Fetal heartbeat bill

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A fetal heartbeat bill is a form of proposed abortion legislation in the United States of America which makes abortions illegal as soon as the fetus' heartbeat can be detected,[1] based on the conclusion that a fetus is a person as soon as it has a heartbeat. Fetal heartbeats can be detected at about six to seven weeks into the pregnancy,[nb 1] but may be as late as twelve weeks when detected with a Doppler fetal monitor.[4]

Fetal heartbeat bills by state[edit]


A bill prohibiting abortions after a heartbeat can be detected was passed by a vote of 73-29 in the Alabama House on March 4, 2014. In doing so they became the first state to pass such a law.[5] The bill later died in committee.[6]


A fetal heartbeat bill, banning abortion after twelve weeks, was passed on January 31, 2013 by the Arkansas Senate,[7] vetoed in Arkansas by Governor Mike Beebe, but, on March 6, 2013, his veto was overridden by the Arkansas House of Representatives.[8] A federal judge issued a temporary injunction against the Arkansas law in May 2013,[9] and in March 2014, it was struck down by federal judge Susan Webber Wright, who described the law as unconstitutional.[10]


On May 4, 2018 governor Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill which bans abortion after any fetal heartbeat is detected.[11] A lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Planned Parenthood on May 15, 2018, seeking an emergency injunction to block the law from being enacted on July 1, 2018.[12]


The bill was introduced and referred to committee in February 2013. The bill was presented to the Kansas house in March 2013.[13] The bill was known as House Bill 2324, "An act prohibiting an abortion of an unborn human individual with a detectable fetal heartbeat." [14] One outspoken advocate of such bills is Mark Gietzen, who has tried to gather as many signatures as possible in order to get Sam Brownback to convene a special session of Congress in order to consider the bill.[15] Gietzen also advocated for a fetal heartbeat law to be passed during a special session of the Kansas legislature, to be held on September 3, 2013.[16] HB 2324 died in committee in May 2014.[17]


The Kentucky heartbeat bill, HB 132, was introduced in 2011, and, as of February 2, 2013 was postponed in committee.[18]


The Mississippi bill, HB 6, was introduced in January and died in committee in February 2013.[19]

North Dakota[edit]

North Dakota HB 1456 was signed into law in March 2013[20] by Jack Dalrymple, who stated that it was "a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade." A federal district court found that it clearly violated the constitutional protections afforded in Roe v. Wade and it was quickly blocked.[1] In July of that year, a lawsuit had been filed with regard to the law by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), on behalf of the only abortion clinic in North Dakota, Red River Women's Clinic. In July 2015, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the bill.[21] The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, but the court denied a writ of certiorari in January 2015 and let the decision of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.[22]


In Ohio, a fetal heartbeat law, HB 125, was introduced in the state legislature in October 2011.[23] The bill was shelved by the Republican majority Senate to avoid controversy.[24] This bill was notably supported by Jack Willke.[25] A related law was signed in Ohio in 2013 by John Kasich, which mandates, among other things, that doctors who do not test for a fetal heartbeat must be subject to criminal penalties; specifically, "The doctor’s failure to do so would be a first-degree misdemeanor, carrying up to six months in jail, for the first violation and a fourth-degree felony, carrying up to 18 months in jail, for subsequent violations."[26] A further fetal heartbeat law was introduced on August 14, 2013, by Lynn Wachtmann and others.[27]

A bill similar to the 2011-2012 bill was introduced in 2013, titled HB 248.[28]

On March 25, 2015, another heartbeat bill (House Bill 69) passed the Ohio House of Representatives.[29] The Guardian reported that "The bill is unlikely to go any further, facing stiff opposition in the senate as well as from John Kasich, the Republican governor of Ohio."[30]

On December 6, 2016, the Ohio Senate added a heartbeat ban provision to an unrelated bill, House Bill 493, previously passed by the Ohio House of Representatives. The bill was returned to the House and passed by the House the same day.[31] The bill as passed would make abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat a fifth-degree felony except in cases where a physician judges the abortion necessary "to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman."[32] On December 13, 2016, Kasich vetoed the bill.[33]


A fetal heartbeat bill was introduced in Texas by Phil King on July 18, 2013, in the wake of Rick Perry signing Texas Senate Bill 5 into law.[34] The bill was not passed.[35]


A fetal heartbeat bill, HB 97, was introduced in the Wyoming House of Representatives in January 2013 by Kendell Kroeker, however in February 2013 the bill was struck down by a house committee in a 4-5 vote.[36][37]

