Heartbeat Bills Are the New Fad in Anti-Abortion Legislation

Heartbeat Bills Are the New Fad in Anti-Abortion Legislation
(Way Slong/Creative Commons 2.0.)

So-called heartbeat bills, banning abortion from the point at which an embryonic heartbeat can be detected—usually by six weeks development—already have the reputation of being among the most unconstitutional restrictions to be proposed. They are also quickly becoming the most consistently proposed and failed pieces of abortion legislation.

We are seeing a number of the heartbeat bans proposed or at least mentioned during the 2013 legislative session, more than three times as many as we saw in 2012, when only Ohio and Mississippi offered such bills. But despite the increase in state legislatures proposing these bans, most seem unlikely to ever be signed into law.

So far most have been killed off in committee. The Ohio ban in 2012 was killed in a Senate committee, the Mississippi 2012 ban received the same treatment in 2012 and now Wyoming’s ban this year was blocked in the House. Depending on which committee receives the Mississippi heartbeat ban, 2013 will likely be the same result as 2012.

As for Ohio, the new president of the state senate appears more willing to consider a vote this year than the former president was, but many in the state are already putting pressure on Gov. John Kasich to signal an unwillingness to sign a ban into law, which could save the legislature the trouble of introducing a law in the first place.

Arkansas’s ban may look promising to anti-choice activists on the surface. It sailed easily through senate committee and a full senate vote, a not surprising result for a bill in which many senators were signed on as co-sponsors. Still, it now needs to make it through the House Public Health Committee next week, then a full House vote, and then be signed by a governor already stating his concern about the constitutionality of the bill. “I’m waiting on lawyers. I think that’s the big concern right now—does it run afoul of the Supreme Court or constitutional restrictions? That’s the first thing we’re looking at,” Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe told the Associated Press on Friday.

Kentucky’s ban has been stalled in the House for weeks, without any further action being taken on it. North Dakota’s, on the other hand, was recently introduced and its not clear how anxious the legislature and governor are to become embroiled in what is destined to be a legal fight, especially when the state is already considering both an all-out “personhood” bill and a bill that could potentially close the only clinic in the state.

With six different states discussing heartbeat bills and only one that seems even mildly promising, these bans are looking more and more like a legislative version of “personhood” amendments—often proposed, consistently rejected. With so many other ways to attack the constitutional right to an abortion embedded in Roe v. Wade, it’s unlikely that any state will willingly offer to foot the bill for a legal challenge to a bill so destined to never actually become law.

Originally posted at RH Reality Check. Find the story here.


Robin Marty is a freelance writer, speaker and activist, and the author of Crow After Roe: How Women's Health Is the New Separate But Equal and How to Change That. Her articles have appeared in Ms. magazine, Politico, Rolling Stone and other publications.