacturing” the sound? That hardly seems likely, based on the rest of her statement.

Supporters of Stacey Abrams rushed to defend her comment by saying that any “cardiac activity” detectable at six weeks isn’t really a heartbeat because the heart is only beginning to form at that stage. When I searched for information about that, one of the first hits I got was a 2019 article by Jessica McDonald on FactCheck.org called “When Are Heartbeats Audible During Pregnancy?” The article, which came in response to “fetal heartbeat” bills that legislators in various states had been proposing, noted that “‘fetal heartbeat’ is more of a legal term than a medical one.” Jessica McDonald went on:

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also has said in a statement, “What is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically-induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops. Thus, ACOG does not use the term ‘heartbeat’ to describe these legislative bans on abortion because it is misleading language, out of step with the anatomical and clinical realities of that stage of pregnancy.”

 But then she went on to add:

At the same time, many online medical websites, including the Mayo Clinic, do refer to the heart and its beating early-on in pregnancy. And plenty of medical textbooks use the words “heart” and “heartbeat” to refer to the embryo’s developing heart.

So even medical experts differ on when cardiac activity in a developing embryo or fetus qualifies as a “heartbeat.” That’s actually not surprising. In many kinds of development there’s no hard and fast line between one stage and the next. For example, when does a child become an adult? Americans in three states can get a full driver’s license at 16; the other 47 states grant a full license at varying older ages. In all states people can vote and serve in the military at 18, but they aren’t allowed to buy alcohol till 21. And scientists tell us that human brain development isn’t complete until approximately age 25.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 24, 2022 at 4:29 AM

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