This year, several states have introduced or are passing so-called “heartbeat bills”—bills that ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected, usually at six weeks.
While they’re rallying many pro-life advocates to the cause, they’re also creating quite a stir, demonstrating just how polarized the United States has become on an issue that’s been legal for several decades.
In April, Ohio became the third state to pass a heartbeat bill. Kentucky and Mississippi passed similar bans earlier. In May, Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia’s legislature passed their versions of a heartbeat bill to much fanfare.
While the other states’ bans made the news, Georgia’s ban prompted Hollywood to engage and attempt to boycott the state where the industry spends a significant amount of resources filming television shows and movies. In fact, Georgia’s ban became so controversial it prompted actress Alyssa Milano to suggest women should stop having sex with men until the ban is reversed.
Rumors spread on social media that Georgia’s bill would penalize women for having abortions with jail time. This proved to be false—only third parties that participated in aiding abortions would face punitive measures.
Heartbeat bills aren’t exactly representative of an outlying view of abortion. Marist polling released in January revealed that 75 percent of Americans would limit abortion to the first three months of pregnancy; that’s with 61 percent of Americans identifying as “pro-choice.”
While heartbeat bills have been introduced in several other states, including Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, and Minnesota, many likely won’t pass.
Crux of the Matter
The heartbeat bills garner so much controversy for liberals and hope for conservatives because they target the crux of the abortion debate, which for many pro-life advocates is the issue of personhood, not viability.
One thing that has escalated in the abortion debate is the left’s tactics: Before these heartbeat bills started passing, progressives claimed abortion, at any stage, should remain legal because a woman should retain autonomy over her own body (“my body, my choice”). That argument worked for several decades and, though it might not have been explicit then, it was hinged on fuzzy science: When did life begin? Nobody was sure.
As time passed and technology increased, the science of conception has become increasingly more clear, bolstering the arguments behind heartbeat bills. A heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks, and a 3D/4D ultrasound shows a squishy image of a tiny person rather than a grainy black and white skeletal figure. Now, doctors can save babies born as early as 21 weeks, although the effort is significant and chances are still slim.
The progression of science and technology gave pro-life advocates the push they needed to attack the pro-choice argument where it was always weak.
Since Georgia and Alabama passed their bills, several mainstream media outlets have published opinion pieces arguing the ban is unconstitutional, citing Roe v. Wade. Of course, this is precisely why the bans are being implemented—to force the courts to address the heart of rulings like Roe or Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
“The heartbeat bill is the next incremental step in our strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis told The Associated Press. “While other states embrace radical legislation to legalize abortion on demand through the ninth month of pregnancy, Ohio has drawn a line and continues to advance protections for unborn babies,” he said.
Still, the likelihood that Roe will be overturned is slim. However, if it was, abortion would not immediately become illegal—the issue would go to each state to address.
Even if these bills don’t succeed in helping to overturn Roe, they still succeed in pinpointing the heart of the issue of abortion, and offering hope to the people who always believed life has value at every stage.
Nicole Russell is a freelance writer and mother of four. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Politico, The Daily Beast, and The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.