Heartbeat Bans

Last updated: March 18, 2016

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.

Laws

Title Number State Proposed Status
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