‘Meet Baby Olivia’: Anti-abortion groups target US sex ed classes

awashed in soft, peachy light, the child yawns, puts her thumb in her mouth and flutters her eyes at the camera. As the camera moves away from her, an umbilical cord and the fleshy tunnel surrounding the child come into view. This is not a newborn baby: it is a fetus in a disembodied womb.

“This is Olivia,” a British female voice says. “Although she has yet to greet the outside world, she has already had an amazing journey.”

Say hello to “Meet Baby Olivia,” and animated video created by an American anti-abortion group that claims to image human embryonic and fetal development in an alleged attempt to convert young people to the anti-abortion cause. The video – or something very close to it – will be required viewing for public school students in two states, with more possibly on the way.

Last year, North Dakota became the first state in the country to do so Adopt a law requiring schools to show “Meet Baby Olivia” or a similar video. This year, Tennessee passed its own “Meet Baby Olivia” law, which requires “Meet Baby Olivia” or something similar to be shown as part of schools’ sex education program.

So far, lawmakers in at least 10 other states have introduced bills in 2024 that would require schools to show students “Meet Baby Olivia” or, in language that appears repeatedly in the bills, a similar “high-quality, computer-generated display or animation” that “ shows every stage of human development in the womb, noting significant markers in cell growth and organ development for each significant marker from pregnancy to birth.” Includes Tennessee legislation, bills in at least five states call “Meet Baby Olivia” by name.

Classrooms are a growing front in the post-Roe v Wade abortion wars, as conservative activists have increasingly intertwined their attacks on abortion with their distaste for sex ed that discuss alternatives to abstinence before marriage. But medical professionals have accused the anti-abortion group behind ‘Meet Baby Olivia’ of spreading propaganda and even misinformation to convert young people to their cause.

Seven of the 12 states where the bills have been introduced or passed ban almost all abortions. So far this year, state legislatures have considered at least 135 gender-edit bills — a record number. according to a CNN analysis. Sixty percent of them would limit sex in some way.

Live Action has denied allegations that every sentence of ‘Meet Baby Olivia’ is incorrect.

“’Baby Olivia’ is not about abortion. It never says the word ‘abortion,'” said Noah Brandt, vice president of communications for Live Action. “’Baby Olivia’ is an important place for states like Tennessee and North Dakota to go next, to continue to do work to educate about both biology and life, because they’ve already protected life, so now it goes it’s about educating people when life begins and respecting that.”

A quiet success story

The rise of the ‘Meet Baby Olivia’ legislation comes at a precarious time for the anti-abortion movement. Since the overthrow of Roe, support for abortion rights has increased even in conservative states. Some Republicans have tried to downplay their opposition to the procedure or even supported efforts to protect it, in a sharp departure from decades of marching in line with the anti-abortion movement.

But while the anti-abortion movement falters, the “Meet Baby Olivia” bills are a quiet success story. Abortion opponents overturned Roe by pushing for state-level abortion restrictions for years; if a restriction was successful in one state, lawmakers in other states would copy and paste its language and introduce their own versions. This strategy eroded access to abortion.

In the “Meet Baby Olivia” bills, observers see a similar strategy at play — and evidence of mission creep.

“Anti-abortion, anti-sexual and (anti)reproductive health movements have focused on other areas and expanded their scope in terms of what is relevant to them and what they are working on,” said Kimya Forouzan, chief policy officer of state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. While Guttmacher is keeping an eye on restrictions on sexual and reproductive health, Forouzan said she has never seen legislation similar to the “Meet Baby Olivia” bills.

Thousands of anti-abortion activists during the ‘March for Life’ in Washington in January 2023. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

“We have seen many attempts to omit information from sex ed,” she said. “But this is such an explicit attempt to incorporate misleading curriculum into sex education.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the leading American membership organization for gynecologists, released a statement “Meet Baby Olivia” is being denounced as “designed to manipulate viewers’ emotions rather than share evidence-based, scientific information about embryonic and fetal development.”

The organization continued: “Many of the claims made in this video do not correspond to scientific facts, but rather reflect the biased and ideological perspectives of the extremists who created the video.”

In “Meet Baby Olivia,” the narrator says that life begins when a sperm fertilizes an egg, but there no scientific consensus about when life begins – and it might as well be one philosophical and religious question as scientific. The narrator also says that “Olivia’s heartbeat can be detected” about three weeks after conception, or five weeks after the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period, which is what the medical community uses to calculate the length of a pregnancy. At that point in the pregnancy, the embryo has not yet fully developed developed heart.

“I would say we could see activity that could be cardiac activity, maybe around six to seven weeks of pregnancy,” says Dr. Stacy Sun, a New York-based gynecologist and fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health. “The question is whether that’s a heartbeat or not, just like another question, because that’s not really a fully formed heart.

“When we get to the heart of the matter of what is medically accurate, these words are not medically accurate,” she added.

“Meet Baby Olivia” also claims that 20 weeks after conception – or 22 weeks of pregnancy “With a lot of help, babies have been able to survive outside the womb.”

Fetal viability, or the point at which a child can survive outside the womb, is typically dated to approximately 22 weeks after fertilization, or 24 weeks of gestation. Although there have been cases of babies surviving after being born just 20 weeks after conception, fetal viability is reduced with each individual pregnancy, especially because many regions of the United States lack adequate gynecological facilities or expertise, which leaves women could help those giving birth. too early. The most premature baby ever to survive was born 19 weeks and 1 day after conception, according to Guinness World Records. He stayed in a hospital in Alabama for 275 days.

“There are so many nuances when it comes to whether or not a baby can survive, especially when he’s so young,” Sun said. “Even if they survive, they don’t have a great quality of life. Its effect can be devastating for the person carrying the pregnancy, the baby.”

On the “Meet Baby Olivia” YouTube page, LiveAction says the video has been “reviewed by accredited medical professionals.” Two of the professionals reviewing “Meet Baby Olivia” work for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the powerful anti-abortion group Susan B Anthony Pro-Life America. Another is a doctor who worked for the American College of Pediatricians at the time. an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled an anti-LGBTQ hate group.

“Our medical recommendations are scientifically based and aimed at promoting the optimal physical and emotional health and well-being of children. Any label that claims otherwise is simply false,” the American College of Pediatricians said in a statement. On its website, which states that the group is not anti-LGBTQ+, the organization says that children are better off raised by married heterosexual couples than by same-sex couples and that “same-sex sexual behavior is associated with serious physical and psychological health problems. risks at significantly high rates”.

It is in at least two states West Virginia And IowaThe “Meet Baby Olivia” bills passed one legislative chamber, but both state legislatures are now closed for the year. Most of the lawmakers who introduced the “Meet Baby Olivia” bill have ended their 2024 sessions or will do so in the coming weeks.

Compared to the rest of the country, the states that passed “Meet Baby Olivia” laws this year — which also includes Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and South Carolina — have less comprehensive policies on sex education. to Siecus: Sex Ed for Social Change, a decades-old organization that issues best practice guidelines for comprehensive sex education. (None of the states received more than a C grade in the Siecus rankings system.) Most states do not require sex education in public schools to be medically accurate, culturally appropriate or unbiased, Guttmacher said. Only four states say sex education cannot promote religion.

Brandt argues that information about “human development” should be included in sex education because “the creation of a new human being” is a possible consequence of sex.

When asked whether the anti-abortion movement should be more involved in shaping sex education, Brandt replied: “Yes, definitely, yes.”