Q: What is heartbeat legislation? A: Heartbeat legislation is a colloquial term for legislative bills which would protect the unborn from abortion after the unborn human has a detectable heartbeat. To date, all heartbeat legislation has been introduced and fought at the state level. Q: Would these bills put women in jail? A: No, all heartbeat bills which have been proposed penalize the abortionist, not the woman. The proposed penalties vary depending on whether the doctor failed to check for a heartbeat, or found a heartbeat and still performed the abortion. The proposed penalties also vary by state: some suggested the revocation of a medical license, while others gave fines for violations. Some heartbeat bills even included provisions so that a woman upon whom an abortion was performed could, in some circumstances, file a civil action suit for the wrongful death of her child.
Fertilization: The moment at which the sperm and egg meet (aka: conception). This can occur between 5 minutes to 5 days after intercourse. All 46 chromosomes are present at this moment—23 from mum and 23 from dad. The child’s gender, eye color, hair color and many other things are already decided. All that is needed is time for the child to grow. Zygote: A highly specialized totipotent cell which is formed when the male sperm unites with a female gamete and which marks the beginning of human development. Embryo: The developing human during its early stages of development. The embryonic period extends to the end of the eighth week (56 days), by which time the beginnings of all major structures are present. Fetus (Medical): Unborn offspring. After the embryonic period (8 weeks) and until birth, the developing human is called a fetus. During the fetal period (ninth week to birth), differentiation and growth of the tissues and organs formed during the embryonic period occur. Fetus (Legislative): In the text of heartbeat legislation, the term "fetus" is commonly defined as "the human offspring developing during pregnancy from the moment of conception and includes the embryonic stage of development." [emphasis added.] Atrium: A chamber of the heart that receives blood from the veins and forces it into a ventricle or ventricles. Ventricle: A chamber of the heart which receives blood from a corresponding atrium and from which blood is forced into the arteries. Vein: Any of the tubular branching vessels that carry blood toward the heart. Artery: Any of the tubular branching muscular- and elastic-walled vessels that carry blood away from the heart and through the body. Fetal Heartbeat: Cardiac activity, the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac.
Heartbeat bills have been introduced in the Alabama Legislature almost every year since 2014. To date, no heartbeat bill has yet passed either the Alabama House of Representatives or the Senate. The following is a list of heartbeat bills that have been introduced in the Alabama Legislature:
HB 490 (Full text)
HB 405 (Full text)
SB 9 (Full text)
HB 21 (Full text)
HB 154 (Full text)
Arkansas was the first state in the U.S. to pass into law a bill banning abortion from the moment a heartbeat can be detected. On March 6, 2013, SB 134, the Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act (Act 301), became law after both the Arkansas House and Senate voted to override the veto of then-Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe.
Act 301 was quickly challenged in federal court. A federal judge ultimately struck down the portion of the bill prohibiting abortions when fetal heartbeat was detected while another portion of the Act, requiring testing for a heartbeat and informing the mother when a heartbeat was detected, was left intact.
Then-Arkansas Attorney General (now Arkansas Governor) Leslie Rutledge filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court, who declined to hear the case, effectively ensuring that the lower court’s decision would remain permanent.
A brief synopsis of the history of Act 301 (SB 134) is provided below:
Florida’s first heartbeat bill was prefiled for the 2019 legislative session by State Rep. Mike Hill (1st Dist.).
At the start of the 2016 Session, as PRI then reported, a heartbeat bill, authored by Indiana State Senators Jim Banks and Scott Schneider, was introduced in the state Senate. A companion bill, authored by representative Curt Nisly, was introduced in the Indiana House of Representatives.
On May 4, 2018, Iowa became the 3rd state to pass heartbeat legislation into law. Iowa’s heartbeat law (SF 359) amends the Iowa Code to ban abortions from the moment a heartbeat can be detected via abdominal ultrasound, except in cases of “a medical emergency or when the abortion is medically necessary.” SF 359 was passed by the Iowa House of Representatives on May 1, 2018 (vote tally: 51-46) and passed by the Iowa Senate on May 2nd (vote tally: 29-17). Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed SF 359 into law on May 4, 2018.
