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. 

For the lowdown on what these bans entail:

How did 6 week abortion bans bills become the new trend? 

Want stats? Thanks, Guttmacher.

For general information about state bans by gestational age

ACOG’s Opinion on 6 Week Bans:

The risks of medically inaccurate language:

What are the legal implications and intentions for these bans?

What other way to end this conversation but a clip of John Oliver giving his 2 cents on Georgia’s 6 week ban: 

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