"Informed consent" laws[edit]

A related though distinct type of law is that introduced at the state level in all 50 states in the US in October 2011, which would require any woman seeking an abortion to see and hear their fetus's heartbeat. Supporters included the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Americans United for Life, and the Susan B. Anthony List.[25] Another such bill was introduced in Texas, and, after getting approved by an appeals court, was criticized by Sam Sparks, who said, "The concept that the government may make puppets out of doctors, provided it does not step on their patients’ rights, is not one this Court believes is consistent with the Constitution, in the abortion context or otherwise."[38] A similar type of legislation, the "Heartbeat Informed Consent Act", was introduced at the national level around the same time by Michele Bachmann, however, it died in committee.[39] Another law of this variety, introduced by Sharon Weston Broome, was passed by legislators in Louisiana in 2012, as an amendment to a 2010 bill requiring women seeking an abortion to receive an ultrasound of their fetus.[40] Similar laws have been passed in states such as Georgia in 2005;[41] and a law that mandated both an ultrasound of the fetus and listening to its heartbeat before an abortion could be procured was laid on the table in 2012 in Pennsylvania.[42] This last bill became controversial when Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania's governor, stated that "You just have to close your eyes" and dismissed accusations that the bill would be unnecessarily obtrusive.[43]


There exists some controversy surrounding fetal heartbeat laws because no one is exactly sure when the earliest point is at which a fetus's heartbeat can be detected; when the Wyoming state legislature was debating the bill mentioned above, Norine Kasperik "noted that during the discussion, she heard different answers to when a heartbeat is detectable. To her, there seemed to be variation by medical equipment used." Similarly, Mary Throne inquired, "Is this abortion illegal at 22 days with a highly invasive ultrasound or is it illegal at 9 weeks when we hear a heartbeat with a stethoscope?"[36] Furthermore, some critics of these bills have claimed that they ignore that not all fetuses' heartbeats become detectable at the same time, even when measured using the same methods, since, according to Mother Jones, this varies depending on "the embryo's position in the uterus, a woman's body fat percentage, and a dozen other variables."[44]

On a similar note, the Center for Reproductive Rights has stated that there is some inconsistency with regard to these laws; specifically, "The Arkansas law requires providers to do so with an abdominal ultrasound, and the North Dakota one by any technology available, including a transvaginal probe, which can detect a heartbeat weeks earlier than an abdominal ultrasound."[45] With specific regard to the North Dakota law, detecting a fetus' heartbeat at six weeks into a pregnancy requires the use of a transvaginal ultrasound, which some members of the pro-choice movement say is unnecessarily invasive.[46] Furthermore, while the pro-life movement claims that bills mandating a woman listen to her fetus' heartbeat would increase the likelihood of them changing their mind, the pro-choice community, with the support of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, opposes "informed-consent" bills because they threaten to, if passed, "significantly jeopardize the open dialogue within the physician-patient relationship."[47]

Furthermore, some critics of fetal heartbeat bills say that, since Roe v. Wade established that abortion is legal until the point of viability (between 24 and 28 weeks into the pregnancy), that such bills "blatantly contradict" Supreme Court precedent. As Governor Beebe put it regarding the Arkansas 12-week ban mentioned above, "In short, because it would impose a ban on a woman's right to choose an elective, nontherapeutic abortion well before viability, Senate Bill 134 blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court...When I was sworn in as governor I took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend both the Arkansas Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. I take that oath seriously."[8] That fetal heartbeat bills are unconstitutional is an opinion with which Judge Hovland agreed with regard to the North Dakota law signed by the governor on March 26, 2013. Hovland wrote that the law was "clearly invalid and unconstitutional based on the United States Supreme Court precedent in Roe V. Wade."[48]

Legal challenges[edit]

