Yesterday afternoon, Ohio governor Mike DeWine signed a piece of legislation referred to as a heartbeat bill, which prohibits abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. This usually occurs at about six weeks of pregnancy.
The Ohio legislature passed a heartbeat bill last term, but it was vetoed by former Ohio governor John Kasich. Though Kasich is a Republican and describes himself as pro-life, he said the legislation wouldn’t hold up under legal challenge, so he refused to sign it into law. DeWine had no such qualms, even though the American Civil Liberties Union has announced its intention to sue the state, and Planned Parenthood of Ohio is expected to do the same.
The new legislation in Ohio comes on the heels of heartbeat bills passed in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Georgia in recent weeks. In Kentucky, a federal judge blocked the law from going into effect while it faces a legal challenge from the ACLU. In Mississippi, the heartbeat bill was challenged by the Center for Reproductive Rights, which expanded its existing lawsuit to block a state policy banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In Georgia, the ACLU has announced plans to sue to block the bill once Governor Brian Kemp signs it, which he has promised to do.
Unfortunately for pro-life policymakers, heartbeat bills have very little chance of surviving these legal challenges. In January, a state judge struck down Iowa’s heartbeat bill, writing that prohibiting abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat violates “both the due process and equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution as not being narrowly tailored to serve the compelling state interest of promoting potential life.”
Even so, these bills are an essential component of a broader anti-abortion strategy. Perhaps most important, they create an opportunity to educate Americans about the facts of embryology and fetal development by highlighting the scientific fact that a fetal heartbeat can be detected so early in pregnancy. According to a recent Rasmussen poll, after being told that a fetal heartbeat can be detected at about six weeks’ gestation, a majority of Americans (56 percent) said they support banning abortion after that point.
At the most fundamental level, these bills also challenge the common arguments and obfuscations of abortion-rights supporters. If a fetus is just a “clump of cells,” as they say, why does it have its own heartbeat? If a fetus is nothing more than a “part of the woman,” as they insist, why does it have its own heartbeat independent from that of the mother? These questions expose the euphemisms that the abortion-rights movement uses to convince the public that abortion is just like an appendectomy, and that’s worth celebrating.