2011 has been a brutal year for abortion access in Ohio. One of the most controversial pieces of legislation, the so-called “Heartbeat Bill,” is being considered by the Ohio Senate. Here are 5 things you should know about it:
1. The Heartbeat Bill would require a medical provider to perform an ultrasound and look for a fetal heartbeat as a part of pre-abortion medical counseling. According to this legislation, if a heartbeat can be found, the doctor must play the sound for the woman, show her the image on her ultrasound, and explain what it is. Terminating the pregnancy would then be forbidden. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as the sixth week of a pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant.
2. The bill includes no exception for rape, incest, or the life of the mother. This is a point of contention for supporters and opposition alike.
3. The stated purpose of the Heartbeat Bill is to contribute to incremental legislation that pushes fetal viability criteria back to the point of conception. As stated in the official Heartbeat Bill Q & A: “Once we draw the line of protection [at the detection of a fetal heartbeat] . . . our goal will actually be within reach. One strategic approach would be to introduce legislation to move the line back to ‘presence’ of a heartbeat instead of detection of one. That moves the line to 18 days and would protect virtually every child. Then, with the unique DNA which appears at conception, we move the line 18 days from there: a short distance has always been easier to travel than a long distance.”
4. The Heartbeat Bill is being supported to provide a direct challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision.
The Roe v. Wade criteria of fetal viability is that a fetus is considered “viable” after 22 to 24 weeks. Under the Heartbeat Bill criteria, if a fetal heartbeat is detectable, an abortion is prohibited regardless of the amount of time that has passed since conception. States can restrict abortion access after fetal viability is established, but not before. The Heartbeat Bill is in direct conflict with this federal ruling, and may be considered constitutionally unenforceable. Supporters of the bill are hoping that it can force a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision at the U.S. Supreme Court.
5. Even if the Heartbeat Bill isn’t enforceable, if it is signed into law, it will still affect pre-abortion counseling requirements. Even if some parts of the Heartbeat Bill are found to be unconstitutional and are struck down, other parts of the law will remain: notably, the part of the law requiring a health care provider to make a fetal heartbeat visible and audible to the mother as part of the process of giving informed consent. This is insensitive to those who are seeking abortions due to rape or incest or to preserve their health, and it interferes in the doctor-patient relationship.
The Heartbeat Bill is only one example of the Ohio Senate’s ongoing war on a woman’s right to choose. For more information on legislation you should know about, check out the Bill Watch at NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.