"Informed consent" laws requiring women seeking abortions to have the physician play a recording of her fetus' heartbeat have met with challenges in court, notably in Texas, when the CRR filed a lawsuit against it, leading to a court case entitled Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion Services v. Lakey. Prior to Sam Sparks condemning the law in January 2012, however, a federal district court had ruled that the law violated the First Amendment in August 2011. This decision was reversed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, led by Edith Jones. Another similar law was challenged in North Carolina in Stuart v. Huff, in which a federal district court ruled that the law was in violation of the First Amendment. This case, unlike the one in Texas, has not yet been appealed.[49] This has led to some debate among different pro-life/anti-abortion groups regarding strategy; specifically, while some of these groups, like the Kansas Coalition for Life, have supported the passing of this legislation, others, like Kansans for Life, are concerned that "enacting a fetal heartbeat ban would prompt a court ruling undoing some limits on abortion and providers."[50] Likewise, Paul Linton, former general counselor for AUL, has argued that fetal heartbeat laws "have no chance in the courts." He, like most mainstream anti-abortion advocates (including James Bopp), prefers instead a legislative strategy that chips away at Roe v. Wade.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The figure of "six weeks" is frequently quoted in the media. According to the Endowment for Human Development, a fetus's heart begins to beat 22 days into the pregnancy.[2] However, some uncertainty remains as to when this heartbeat can be detected, as it depends on the method used. If a transvaginal ultrasound is used, the heartbeat can be detected in about 60% of pregnancies between 8 weeks and 8 weeks and 6 days' gestation.[3]


