We’ve already heard some controversial news regarding contraception laws this week, and now we’re dealing with the proposal of anti-choice bills. The “fetal heartbeat” bill would ban abortions as soon as a heartbeat is detected. Fetal heartbeats can be observed as early as six weeks from conception, before many women even begin noticing signs of pregnancy. Of course, this law would completely contradict Roe vs. Wade, which gives a woman the right to an abortion until about 23 or 24 weeks of her pregnancy.
We would like to think this type of legislation wouldn’t get anywhere near passage, but Ohio, Mississippi, Wyoming, Arkansas, and North Dakota are wading into deeper waters with fetal heartbeat bills.
In Ohio, lawmakers began discussing heartbeat bills in 2011. State Senate leader Tom Niehaus didn’t allow voting because the issue was still too controversial. He felt Ohio must wait until lawmakers’ anti-choice community came to an agreement on the issue.
Earlier this month, Mississippi GOP lawmakers filed a fetal heartbeat bill almost exactly the same as one that didn’t make it out of committee during the previous legislative session. Governor Phil Bryant has announced his strong anti-choice beliefs, stating his support of the fetal heartbeat bill at an anti-abortion event a few weeks ago. Bryant said, “It would tell that mother, ‘Your child has a heartbeat.’”
Wyoming’s state representative Kendell Kroeker proposed changing the medical definition of “viability” two weeks ago. He hoped to replace “reaching viability” to “a detectable fetal heartbeat.” It was rejected on Monday due to its vague wording.
Senator Jason Rapert of Arkansas revealed an even fiercer stance on the issue. The Arkansas bill would also prosecute doctors who perform the procedure after the set cut-off time with a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and a $10,000 fine. This legislation passed with ease out of committee Wednesday and is on its way to the state Senate, where 19 out of 35 chamber members have already signed as co-sponsors of the bill.
North Dakota is similar to Arkansas in that it is also attempting to prosecute doctors for executing abortions after the detection of a heartbeat. A House Committee is considering the bill and an intense “personhood” (bestowing zygotes with equal rights as U.S. citizens) one as well. North Dakota has a history of passing some of the most limiting anti-abortion legislation in the U.S. and women’s health advocates in the state fear for the role these laws would play in the ban on abortion altogether.
Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Dakota each have only one abortion clinic in the entire state. Women of these states have already had to battle these geographical boundaries, but cutting 17 weeks off of their allotted time to travel to a clinic (23 weeks to just 6) could literally trap them in the pregnancy they do not want.