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I’ve talked a lot about the anti-science agenda of the anti-abortion Religious Right, but this week a bill was passed in Ohio that, amazingly, I don’t think I’ve addressed before: a fetal heartbeat bill.
It’s similar to a fetal pain bill, which I HAVE discussed before, in which a legislature attempts to ban abortion after the point at which they believe fetuses can feel pain. I say “the point at which they BELIEVE they feel pain” because no one really knows if or when or how much fetuses can feel pain, so it’s all just a bullshit way to ban abortion usually around 20 weeks.
Fetal heartbeat bills are, amazingly, even worse. They attempt to ban abortion after the point where a doctor can detect a fetus’s heartbeat. When is that, you ask? Well, it depends on a lot of different factors, which is one reason why these sorts of laws are absolutely insane. A fetus’s heart actually forms and begins to beat before it’s even a fetus. At 3 to 4 weeks, it’s still an embryo, but it does have a tiny little heart. But the bill isn’t about when it has a heartbeat — the bill is about when it can be detected. So when can you detect the heartbeat? Well, it depends on what instrument you’re using. If you use a stethoscope, you’ll have to wait until about 9 weeks to hear it. If you use a transvaginal ultrasound — literally a wand shoved into your vagina — you might hear it at 4-6 weeks. That’s before many women even realize they’re pregnant, let alone before they’ve had a chance to decide if they’re physically, emotionally, and psychologically ready to carry a baby to term, and then dealt with all the red tape most states now require women to cut through to get an abortion.
Of course, if a woman is “lucky”, maybe she’ll be a little fat, or the embryo will be in a hard-to-hear place, so the heartbeat might not be detectable immediately and she’ll have a few more weeks.
So we already have a few issues with the fetal heartbeat abortion ban: it’s imprecise, varies from person to person, and bans abortion for most women who won’t even know they’re pregnant when the deadline passes.
Let’s add a few more issues. Still on the scientific kick, why is the heartbeat so important? What is it about a heartbeat that determines anything about an embryo? Lots of people have heartbeats but are as dead as dead can be. And lots of people don’t have heartbeats for an extended period of time but are able to live. This is essentially Medieval thinking, that the “soul” or essence of a person is located in their hearts, and that all that grey gunk in your skull is just packing peanuts for filling out your hats. It’s nonsense. A heartbeat doesn’t define personhood and it doesn’t give an embryo more rights than the woman who is carrying it — a woman who, it should be noted, also has a heartbeat.
On the political side, the heartbeat bill is clearly 100% unconstitutional. Roe v. Wade established that abortion was legal up until the point of viability, 22-24 weeks. So why did Ohio just rush to pass this bill overnight, attached at the last minute to a completely unrelated child abuse law?
Well, remember a few weeks ago when I talked about how Donald Trump wants to outlaw abortion by naming anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court, but right now there are no cases in the pipeline that would lead to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade? And how this was a good thing but that it would lead states to push their anti-abortion laws harder to force women to go to court to maintain their access to healthcare? Gosh, that didn’t take long.
Ohio’s Republican Senate leader even said exactly that: “A new president, new Supreme Court appointees change the dynamic, and there was consensus in our caucus to move forward.” Previously they didn’t do it because they knew the Supreme Court wouldn’t be on their side. That’s why a fetal heartbeat bill that was previously passed in North Dakota was struck down in the 8th District court system and promptly died. Now, there is no guarantee the Supreme Court will protect women’s interests.
Now, Ohio doctors will face a felony charge if they perform an abortion without searching for a heartbeat, or for performing an abortion when a heartbeat has already been detected. There’s no exception for rape victims.
There’s one thing stopping this bill from becoming a law, and that’s a veto by Ohio governor John Kasich. Whether you live in Ohio or not, you can send a message to Kasich to let him know how you feel about this anti-science, anti-woman law. Link is on the Patreon transcript, or you can call him at 614-466-3555.