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Explainer: What you should know about fetal heartbeat legislation

Mar 22, 2019

What just happened?

On Thursday Gov. Phil Bryant Mississippi signed a bill that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Last week the Ohio legislature also passed a similar and Gov. Mike DeWine has indicated he’d sign the ban into law. The legislature had approved similar measures twice before but both were vetoed by DeWine’s predecessor, Gov. John Kasich.

A similar bill was passed in Georgia House earlier this month, and will soon be considered by the Senate. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign the bill.

What is “fetal heartbeat” legislation?

Fetal heartbeat bills ban abortions within a state after the point where the heartbeat can be detected. By use of an ultrasound, the heartbeat of a child in the womb can routinely be detected as early as 6-7 weeks after conception.

Why is the heartbeat used as the criteria?

As the Ohio bill notes, over ninety percent of pregnancies survive the first trimester if cardiac activity is detected in the gestational sac, while nearly ninety percent of in vitro pregnancies do not

survive the first trimester where cardiac activity is not detected in the gestational sac. Fetal heartbeat, therefore, has become a key medical predictor that an unborn human individual will reach live birth.

States that pass such legislation believe they have a compelling interest in protecting the life of an unborn human individual who may be born.

Which states have passed fetal heartbeat legislation?

Fetal heartbeat bills have passed in four states: Arkansas, North Dakota, Iowa, and Kentucky.

They have failed to pass in 13 states: Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming.

They have been proposed or re-proposed after failing to pass in 14 states: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

A federal Heartbeat Protection Act was also proposed in 2017.

What is the status of the legislation in the four states that passed fetal heartbeat laws?

Currently, all four laws have been blocked by the courts.

Arkansas: A federal judge blocked the law soon after it was passed in 2013. In 2015, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision, and in 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

North Dakota: Similar to the Arkansas law, a federal judge blocked the law soon after it was passed in 2013. In 2015, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decision, and in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

Iowa: A state judge blocked enforcement soon after it was passed in 2018. Last month, a district court ruled the law was unconstitutional since it violated the right to abortion protected under Iowa’s state constitution.

Kentucky: Last week a federal judge blocked the law and ruled that it was potentially unconstitutional.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter serves as a Communications Specialist. Joe has an MBA from Marymount University and is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus. He and his wife, Misty, have one daughter, Samantha. Read More