  1. ^ a b Lithwick, Dahlia (23 July 2015). "A Regrettable Decision". Slate. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  2. ^ "Prenatal Form and Function – The Making of an Earth Suit". EHD. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  3. ^ Mitra, A. G.; Laurent, S. L.; Moore, J. E.; Blanchard Jr, G. F.; Chescheir, N. C. (1996). "Transvaginal versus transabdominal Doppler auscultation of fetal heart activity: A comparative study". American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 175 (1): 41–44. doi:10.1016/S0002-9378(96)70248-X. PMID 8694073.
  4. ^ Weiss, Robin Elise. "How soon can I hear my baby's heartbeat in pregnancy?". About.com. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  5. ^ "Alabama lawmakers weigh strict 'fetal heartbeat' abortion ban". Reuters. 4 March 2014. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  6. ^ Cason, Mike (6 April 2014). "Bills that passed and died during the Alabama Legislature's 2014 session". Al.com. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  7. ^ Parker, Suzi (31 January 2013). "Arkansas Senate passes fetal heartbeat law to ban most abortions". Reuters. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
  8. ^ a b Bassett, Laura (6 March 2013). "Arkansas 12-Week Abortion Ban Becomes Law". Huffington Post. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  9. ^ "Ark. 'heartbeat' abortion law blocked - Washington Times". The Washingtion Times.
  10. ^ AP (15 March 2014). "U.S. judge strikes Arkansas' 12-week abortion ban". USA Today. Retrieved 20 September 2014.
  11. ^ "Nearly all abortions banned in Iowa as Gov. Kim Reynolds signs 'fetal heartbeat' law". Des Moines Register. Retrieved 2018-05-04.
  12. ^ "ACLU, Planned Parenthood & Others File Lawsuit to Block Iowa Abortion Law". ACLU of Iowa. 2018-05-14. Retrieved 2018-05-21.
  13. ^ "HB 2324". kslegislature.org.
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ "Kansas groups push stricter abortion limits". kansas.
  16. ^ "Kansas abortion group sees opportunity in special session - BaldwinCity.com". baldwincity.com.
  17. ^ "HB 2324". kslegislature.org.
  18. ^ "KY HB132 - 2013 - Regular Session". LegiScan.
  19. ^ "MS HB6 - 2013 - Regular Session". LegiScan.
  20. ^ "N.D. governor approves 6-week abortion ban, says constitutionality is "open question"". CBS News. CBS News. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
  21. ^ Associated Press (14 May 2014). "N.D. makes next move after controversial abortion law overturned". CBS News. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  22. ^ Williams, Pete. "Supreme Court Rejects North Dakota Appeal on Abortion Restrictions". NBC News. NBC News. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
  23. ^ "Laws, Acts, and Legislation". state.oh.us.
  24. ^ "Ohio Lawmakers Give Up On Anti-Choice Legislation". ThinkProgress.
  25. ^ a b "Abortion foes push fetal heartbeat bills in states". msnbc.com.
  26. ^ Provance, Jim (8 July 2013). "Both sides of debate find Ohio abortion law decision to be historic". Toledo Blade. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  27. ^ Hallett, Joe (15 August 2013). "Fate unclear for new anti-abortion 'heartbeat bill'". Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved 23 August 2013.
  28. ^ "Laws, Acts, and Legislation". state.oh.us.
  29. ^ Oates, Lindsey J. (6 April 2015). "Ohio abortion bill creating controversy among college women". USA Today. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  30. ^ Siddiqui, Sabrina (25 March 2015). "Ohio anti-abortion 'heartbeat bill' passes in house but likely to face opposition". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  31. ^ Cadinsky, Catherine; Ludlow, Randy; Siegel, Jim. "House joins Senate in approving heartbeat abortion bill". The Columbus Dispatch. The Columbus Dispatch. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
  32. ^ "House Bill 493, As Passed By The Senate" (PDF). The Ohio Legislature. The Ohio Legislature, 131st General Assembly. 6 December 2016. p. 46. Retrieved 7 December 2016. Sec. 2919.195. (A) Except as provided in division (B) of this section, no person shall knowingly and purposefully perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman with the specific intent of causing or abetting the termination of the life of the unborn human individual the pregnant woman is carrying and whose fetal heartbeat has been detected in accordance with division (A) of section 2919.192 of the Revised Code. Whoever violates this division is guilty of performing or inducing an abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, a felony of the fifth degree. (B) Division (A) of this section does not apply to a physician who performs a medical procedure that, in the physician's reasonable medical judgment, is designed or intended to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman. A physician who performs a medical procedure as described in this division shall declare, in a written document, that the medical procedure is necessary, to the best of the physician's reasonable medical judgment, to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman. In the document, the physician shall specify the pregnant woman's medical condition that the medical procedure is asserted to address and the medical rationale for the physician's conclusion that the medical procedure is necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman. A physician who performs a medical procedure as described in this division shall place the written document required by this division in the pregnant woman's medical records. The physician shall maintain a copy of the document in the physician's own records for at least seven years from the date the document is created. (C) A person is not in violation of division (A) of this section if the person acts in accordance with division (A) of section 2919.192 of the Revised Code and the method used to determine the presence of a fetal heartbeat does not reveal a fetal heartbeat. (D) Division (A) of this section does not have the effect of repealing or limiting any other provision of the Revised Code that restricts or regulates the performance or inducement of an abortion by a particular method or during a particular stage of a pregnancy.
  33. ^ Higgs, Robert (December 13, 2016). "Gov. John Kasich vetoes anti-abortion Heartbeat Bill, signs 20-week abortion ban". Cleveland.com. Columbus. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
  34. ^ "Texas Legislators File Radical 'Fetal Heartbeat' Bill To Ban Abortion After Just Six Weeks - ThinkProgress". ThinkProgress.
  35. ^ "Texas Legislature Online - 83(2) History for HB 59". Texas Legislature Online. Texas Legislature. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
  36. ^ a b Hancock, Laura (January 29, 2013). "Wyoming House Panel votes down abortion bill". Casper Star-Tribune. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  37. ^ "WY HB0097 - 2013 - Regular Session". LegiScan.
  38. ^ "Judge doesn't back down in sonogram ruling". Texas Politics.
  39. ^ "Heartbeat Informed Consent Act (2011; 112th Congress H.R. 3130) - GovTrack.us". GovTrack.us.
  40. ^ "Louisiana Senate Approves "Heartbeat" Bill While Committee Creates New Criminal Penalties For Abortion Providers". RH Reality Check.
  41. ^ "Abortion: A Women's Right to Know". Georgia Department of Public Health. Archived from the original on 24 August 2013. Retrieved 30 July 2013.
  42. ^ "Session 2011-2012 House Bill 1077". Pennsylvania General Assembly website. 12 March 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2013.
  43. ^ Bassett, Laura (15 March 2012). "Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania Governor, On Ultrasound Mandate: Just 'Close Your Eyes'". Huffington Post. Retrieved 30 July 2013.
  44. ^ Quraishi, Jen. "Ohio's "Heartbeat" Abortion Bill Moves Forward". Mother Jones. Retrieved 28 July 2013.
  45. ^ a b Redden, Molly (1 April 2013). "New Republic: Fetal-Heartbeat Abortion Laws Are Dangerous Even If Judges Reject Them". Center for Reproductive Rights. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
  46. ^ "A Fleeting Victory for Abortion Rights". Chicago Sun-Times. 28 July 2013. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  47. ^ "Vote on Controversial Ultrasound Bill Delayed: Medical Community's Concerns Must be Addressed". Pennsylvania Medical Society Website. 19 March 2012. Archived from the original on March 19, 2012. Retrieved 30 July 2013.
  48. ^ Margolin, Emma (22 July 2013). "Judge calls ND's 'fetal heartbeat' abortion ban unconstitutional". MSNBC. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  49. ^ Masci, David; Lupi, Ira (16 January 2013). "A History of Key Abortion Rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court". Pew Research Center. Retrieved 1 August 2013.
  50. ^ Hanna, John (30 July 2013). "Kan. officials resist push for anti-abortion bill". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2 August 2013.