Even More Red States Are Jumping on the ‘Heartbeat Ban’ Bandwagon

In 2012 and 2013, nearly every state in the nation was introducing 20-week abortion bans and hoping to get the United States Supreme Court to take up a lawsuit. Then, in 2015, many states in the South and Midwest began the same quest with D&E bans, pushing the court to bite on a ban even earlier in gestation.

But now that the court bench is packed with more far-right justices than at any point in the last half century, every state seems to be jumping on the “heartbeat ban” bandwagon, banning abortion as early as two weeks after a missed period.

Why? Because these bans are being used as a back-up plan in case Roe v. Wade stays in place.

A heartbeat ban was one of the earliest model bills introduced just after the Tea Party wave election of 2010 and the beginning of the state-based abortion restrictions onslaught. Ohio led the way in 2011, although the bill was blocked every time it was presented because “moderate” anti-abortion strategists worried it would inadvertently uphold Roe and make it that much harder to overturn the key abortion rights case down the road.

But that was 2011, and times have changed dramatically in eight years. While the two states that did successfully pass bills banning abortions at “the point in which a heartbeat can be detected” — often as little as three weeks after fertilization — and a third, which banned it a few weeks later, all had their laws blocked as unconstitutional, this has been the year of the heartbeat ban. And even more states are getting onboard.

Over the last two weeks, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia and Texas have all introduced — and, in some cases, even initially passed — heartbeat bans in at least one chamber of the state legislature. And of these states, Tennessee appears to be the only one even questioning whether its bill will make it all the way through and become law. There, the bill is being opposed not just by abortion rights supporters, but also by Tennessee Right to Life and a number of Catholic groups, too.

According to The Tennessean:

All three Catholic dioceses in Tennessee and Tennessee Right to Life, an organization dedicated to ending abortion, have publicly opposed the so-called “heartbeat” bill. They say the bill will face certain legal challenges, embroiling the state in expensive litigation in which it is unlikely to prevail.

That used to be a fairly standard argument from the mainstream anti-abortion movement, especially state-based chapters of the National Right to Life. But this year, Ohio Right to Life deviated from that opposition, offering last minute support to the state’s last heartbeat ban endeavor. The bill still failed because the legislature failed to override then Governor John Kasich’s veto, but it has been reintroduced — and the new governor has promised to sign it.

Why are heartbeat bans — once considered to be the province of the fringe side of the anti-abortion movement — suddenly so hot? If you look at the states that are pushing them, you’ll notice that most of them are also introducing trigger bills this session to make abortion completely illegal in the state if Roe is overturned.

The heartbeat ban, realistically, is just a back-up plan states are putting in place on the off chance that Roe might not be overturned at all.

With the additions of Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, there’s a very strong likelihood that there are now five votes on the bench that will agree to overturn Roe and allow states to decide for themselves if abortion should be legal or not if performed in their borders.

But that fifth vote — Chief Justice John Roberts — is the trickiest. While we know he opposes abortion and believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided in 1973, we also know that the court is his legacy and precedent is extremely important to him.

The odds are tipped to his support for ending Roe, but when it comes to the “Roberts Court” being the court to actually reverse such a groundbreaking decision, well, that might not be something he is entirely comfortable having under his name.

On the off chance that Roberts does hold forth with precedent, heartbeat bans are a reasonable and effective backup to make abortion completely illegal.

Most people who can get pregnant will be at about 14 days post-fertilization when they either miss a period, or would test as positive on a pregnancy test. That gives them approximately one — two, at best — weeks to find a clinic, make an appointment, undergo any sort of mandatory waiting period in effect and actually obtain the abortion before it’s too late to receive one in that state. And, in cases like Tennessee, Texas and Missouri, those waiting periods are anywhere from 24 to 72 hours.

Heartbeat bans are, in fact, complete abortion bans — all while leaving abortion technically legal in the state. It’s a back-end play to get around Roe v. Wade — and one that Roberts is likely to accept, even if he wants to maintain precedent. These bans allow him to have it both ways: make abortion inaccessible if not illegal, all while keeping his legacy intact.

By the end of the 2020 legislative session, expect to see every red state with a heartbeat ban in place — especially if they have already set into effect a plan to make abortion completely illegal if Roe is overturned. After all, it never hurts to have a backup.

Photo Credit: Robin Marty/Flickr


Margaret G
Margaret G3 months ago

Trump said that the United States is full and does not want immigrants. So why does the GOP work for adding unwanted children to this "full" country?

Karen H
Karen H3 months ago

Interesting that the "religious" right wingers think abortion is so wrong, but support the right for anybody to carry a gun.

Edith B
Edith B4 months ago

The "heartbeat ban is a ploy to get around Roe v Wade.

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill4 months ago

thanks for the info

Joan E
Joan E4 months ago

Dan B, I agree with Debbie. The right wing is trying to take away our freedom of choice which has been guaranteed by the Supreme Court. This is a fight for our freedom, and every vote against the Republicans brings us closer to getting our rights back. Republican women, you may be for forced birth now, but you or a daughter or someone you love may be raped, or have a pregnancy that could kill her, or some other terrible situation, and YOU are letting the current right wing laws make it possible for your loved-one to die because of the laws you foolishly voted for.

Joan E
Joan E4 months ago

If it is not your body, then mind your own business. If it's not your body and not your life, you don't know a damn thing about this other person's life situation and you have nothing worth saying about it.

Dot A
Dot A4 months ago

Freya is on point. The rich will continue to have abortions in safe places. Those who are disenfranchised will be the poor families with unwanted additions to their homes. They will seek out the help of those willing to break the law for cash. Not a safe choice. The rich will keep their control. Those who are already living on the edge will be cornered. That unwanted life will be delivered into unwanted circumstances, - or if the mother must relinquish that baby, - she will be haunted with their memory. In our 'rape' culture, men never have to conceive, become the home of a gestating fetus, never go through delivery of in infant, never are legally held to being the 1st responsible parent, particularly of an unwanted baby. If a woman does not give a man what he wants, she is punished. This concept of forcing women to do what they do not want to do, is antiquated and no longer accepted by educated people. Women are not chattel. Women must have the same privileges as men, and not be forced to parent, as so many men escape this monumental responsibility.

Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld4 months ago

Debbi W.,
You sound just like the people you are complaining about.

Mia B
Past Member 4 months ago

Thank you

Toni W
Toni W4 months ago