Iowa’s heartbeat law is currently not in effect due to ongoing lawsuits filed by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland and the Emma Goldman Clinic. The plaintiffs are being represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, respectively. Planned Parenthood is challenging Iowa’s heartbeat law as unconstitutional under the Iowa Constitution, a maneuver which could prevent the case from being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, as the U.S. Supreme Court is not able to review decisions dealing with constitutional questions concerning state constitutions. The State of Iowa is currently being represented by the Thomas More Society after Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller refused to defend Iowa’s heartbeat law in court.
On June 1, 2018, Polk County District Court Judge Michael Huppert placed a temporary injunction on Iowa’s heartbeat law, pending a final ruling by the court to be decided on the merits of the case. The Iowa heartbeat law was slated to go into effect on July 1, 2018.
Here is a brief legislative history of SF 359 (Full text):
A Kansas heartbeat bill, HB 2324 (Full text), was introduced and referred to the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs on February 13, 2013. The bill died in the Committee.
In Kentucky, heartbeat bill HB 132 was introduced in the House of Representatives in both the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions. On December 13, 2018, State Rep. Robert Goforth (89th Dist.) prefiled a heartbeat bill (BR 823) in the House for the 2019 legislative session.
A Michigan heartbeat bill, HB 5644 (Full text), was introduced in the House by Representative Tom Hooker on June 10, 2014. HB 5644 was referred to the Committee on Health Policy the same day.
Two Minnesota heartbeat bills were introduced in the 2018 legislative session. Both bills were introduced after Committee deadlines and could not be considered in the 2017-2018 legislative session.
Several heartbeat bills have been introduced in Mississippi since 2013. Yet, neither the Mississippi House of Representatives nor the Mississippi Senate has ever passed a heartbeat bill.
Heartbeat bills have been introduced in the Missouri Senate during both the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions.
Three heartbeat bills have been introduced in the New York State Assembly:
The North Dakota bill, HB 1456 (Full text), was introduced in January 2013. The bill passed the North Dakota House in February 2013. The bill passed the North Dakota Senate the following month in March. North Dakota’s heartbeat bill was signed into law by then-Governor Jack Dalrymple on March 26, 2013.
Before the law could go into effect, Red River Women’s Clinic, represented by MKB Management Corp., sued to overturn the law in MKB Management Corp. v. Stenehjem. North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem argued the case in favor of the state’s heartbeat law. Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota Daniel L. Hovland placed a temporary injunction blocking North Dakota’s heartbeat law from going into effect. On April 16, 2014, Chief Judge Hovland found North Dakota’s heartbeat law to be unconstitutional.
The State of North Dakota appealed the decision to U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals which on July 22, 2015 affirmed the District Court’s ruling. In its decision, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, defended the North Dakota heartbeat law, arguing that the moment a heartbeat can be detected is the point in pregnancy that the state legislature has asserted that it has an interest in protecting “potential life” (language borrowed from Roe v. Wade). The Eighth Circuit Court argued, citing Edwards v. Beck, 786 F.3d 1113, 1119 (8th Cir. 2015), that “[t]o substitute its own preference to that of the legislature in this area is not the proper role of a court.” Nevertheless, the Eighth Circuit Court struck down North Dakota’s heartbeat law anyway “[b]ecause United States Supreme Court precedent does not permit us to reach a contrary result.”
On November 10, 2015, Attorney General Stenehjem filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States to review the decision from Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Attorney General Stenehjem and his staff agreed to argue the case before the Supreme Court pro bono, and any further work on the case will not cost taxpayers anything. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, refused to review the case on January 25, 2016, leaving the Eighth Circuit Court’s ruling in place.
Pro-life lawmakers in the Ohio state legislature have tried to pass heartbeat legislation since 2011. While Ohio has yet to pass a heartbeat bill into law, pro-life lawmakers have grown closer to their goal with each legislative term.
The current heartbeat bill before the Ohio Legislature, HB 258, was passed by the Ohio House of Representatives on November 15, 2018 with a veto-proof majority. The bill was introduced in the Ohio Senate on November 19, 2018 and referred to the Senate Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee on November 28, 2018.
