The latest bandwagon of anti-abortion bills in the US: Heartbeat or heartless?

The “heartbeat bill,” a euphemism for a fetus endowed with life, conjures in people’s minds the villains of mother and, in some cases, the State, murdering the person in the womb. Since Roe v Wade, the anti-abortion movement in the U.S has launched strategies to establish the personhood of the fetus. Numerous initiatives over the past 30 years in many states have tried to establish that full life as a person starts at the moment of conception.  The heartbeat bill in Mississippi signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on March 21st2019 was just the next step after the failure of initiative 26 Life Begins at the Moment of Fertilization Amendment (2011).  The move from Initiative 26 to the heartbeat bill is easy transition. The heartbeat bill effectively dramatizes the war between mother and womb-inhabitant to a new level—to the very tip of the iceberg: the banning of abortion. Period. Roe v Wade that has somehow survived for 40 years, often barely a whisper in many states lately, seems to be in the middle of its death rattle in others. In the first quarter of 2019, the heartbeat bill was introduced successively in Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Utah, Mississippi, and Missouri. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “governors in four states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Utah) signed a total of eight measures that ban abortion in one way or another. Similar measures passed the legislature in Arkansas and Georgia and were adopted by one chamber of the legislature in six other states…. So far this year, these restrictions have been enacted in Kentucky and Mississippi; passed the legislature in Georgia; and passed one chamber of the legislature in Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. The new law in Kentucky would have gone into effect immediately, but a federal district court issued an order blocking enforcement. The Mississippi legislation is scheduled to take effect in July. Only two other states, Iowa and North Dakota, have ever enacted six-week abortion bans, both of which have been struck down by the courts.” 

In addition to the heartbeat bill, Kentucky has already passed laws restricting private insurance coverage of abortions, mandating a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors. Like Mississippi, Kentucky has only one abortion clinic. One can see clearly how women are severely restricted from obtaining abortions.

What is cruel about the heartbeat bill? According to this bill, women can terminate their pregnancy before 6 weeks. How can this be possible when women generally find out they are pregnant only after 6 weeks? “Some physicians won’t even perform abortions before around six weeks of pregnancy; an embryo at that stage is so small that it might not be visible on an ultrasound, which is used to ensure that a pregnancy is not ectopic, or growing outside the uterus.”

If the heartbeat bill is not a weapon against women’s bodies, their fundamental right to their bodies, the choice to give birth or not, I don’t know what is! As Brigitte Marti says, “One of the great mistakes is to look at the demise of women’s rights as an isolated event. Soaring inequality and legislative measures to control women’s health and rights work together to disempower women and civil society.”

What’s more, many of the states where the heartbeat bill has passed or is in the legislative process have a shortage of obstetricians and have high maternal death rates.

This heartless law targets minority and poor women. How can the United States boast about being the spokesperson for women’s rights when it is shackling women and keeping them imprisoned in age-old ideas about sexuality, contraception, reproduction, and health? It feels as if the major legislative triumphs of women’s equal participation in society and to themselves are being severely undercut by restrictive anti-abortion laws like the latest heartbeat bill.

We see these restrictions on women’s rights happening worldwide. Even in a country like India where abortion has been legal since 1971, the number of unsafe abortions are at a record 25 million, abortion is legal only until 20 weeks, exceptions do exist, but the stipulation is that the woman be married. “An amendment was proposed in the MTP Act by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in October 2014. The bill proposed certain very valid propositions, such as extension of the legal abortion limit to 24 weeks,” but it was dead in the water.

It is truly disheartening when women themselves are the strongest voices proclaiming the need to make abortion illegal. But we need to keep voicing the injustice in the bills and highlight the harm it does to the poor, people of color, and women in general and make the connection between reproductive rights and our equality as human beings. We don’t want to say “before the law,” because we need the law to recognize that we are indeed humans with full rights before we can legitimately stand before the law.

(Photo Credit: Rewire)