The House of Representatives will hold a hearing November 1st on a piece of legislation that would ban all abortions after the fetus’ “heartbeat” is detectable. This could ban abortions as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy – before most women even know they are pregnant.
Rep. Steven King (R-IA) introduced H.R. 490, Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017, this past January. Under this bill, physicians who perform abortions with or without determining whether the fetus has a detectable heartbeat, or does not inform the patient of that determination, will be fined and/or face up to five years in prison.
“If a heartbeat is detected, the baby is protected.” King said in a January press release. As of Monday, H.R. 490 had 169 cosponsors.
“It’s just simply outrageous that [Republicans] would look to ban abortion at all,” said a Planned Parenthood representative to Bustle. “It’s legal in this country, it’s a protected right, and it should remain that way.”
This is the harshest restriction on reproductive rights that the federal government has considered. However, multiple states have already attempted abortion restrictions based on fetal activity.
According to ThinkProgress, similar anti-choice measures became popular against anti-abortion advocates in Texas, Wyoming, and Mississippi. North Dakota and Arkansas were the first to pass “heartbeat” laws in 2013. However federal courts struck them down for violating the constitution.
Slate explains the unconstitutionality: “Roe v. Wade prohibits laws that would ban abortions performed before fetal viability, around 24 weeks gestation.” Slate adds that the Supreme Court declined to hear the North Dakota’s appeal of the lower court’s decision.
The Ohio legislature passed their version of a fetal heartbeat bill in 2011, but Gov. John Kasich vetoed the bill. According to The Guardian, the 6-week ban returned and was re-defeated in December of last year. After vetoing the ban, Kasich immediately signed legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Similar to Kasich, Congress has more than one anti-abortion bill on the table. Vox reported that the House of Representatives passed a 20-week abortion ban, The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, earlier in October. President Donald Trump voiced his support by arguing that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks in gestation.
Vox explained the lack of scientific basis for the 20-week ban: “The structures needed for fetuses to feel pain begin to develop between 23 and 30 weeks’ gestation, and studies of premature babies suggest they can’t feel pain until 29 or 30 weeks.”
The fetal heartbeat ban is also medically inaccurate. In her Huffington Post article, OB/GYN Jennifer Gunter explained that at 6 weeks gestation, the womb is experiencing “fetal pole cardiac activity,” not an actual heartbeat. She also wrote, “politicians know exactly what they are doing as a “heartbeat” bills [sic] is a way of making a 4 mm thickening next to a yolk sac seem like it is almost ready to walk.”
All these measures contradict the majority opinion of the American people. Fifty-seven percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to Pew Research Center. Given the close split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, H.R. 490 is unlikely to pass through both chambers of Congress.
Photo: By jordanuhl7 [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons