On May 15, Alabama’s governor signed the most aggressively anti-abortion law in recent American history. If enacted, the law would permit abortions only if the mother’s life is at risk or if the fetus cannot survive, but not in cases of rape or incest.
Alabama is not alone. After a series of conservative appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court, a growing number of states have moved to drastically restrict access to abortion. Over the past few months, several states, including Missouri, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia, have pursued “heartbeat” bills – legislation that would ban abortion as soon as a physician is able to detect a fetal heartbeat.
Despite the name of these bills, however, many medical experts take issue calling what’s happening in the fetus a “heartbeat” at such an early stage in development. At that point, the fetus doesn’t have what we would typically view as a heartbeat — or even a heart.
Dr. Ted Anderson, president of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says calling the activity a heartbeat is “misleading” and “out of step with the anatomical and clinical realities of that stage of pregnancy.”
“What is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically-induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops,” Anderson said in a statement.
None of these new laws have yet gone into effect, and abortion is still legal in every state. Alabama Gov. Ivey herself admitted that the Alabama bill is likely “unenforceable” thanks to the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which asserted that Americans have a fundamental right to an abortion until a fetus is viable. However, these bills are designed to provoke the Supreme Court to make a ruling that will weaken abortion protections, or to even overturn the landmark ruling.
Ivey acknowledged that she disagrees with Roe, and said in a statement that pushing the Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling was a major reason legislators pursued the law.
“The sponsors of this bill believe that it is time, once again, for the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit this important matter, and they believe this act may bring about the best opportunity for this to occur,” Ivey said.
Here are the details of the most restrictive legislation that has been signed.
Alabama abortion law details
Under the “The Alabama Human Life Protection Act,” performing an abortion in Alabama would be a felony. The legislation, which Ivey signed into law on May 15, defines a fetus as a legal person “for homicide purposes” and compares abortion to the Holocaust and other genocides. The woman who receives the abortion would not be held “criminally culpable or civilly liable.”
If the law goes into effect, there would be only two reasons a person in Alabama could have an abortion – if the fetus has a “lethal anomaly” which would cause death soon after birth or a stillbirth, or if it would “prevent serious health risk” to the mother. The legislation also specifies that it isn’t enough for the mother to have an “emotional condition” or mental illness – a second doctor would need to agree that the mother has a “serious mental illness” that could cause her or the fetus to die.
Staci Fox, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said that Planned Parenthood and its allies are determined to “take this country forward, not backwards.”
“Alabama’s state motto is audemus jura nostra defendere, which means ‘we dare defend our rights,’” Fox said. “That’s exactly what we’re doing here today. Abortion has been safe and legal in this country for more than 45 years and we aim to keep it that way.”
Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and ACLU of Alabama filed a lawsuit on May 24 on behalf of Alabama abortion providers to challenge the bill.
Louisiana abortion law details
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an aggressive anti-abortion law on May 30, banning the procedure if a fetal heartbeat is detected. The legislation does not provide any exceptions for victims of rape or incest.
After the bill passed the legislature, Edwards announced that he planned to sign it. “In 2015, I ran for governor as a pro-life candidate after serving as a pro-life legislator for eight years. As governor, I have been true to my word and my beliefs on this issue,” Edwards, a devout Catholic, said in a statement.
The legislation requires women to receive an ultrasound to determine if there is a heartbeat before getting an abortion. If a heartbeat were detected, abortion would only be permitted to prevent the pregnant woman’s death, if she is at a “serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” or if the fetus has an anomaly that would prevent it from surviving after birth.
A doctor who violates the ban could face up to two years in prison and the revocation of his or her medical license.
Missouri abortion law details
Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill on May 24 that would ban abortion in Missouri after eight weeks of pregnancy. The law wouldn’t permit an exception for victims of rape or incest. Doctors who perform later abortions would face five to 15 years in prison, although women who receive abortions would not be prosecuted.
“By signing this bill today, we are sending a strong signal to the nation that, in Missouri, we stand for life, protect women’s health, and advocate for the unborn,” Parson said. “All life has value and is worth protecting.”
Abortions after the cut-offwould only be permitted in cases of “medical emergency” – to avoid the mother’s death or to prevent “substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”
Missouri’s law includes backup provisions if the courts do not uphold the eight-week cutoff, which it describes as the “fetal heartbeat standard.” Depending on court rulings, abortion could instead be halted at 14, 18 or 20 weeks of pregnancy. After 20 weeks, the fetus would be termed a “late-term pain-capable unborn child.”
“This is the type of legislation that is designed to withstand a challenge and to actually save lives in our state,” said Missouri Republican House Speaker Elijah Haahr, a Republican.
The legislation added other restrictions to limit abortion, such as requiring minors to have the consent of at least one parent and prohibiting abortion on the basis or sex or race, or because the fetus is believed to have Down Syndrome. The legislation would also double the amount of malpractice insurance required for abortion providers.
Mississippi abortion law details
In March, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed the state’s second abortion ban in two years—a bill that bans abortion after the fetus has a detectable heartbeat, about six weeks into a pregnancy.
In 2018, the state passed legislation that banned abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. However, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves issued a temporary injunction against the law in December, declaring that the law “unequivocally” violated women’s rights, according to the Associated Press.
Judge Reeves heard arguments against the new bill on Tuesday, and expressed frustration that the state appeared to have ignored his first ruling. “It sure smacks of defiance to this court,” Reeves said, according to the AP.
For now, the ban on abortions after six weeks is set to go into effect on July 1. The law would allow abortions after a heartbeat is detected only in cases when the mother’s life is in danger or there is a serious risk of “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” but not for victims of rape or incest. Physicians who perform abortions after a heartbeat is detectedwould be in danger of losing their licenses.
The day before he signed the law, Bryant tweeted that he felt that he had signed the law in good conscience. “We will all answer to the good Lord one day. I will say in this instance, “I fought for the lives of innocent babies, even under threat of legal action.””
Georgia abortion law details
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a law on May 7 that would ban abortion as soon as physicians can detect a heartbeat. A fetus’s heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks, before some women become aware that they are pregnant. Physicians would be required to determine if there is a heartbeat before performing an abortion.
Physicians would be permitted to perform an abortion up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy in cases of rape or incest, but only if the victim has filed an official police report. A fetus could also be aborted if the pregnancy is determined to be “medically futile” – if the fetus “has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal anomaly that is incompatible with sustaining life after birth.”
The bill also includes provisions that a mother can request alimony and child support to care for the fetus; parents could also claim the fetus as a “dependent minor” in order to receive a tax deduction for the unborn child.
Ohio abortion law details
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed legislation this April banning abortion in the state once a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
The measure was a win for conservatives who have tried to pass a heartbeat bill since at least 2011. A 2016 bill even passed the State legislature, but DeWine’s predecessor, Governor John Kasich, vetoed it twice on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, according to the Associated Press.
The bill signed in April does not have any exceptions for rape or incest, but permits abortions to “prevent the death of the pregnant woman” or in cases where there is “a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”
Doctors who perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, or who fail to check for a heartbeat, would be guilty of a fifth degree felony and could face a suit for civil damages. The state medical board could order them to forfeit up to $20,000 for each violation, which would go into a fund for foster care and adoption initiatives.
Physicians who perform an abortion or don’t notify the woman about the fetus’ odds of making it to term could also face a wrongful death lawsuit from the mother who received the abortion. They could receive $10,000 in damages and court costs, or another amount determined during a trial.
Like the other so-called heartbeat legislation, the law’s supporters expected that it would face legal challenges. “Will there be a lawsuit? Yeah, we are counting on it. We’re counting on it. We’re excited about it,” said Republican State Representative Ron Hood, according to Ohio Public Radio.
The ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit on May 15 on behalf of preterm abortion provider Preterm-Cleveland. Other abortion providers were also named as plaintiffs.
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