Heartbeat bans attempt to outlaw abortions as soon as a heartbeat can be detected, which is often in the embryonic stage, as early as six weeks’ gestation, before many women even know they are pregnant. These laws, some of the most extreme in the country, are flatly unconstitutional because they seek to ban abortion months before the point at which a fetus is viable.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, made it clear that states may not ban abortion outright before the fetus is determined to be viable, recognized by the medical community as around 24 weeks’ gestation. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that states may not place an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion. Like laws that attempt to ban abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation, bills banning abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat are intended as a direct challenge to these U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Heartbeat ban bills first rose to prominence in Ohio in 2011, where anti-choice activist Janet Porter and her organization Faith2Action sent thousands of heart-shaped balloons to the Ohio statehouse on Valentine’s Day to thank legislators who sponsored HB 125, Ohio’s heartbeat bill. The bill was supported by Porter and her allies, as well as by numerous Republican legislators, led by Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R-Napoleon), who sponsored the bill.
Yet not everyone in the anti-choice movement supported the passage of the heartbeat bill. For example, prominent anti-choice activist James Bopp Jr. testified against the bill, expressing concerns that it would provide the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to strengthen Roe v. Wade. Ohio Right to Life, which also opposed the ban, believed that the heartbeat bill would sidetrack other anti-choice bills—like 20-week bans—that had a greater chance of being enacted. Ultimately, the Ohio heartbeat bill failed to pass, but it provided a blueprint for other states attempting to pass similar laws.
Examples of Heartbeat Bans (last updated March 21, 2016)
In 2013, two states ultimately succeeded in passing heartbeat laws. Both Arkansas and North Dakota passed heartbeat ban legislation prohibiting abortion early in the first trimester of pregnancy. Arkansas’ legislation required an abortion provider to use an abdominal ultrasound to detect a fetal heartbeat and banned abortion when the pregnancy has progressed to 12 weeks and a fetal heartbeat is detected. North Dakota went even further, passing the most stringent anti-choice legislation in the country—a bill that bans abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected using “acceptable medical practice,” which is approximately six weeks through the use of a transvaginal ultrasound.
Both laws were immediately challenged in court and blocked.
In May 2015, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling blocking Arkansas’ law. In January 2016, The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, leaving the Eighth Circuit’s ruling in place.
Similarly, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision blocking North Dakota’s law in July 2015. As with Arkansas’ law, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case. The law remains permanently blocked.
Such legal setbacks have not stopped anti-choice legislators from persisting in their attempts to pass these laws, however. Currently, in the 2016 legislative session, heartbeat ban bills are pending in Alabama, Indiana, New York, Ohio, and South Carolina. If any of them pass, they will likely be struck down.
|Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act (SB 134)||SB 134||Arkansas||January 28, 2013||Blocked/Enjoined|
|Texas Human Heartbeat Protection Act (HB 59)||HB 59||Texas||July 18, 2013||Failed to Pass|
|North Dakota Human Heartbeat Protection Act (HB 1456)||HB 1456||North Dakota||January 21, 2013||Blocked/Enjoined|
|Ohio Human Heartbeat Protection Act (HB 248)||HB 248||Ohio||August 21, 2013||Failed to Pass|
|Ohio Human Heartbeat Protection Act (HB 125)||HB 125||Ohio||February 24, 2011||Failed to Pass|
|Ohio Omnibus Abortion Budget Bill (HB 59)||HB 59||Ohio||February 12, 2013||Current|
|Alabama Fetal Heartbeat Act (HB 490)||HB 490||Alabama||February 13, 2014||Failed to Pass|
|Michigan Human Heartbeat Protection Act (HB 5643)||HB 5643||Michigan||June 10, 2014||Failed to Pass|
|Michigan Bill Regarding Sentencing Guidelines Regarding Violations of Heartbeat Ban (HB 5645)||HB 5645||Michigan||June 10, 2014||Failed to Pass|
|Michigan Bill Regarding Heartbeat Ban Penalty Provision (HB 5644)||HB 5644||Michigan||June 10, 2014||Failed to Pass|
|Kansas Fetal Heartbeat Act (HB 2324)||HB 2324||Kansas||February 13, 2013||Failed to Pass|
|South Carolina Human Heartbeat Protection Act (S 623)||S 623||South Carolina||April 16, 2013||Failed to Pass|
|Ohio Bill to Repeal Abortion Restrictions in Budget Bill (HB 280)||HB 280||Ohio||October 2, 2013||Proposed|
|Mississippi Heartbeat Ban (SB 2807)||SB 2807||Mississippi||January 20, 2014||Failed to Pass|
|Mississippi Heartbeat Ban (HB 6)||HB 6||Mississippi||February 5, 2013||Failed to Pass|
|Ohio Human Heartbeat Protection Act (SB 297)||SB 297||Ohio||March 13, 2014||Proposed|
|Kentucky Heartbeat Ban (HB 132)||HB 132||Kentucky||January 7, 2014||Failed to Pass|
|South Carolina Human Heartbeat Protection Act (S 96)||S 96||South Carolina||January 13, 2014||Proposed|
|Oklahoma Bill Amending Heartbeat Informed Consent Act (SB 606)||SB 606||Oklahoma||February 2, 2015||Failed to Pass|
|Ohio Human Heartbeat Protection Act (HB 69)||HB 69||Ohio||February 17, 2015||Proposed|
|New York Fetal Heartbeat Ban (A 3725)||A 3725||New York||January 27, 2015||Failed to Pass|
|Michigan Human Heartbeat Protection Act (HB 4241)||HB 4241||Michigan||February 25, 2015||Proposed|
|Alabama Fetal Heartbeat Act 2015 (HB 405)||HB 405||Alabama||April 2, 2015||Failed to Pass|
|Kentucky Fetal Heartbeat Bill (HB 132)||HB 132||Kentucky||January 11, 2013||Failed to Pass|
|New York Fetal Heartbeat Ban (A 8947)||A 8947||New York||March 4, 2014||Failed to Pass|
|Wyoming Fetal Heartbeat Bill (HB 97)||HB 97||Wyoming||January 25, 2013||Failed to Pass|
|Alabama Fetal Heartbeat Act (HB 21)||HB 21||Alabama||February 2, 2016||Failed to Pass|
|Alabama Fetal Heartbeat Act 2016 (SB 9)||SB 9||Alabama||February 2, 2016||Failed to Pass|
|Indiana Heartbeat Bill (SB 144)||SB 144||Indiana||January 5, 2016||Failed to Pass|
|Indiana Heartbeat Bill (HB 1122)||HB 1122||Indiana||January 7, 2016||Failed to Pass|
|Oklahoma Heartbeat Abortion Ban (SB 1118)||SB 1118||Oklahoma||February 1, 2016||Failed to Pass|
Texas Abortion Access
Texas has seen some of the nation’s most regressive abortion restrictions in recent years. This series chronicles the fall-out of those laws, and the litigation that has followed.