On November 1st, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the “Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017,” better known as the Heartbeat Bill. The bill before Congress, H.B. 490, would make it illegal for a woman to get an abortion before six weeks along in her pregnancy, which is before most women know that they are pregnant. This fact alone means that Republican representatives are suggesting a law that is unconstitutional as long as the landmark Roe v. Wade decision still stands. But the truth is that the Heartbeat Bill is dangerous for women in other ways.
The bill was introduced last January by Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa and, since then, other Republicans have backed the proposed law, calling themselves “heartbeat heroes.” Although the bill was drafted by an all-male committee for Congress, it’s been championed by a woman named Janet Porter, the head of an anti-choice lobby called Faith2Action. She helped draft the Ohio “heartbeat bill,” which passed the state’s house last year, though it was ultimately vetoed. During those hearings, backers of the bill had women come in and get live ultrasounds in front of the committee, which is a grotesque way to justify legislation that ignores both science and women’s constitutional right to an abortion.
According to a summary of the bill, H.B. 490 would make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion “(1) without determining whether the fetus has a detectable heartbeat, (2) without informing the mother of the results, or (3) after determining that a fetus has a detectable heartbeat.” There would be no liability for the mother if an abortion is performed, but the doctor would face up to five years in prison or fines.
The bill would essentially prohibit an abortion after six weeks, which is usually when a fetal heartbeat begins. But even with a handheld ultrasound, a heartbeat often can’t be detected until 10 to 12 weeks, which means women could theoretically get an abortion later if their doctor couldn’t hear the heartbeat.
But that’s totally beside the point when you consider that most women find out they’re pregnant around four or six weeks, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Many don’t find out until later on, which means that this bill would ban abortion before a woman even knows that she’s pregnant, eradicating any “choice” in the matter.
Physicians for Reproductive Health board chair Dr. Willie Parker wrote in a statement to HelloGiggles:
This is unconstitutional in so many ways, despite that King has defended the bill by saying that it “protects the lives of voiceless innocents.” That sentiment is a blatant violation of Roe v. Wade, which, among other things, states that medical professionals should not put the interests of the fetus above that of the mother before viability. By taking away a woman’s right to choose before she even knows she is pregnant, even in the case of rape, the bill is unconstitutional on its face.
Already, anti-choice legislators in many states already have unconstitutional abortion laws. The medical consensus is that fetal viability is somewhere between the 24th and 28th week, though many states have laws on their books that prohibit an abortion as early as 20 weeks. The Heartbeat Bill pretty much changes the law’s definition of when life begins.
In addition, the bill includes an exception if the abortion “is necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, but not including psychological or emotional conditions.”
That means that a woman who learns her fetus might have a life-endangering condition would not be able to terminate her pregnancy unless her own life was in danger, but not if she decided that she didn’t want to carry a fetus to term simply to lose the child right after birth or support a lifetime of medical care for the child, which again, is her right.
Heartbeat Bills have never been signed into law on a state level since they’re so blatantly unconstitutional and mired in religious beliefs and bad science. But the fact that they keep popping up, and that Congress has validated H.B. 490 by holding a hearing on the legislation, should put women on watch. It’s no secret that Republicans (and especially Donald Trump’s administration) would like to repeal Roe v. Wade.
Overturning Roe v. Wade is the impetus behind the proposed federal ban on abortion based on a heartbeat. King said last year when he introduced the bill, “By the time we march this thing down to the Supreme Court, the faces on the bench will be different — we just don’t know how much different, but I’m optimistic.”
He was referring to the fact that Trump promised to appoint judges who would repeal Roe v. Wade if given the chance, in the case of a more liberal judge dying or resigning. Even with Trump’s appointment of Neil Gorsuch, there are still five judges in favor of abortion rights against four conservative votes, but that balance could change with the wrong appointment in coming years. Basically, King and anti-choice advocates are just biding their time until another right-leaning judge can be appointed.
Meanwhile, King and his allies in Congress are determined to ban abortions, no matter what. He lauded H.B. 490 as possibly stopping “90 percent, at least” of all abortions. Porter echoed his mission last year. Speaking after the bill was introduced last January, she said, “The heartbeat bill is the first step to ‘make America safe again’ for every child whose heartbeat can be heard.” This has nothing to with science or a woman’s well-being. It’s about some people’s personal beliefs.
Their obsession with banning abortion has nothing to do with “protecting” anyone. They seek to take away a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body and her life. More than that, this bill could push women into having unsafe abortions that may cost them their own lives. (So much for protecting life.)
Women won’t stop choosing to have abortions just because it’s illegal, as so many studies show. Much like women from Ireland travel to England to terminate their pregnancies because of prohibitive abortion laws, American women would be forced to travel to other places or terminate their pregnancies in potentially unsafe conditions.
Those who support heartbeat bills are quick to thump their Bibles and claim to be all about “protecting life,” but really, they just don’t trust women to make a choice for themselves to the point that they’ll ignore medical science and the law. It’s not “protecting the lives of innocents” to force women, who have done nothing wrong, to carry unwanted pregnancies to term and leave them to deal with the consequences on their own. Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen on our watch.