6 Week Abortion Bans
6 week abortion bans, sometimes referred to as “heartbeat” bans, are laws written to restrict abortion access after a gestational age of 6 weeks. Roe v. Wade (1973) established abortion as a constitutional right until viability, which is challenging to define, but generally agreed to be around 24-28 weeks gestation. In recent years, however, many states with anti-choice legislatures have passed laws that provide restrictions at an earlier gestational age limit. Some restrictions that have withstood court injunctions have reduced the gestational limit to 20-22 weeks after the last menstrual period (LMP). In recent years, however, these restrictions have become more extreme, leading to an upsurge of 6-week bans in 2019. Many people do not yet know they are pregnant at 6 weeks gestation, which is why these laws would effectively ban abortion altogether.
These lawmakers often refer to these laws as “heartbeat bans” because they mandate that abortions cannot be performed once a “heartbeat” is detected on ultrasound. This language is misleading, since at 6 weeks, an embryo does not have a heart. Using magnification with transvaginal ultrasound, doctors can see twitching of the muscle cells that can eventually develop into a fetal heart. This structure is a tube that twitches; it does not have the valves and chambers that make up a heart, nor does it actually pump or move fluid like blood around the embryo. Proponents of these bans call them “heartbeat bills” to manipulate public opinion, by perpetuating an inaccurate idea that a fetus at 6 weeks is a fully formed baby, and by using the emotional response this misleading language creates.
These abortion restrictions have serious public health, policy, and social repercussions. These resources elucidate some of the consequences of these bans.
-  State Bans on Abortion Throughout Pregnancy. (2019, November 18). Retrieved from https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/state-policies-later-abortions.
-  North, A., & Kim, C. (2019, June 28). The “heartbeat” bills that could ban almost all abortions, explained. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/4/19/18412384/abortion-heartbeat-bill-georgia-louisiana-ohio-2019.
-  Stieg, C. (2019, May 10). The Truth About Georgia’s “Heartbeat” Abortion Ban. Retrieved from https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/when-can-you-hear-fetal-heartbeat-abortion-bill-weeks.
For the lowdown on what these bans entail:
Rewire.new | May 30, 2019This Rewire News piece outlines the origin and progression of 6 week abortion bans since 2011. Of note, this article is currently updated through May 2019, but there have been further developments in these bans since then.
How did 6 week abortion bans bills become the new trend?
Nytimes.com | Sabrina Tavernise | April 18, 2019“Heartbeat” bills originated in 2011 in Ohio and were considered extreme at the time, but this year we have seen an upsurge in these bans. This article tracks the progression of these bills from fringe to mainstream.
Want stats? Thanks, Guttmacher.
Guttmacher.org | Elizabeth Nash | May 30, 2019This page contains useful information about the 6 week bans introduced in 2019, including their trajectory through state court proceedings in their respective states.
For general information about state bans by gestational age:
Guttmacher.org | January 1, 2020This is a live page that tracks state regulation by gestational age. They also provide information about whether legislation is in effect or has been temporarily or permanently enjoined by court order.
ACOG’s Opinion on 6 Week Bans:
ACOG.org | January 18, 2017In this statement, issued in 2017, the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology opposes 6 week abortion bans, citing patient safety and asserting that this legislation is unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade.
The risks of medically inaccurate language:
theguardian.com | Adrian Horton | April 24, 2019Using terminology like “heartbeat” bill is medically inaccurate. This article demonstrates the risks of using this language in policy and legislation.
What are the legal implications and intentions for these bans?
Vox.com | Anna North | October 29, 2019All the early gestational age abortion bans passed this year have been blocked in the courts. However, as these laws work their way through the court system, they have the potential to have major ramifications for abortion access nationally.
What other way to end this conversation but a clip of John Oliver giving his 2 cents on Georgia’s 6 week ban:
John Oliver Goes Off on Georgia’s Anti-Abortion ‘Heartbeat Law’: It Puts Women’s ‘Health and Lives at Risk’
thedailybeast.com | Marlow Stern | May 13, 2019
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