According to Planned Parenthood's own description of fetal development, an unborn child's heartbeat begins around two to three weeks after egg fertilization, or weeks five and six of the pregnancy [highlight added]:
Most abortions, which take place in the first trimester, do not involve taking active steps to stop the fetal heartbeat before the procedure is carried out, though obviously the procedure itself stops the heart in those abortions that take place after the five-to-six week threshold. However, as Planned Parenthood spells out under an explanation of a D&E (Dilation and Evacuation) abortion [emphasis added], "In later second-trimester procedures, you may also need a shot through your abdomen to make sure that the fetus's heart stops before the procedure begins." Here's how the section currently appears on the website [highlight added]:
This is initiated by injection of the combination of Digoxin and Potassium Chloride (most commonly) into the fetal heart to assure the following:
No additional pain or discomfort to the fetus
Generally assures no chance of a live birth
The fetal tissue becomes softer which makes it easier for the tissue to pass safely through the mother's cervix
Many studies show a fetus that succumbs in the uterus delivers faster
The website latetermabortion.net is associated with the Orlando Women's Center, and there the primary reason is given in starker terms [emphasis added]:Based on these descriptions, the proactive stopping of the heart beat via an injection primarily has to do with the viability and size of the unborn child. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only 11 percent of abortions take place after the twelfth week of pregnancy, a figure which drops to 1.2 percent after 21 weeks. However, only one-third of abortions occur by 6 weeks, around the time the unborn child's heart has begun to beat. At the very least then, two-thirds of the one million plus abortions that take place in the United States each year indeed stop a beating heart. It's a fact that even Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortion in this country, must own up to.
Stopping the heart beat does two important things: 1) it assures nearly 100% that there will be no evidence of a live birth when the delivery takes place and 2) the softening of the fetal tissue allows for less complications should surgical removal become necessary.
Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.