The latest high-profile Republican effort to restrict women’s access to abortion services is an effort being referred to as the “Heartbeat Bill,” which would ban abortion after a fetus has a detectable heartbeat—about six weeks’ gestation.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, most women find out they’re pregnant during the fourth to seventh week of pregnancy—too late, for a significant number of women, to obtain a safe and legal abortion if this bill were to become law.

Gestational limits are not new: Roe v. Wade allows them after 24 weeks of pregnancy, and many states have instituted such limits. The summary of the proposed bill, H.B. 490, says it would be “a crime for a physician to knowingly perform an abortion: (1) without determining whether the fetus has a detectable heartbeat, (2) without informing the mother of the results, or (3) after determining that a fetus has a detectable heartbeat.”

The law could send doctors to prison for up to five years for performing an abortion after the time of a detectable heartbeat.

Slate continues:

There’s little question that this bill is unconstitutional. Roe v. Wade prohibits laws that would ban abortions performed before fetal viability, around 24 weeks gestation. Each time “heartbeat” bills have passed state legislatures and been signed into law, federal judges have struck them down. The Supreme Court declined North Dakota’s request to appeal its blocked “heartbeat” bill in 2015.

While the word is commonly employed in discussions of fetal development, “heartbeat” is deliberately inaccurate when it comes to the debate over reproductive rights. What anti-abortion bills call a “heartbeat” is a bit of motion in the thickened side of an embryo’s minuscule yolk sac. Since the thickened end is called the fetal pole, a more accurate term is “fetal pole cardiac activity.” As no-nonsense OB/GYN Jennifer Gunter pointed out last year, calling what doctors see on a vaginal ultrasound at six weeks a “heartbeat” is a right-wing politician’s way of “making a 4 mm thickening next to a yolk sac seem like it is almost ready to walk.”

Some states have already pushed for similar six-week abortion bans, but the attempts have been struck down by federal courts. Ohio controversially passed a heartbeat bill last year that was vetoed by Gov. John Kasich, who instead passed a 20-week ban. Before his veto, some conservatives saw the bill as a potential route for challenging Roe v. Wade.

Nevertheless, Slate notes that conservatives will probably look to Ohio for guidance with H.B. 490:

A few weeks ago, Congress passed a 20-week abortion ban sponsored, incidentally, by two representatives who’ve been caught urging their extramarital girlfriends to terminate their own pregnancies. The more severe ban makes the 20-week one look like something of a middle ground, a possible compromise for legislators with mixed feelings on abortion rights. The “heartbeat” bills also push the acceptable bounds of the abortion debate ever lower, anchoring the conversation at the anti-choice extreme. The more Congress debates a “heartbeat” bill, the more likely other infringements on abortion rights will come to be seen as acceptable compromises.

When far-right Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King first introduced the bill in January, he made it known that his goal was overturning Roe v. Wade. At a press conference, he said, “By the time we march this thing down to the Supreme Court, the faces on the bench will be different—we just don’t know how much different, but I’m optimistic,” referring to the likelihood that President Trump would appoint anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court.

One of the central disputes surrounding the legislation is a scientific argument about what constitutes a heartbeat — and King has settled on a strict definition involving audibility. But as OB/GYN Dr. Jennifer Gunter explains in The Huffington Post, this description is deceptive and inconsistent with what is known about fetal development. Gunter says the alleged “beating” is not actually the rhythm of a formed heart at the six-week gestational point, but rather thickening of the end of a yolk sack that represents the earliest discernible indication of fetal cardiac activity. She believes that anti-abortion politicians are creating a false image in the public imagination about what a fetus looks like that early in development in order to stir up public sentiment against the procedure.

“It’s bad enough that these bills exist, but the press needs to do a better job of calling them what they are,” she wrote. “If politicians want to play doctor, they should be using medical terms. If they refuse to use the correct terminology, the press should correct them.”

Even if the bill is approved by the House, it would not be expected to pass in the Senate, where Democrats hold 48 of the 100 seats. Republicans would need 60 votes to break a filibuster.

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