Why Heartbeat Bills Are So Horrific


Kathryn Zheng, Managing Editor

In 1972, the Supreme Court released its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, which cemented a woman’s constitutional right to safe and legal abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. Since then, conservative interest groups across the country have sought to overturn the stipulations of Roe v. Wade, with the latest examples of such being the laws passed in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Ohio in just the last three months. With the power Republicans hold across the states—currently, Republicans control thirty state legislatures—and the new pro-conservative Supreme Court balance, conservatives are closer than they’ve been in decades to restricting reproductive freedom, even though 64% of Americans support Roe v. Wade. Overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing unscientific anti-abortion laws like the one passed in Alabama to go into play, however, would violate a woman’s fundamental right to privacy, be inhumane, and undeniably do more harm than good to our society as a whole—and we must fight back against these measures with all of our might.

Measures like the one passed recently in Georgia have been colloquially referred to as “heartbeat bills,” an unassuming name which conceals their unconstitutional, unscientific, and inhumane nature. “Heartbeat bills” ban abortions after six weeks, the time at which a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Six-week abortion bans, however, are unscientific, irrational, and inhumane. Firstly, the “fetal heartbeat” that can be detected at six weeks is a misnomer: the “heartbeat” heard doesn’t actually come from the heart, which hasn’t even developed yet, but instead from tissue called the fetal pole. Additionally, a fetus is non-viable outside the womb before about 22 to 28 weeks. Passing “heartbeat bills” pegs the existence of a non-viable fetus as more valuable than that of a fully-fledged human being. At six weeks, most women also don’t even know they’re pregnant; such “heartbeat bills” thus effectively ban abortion for all women, underlying the true, sinister reasoning behind their passage.

These laws, however, are not only sinister; the legislators who created and help pass them are also deeply misinformed on the basic facts of pregnancy. Alabama’s new abortion law, for example, which effectively bans abortions from conception on and criminalizes performing the procedure for doctors, was passed by legislators who could not understand how a pregnancy test works. (By the way, it tests hormones, not chromosomes, Clyde Chambliss.) That same legislator seemed to imply that women could still obtain abortions under the new restrictive laws—that is, if they didn’t know they were pregnant.

The inhumanity of these laws is clearly seen when we evaluate how they violate a woman’s fundamental right to privacy—the same grounds that Roe v. Wade was decided on. In the case’s majority opinion, Justice Blackmun wrote that “this right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent.” Although a right to privacy is not explicitly stated in the Constitution, numerous amendments, from the Fourth to the Fourteenth, allude to it. The Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process clause is perhaps the most obvious allusion, stating that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Restricting a woman’s right to abortion clearly abridges these privileges, infringes upon her privacy, and is frankly inhumane.

The inhumanity of abortion restrictions can also be seen if we evaluate how these laws take free will away from women. Most women do not regret having abortions; according to one study, 95% of women who had abortions felt that it was the right choice for them, even three years after the abortion. States should not be permitted to force women to birth children, especially if that state has little to no plans to preserve the welfare of those children afterwards, as seen in the failures of the U.S. foster care system: even today, children in the system can and often will experience multiple foster home changes within a short period of time, which can negatively impact their emotional well-being and futures in the long term.

Critically, even if abortion is indeed restricted and outlawed, it will occur anyway, usually in far more dangerous circumstances. Before Roe v. Wade, many individual states outlawed abortions, but women sought them out anyway; about 20 to 25% of pregnancies ended in abortion before the ruling. When women weren’t able to obtain legal abortions, they would either seek to induce miscarriage—by falling down the stairs or ingesting poison—turn to the unregulated market, or, if they were very lucky, find a licensed provider who would illegally perform an abortion. Historically, countries which have outlawed or heavily restricted abortion also see elevated maternal death rates, as seen in the case of Romania, which banned abortion in the 1960s and saw maternal mortality rates double in twenty years.

As such, we have a duty to challenge abortion restrictions like the ones passed in Alabama and Georgia. Such statutes violate women’s fundamental right to privacy, are unscientific and inhumane, and would undeniably do more harm to women and our society than good. We must preserve Roe v. Wade and ensure that the constitutional right to safe and legal abortion is protected for generations to come.