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'Heartbeat Bills' Divide Abortion-Rights Opponents

'Heartbeat Bills' Divide Abortion-Rights Opponents

February 2, 2015 — Opponents of abortion rights are divided over whether to pursue state bills that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, Mother Jones reports.

Such measures would prohibit abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy, which is before many women learn that they are pregnant, according to Mother Jones. The bills are intended to challenge the viability standard set by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade (Redden, Mother Jones, 2/2). Fetal viability is considered to be about 24 weeks (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/14).

National Right to Life Comm. Resists Bills

The National Right to Life Committee and its state affiliates oppose such "heartbeat bills," and NRLC has been working to defeat them in several states. NRLC's opposition to the approach stems from concern that court challenges to such measures would not produce the desired outcome for abortion-rights opponents.

NRLC chief counsel James Bopp said, "The Supreme Court, as it is constituted right now, may not be ready to overturn Roe." He added that litigation over such abortion bans could result in a high court decision that affirms abortion rights and "would jeopardize all current laws [restricting] abortions."

While states have passed many abortion restrictions in recent years, heartbeat bills have stalled in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas and Wyoming, in many cases because of NRLC's opposition, according to Mother Jones.

Bopp said, "It is apparent to the vast majority of" abortion-rights opponents that pursuing such bans "is not worth their time, money and effort, and is a pointless and futile strategy. And it doesn't make sense to advance futile strategy."

However, early abortion bans have enacted but not yet enforced in Arkansas (Act 301) and North Dakota (HB 1456) over the objections of NRLC (Mother Jones, 2/2). The Arkansas measure bans abortions at 12 weeks of pregnancy, while the North Dakota law prohibits an abortion if a fetal heartbeat can be detected (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/14). Both bans have been blocked by federal judges. The states appealed the decisions to a federal appeals court, which heard arguments in the cases last month.

Meanwhile, Kansas Rep. Steve Brunk (R) has introduced a heartbeat bill in his state. Kansans for Life has blocked the measure in the past, according to Mother Jones. However, Mark Gietzen, who leads Kansas Coalition for Life, which supports the measure, said he "can almost guarantee passage of a heartbeat bill in the 2015-2016 session." He added that the group has heard "more favorable talk from the legislature than we've ever had before" (Mother Jones, 2/2).