EMBRYOS – What an embryo in early pregnancy looks like as it develops

Jessica Valenti, who became an abortion rights activist in the USA after Roe v. Wade fell, began sharing daily updates about the current state of abortion rights in the country through her newsletter, called Abortion Every Day. On 19 October 2022, she published some photographs of what embryos look like at between five and nine weeks of pregnancy. The response was a flood of reactions that showed just how many people, including pro-choice people, who had had no idea. Many had clearly been influenced by anti-abortion visuals that falsely portray early embryos as fully developed babies.

The above three photos, published with the article about her experience, were taken by clinicians associated with the MYA Network, a network of clinicians in the USA who are working to normalise abortion care by expanding early abortion options in primary care settings, including MVA and at-home abortion pills.

The photos are of aborted embryos that had been rinsed clean of blood after manual vacuum aspiration, in order to make the pregnancy tissue visible. But other than that, there was no alteration or manipulation. These “little white blobs”, as Valenti calls them in a video, “are what anti-abortion laws deem more valuable than the life of a pregnant woman”. The Guardian journalist Poppy Noor, who worked with Valenti to publish the photos, said: “The level of misinformation is so high that people on all different sides have been confused.”

For Renee Bracey Sherman, the founder and director of the abortion storytelling organisation We Testify, it’s understandable that those who want children would be eager to see a tiny cluster of cells as protohuman. The problem is when that wishful perspective is foisted on those who don’t want to be pregnant.

For those who feel invested in the specialness of human pregnancy, it may be disturbing to see the beginnings of human life presented in such a fashion. But for others, these images bring tremendous relief. Amid the harassment and angry emails they’ve, both Noor and Valenti have had messages from many others who took great comfort from the photos. In some cases, Noor said, “They carried huge shame and these images have been really helpful for them to make sense of their own experiences.”

SOURCE: The Verge, by Lux Alptraum, 3 November 2022 + PHOTOS by MYA Network/Dr Joan Fleischman, MD, MPA