Ohio Governor John Kasich has already threatened to veto the bill if it passes the Senate. There are currently 23 Republicans and 9 Democrats in the Ohio Senate. Pro-lifers need 20 votes in the Senate to have a veto-proof majority. It is not clear yet whether pro-lifers will have the number of votes they need in the Senate to override a veto.
Governor-elect Mark DeWine, who will replace Kasich on January 14, 2019, previously pledged on the campaign trail to sign a heartbeat bill into law.
Ohio’s first heartbeat bill, HB 125, was introduced in the 129th General Assembly in the state House of Representatives back in 2011. HB 125 passed the House but was not adopted by the Senate.
During the 130th General Assembly, heartbeat bills were introduced in both the House (HB 248) and the Senate (SB 297). HB 248 passed the Ohio House Committee on Health and Ageing on November 20, 2014 but failed to pass a vote by the full House.
During the 131st General Assembly, the House introduced multiple heartbeat bills (HB 69, HB 493). On March 25, 2015, the House passed HB 69 but the Senate failed to adopt the measure. Heartbeat language was added by the Senate as an amendment to a bill reforming the state’s child abuse and neglect reporting laws (HB 493) on December 6, 2016. On the same day, the House approved of the Senate’s amendment to include the heartbeat bill as part of HB 493, making HB 493 the first heartbeat bill to pass both chambers of the Ohio state legislature. As PRI reported in 2016, HB 493 was subsequently sent to the desk of Ohio Governor John Kasich for signature. In a controversial move, Governor Kasich vetoed the heartbeat bill, arguing that heartbeat laws in both Arkansas and North Dakota had already been declared unconstitutional by federal courts and because Ohio, as a likely loosing party in a lawsuit, would “be forced to pay hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to cover the legal fees of pro-choice activists’ lawyers” and would “invit[e] additional challenges to Ohio’s strong legal protections for unborn life.” However, with two new Trump-era appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court, many believe the balance of the Supreme Court has shifted, opening the possibility that the Supreme Court may uphold heartbeat laws if presented with the opportunity to decide on their constitutionality.
On June 6, 2017, Ohio State Representatives Christina Hagan (Dist. 50) and Ron Hood (Dist. 78) introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives another heartbeat bill, HB 258. On November 15, 2018, the House passed HB 258 with a bipartisan veto-proof majority (60 votes in favor, 35 against). The Ohio Senate went on to pass the pass the bill as well on December 12, 2018 with a vote tally of 18-13, falling short of the margin necessary to override a veto. The Senate’s version of the bill added two new amendments to HB 258. The amended bill will be sent back to the House of Representatives for a final vote. Ohio Governor Kasich has already indicated that he intends to veto the bill.
Below is a brief timeline of heartbeat legislation in Ohio:
In Oklahoma, three heartbeat bills have been introduced in the Senate, none of which have passed:
HB 2315 (Full text) was introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on May 2, 2018. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on the same day, where it remains pending.
Pro-life lawmakers in the Rhode Island House of Representatives have introduced a heartbeat bill in every legislative session since 2014. The bill is titled “House Resolution Recognizing the Fetus as a Human Life Upon the Existence of a Heartbeat” and is authored by pro-life Rhode Island State Representative James McLaughlin, who is annually joined by several other pro-life lawmakers in the House, including Reps. Nardolillo, Fellela, Corvese, Perez, and others. No heartbeat bill has yet passed the Rhode Island House.
The “South Carolina Fetal Heartbeat Protection from Abortion Act” has been introduced in the South Carolina General Assembly every year since 2013.
Heartbeat bills were introduced both the House and Senate of the Tennessee General Assembly in both 2017 and 2018. On January 26, 2017, Tennessee State Rep. James Van Huss (Jonesborough) introduced HB0108, the Tennessee heartbeat bill, in the Tennessee House of Representatives. On January 31, 2017, Tennessee State Sen. Mae Beavers (Mt. Juliet) introduced a companion bill, SB0244, in the Senate. The bills were reintroduced during the 2018 session.
The original heartbeat bill, HB0108, would have banned all abortion in Tennessee from the moment a heartbeat could be detected via abdominal ultrasound, except in cases of a medical emergency that would threaten the life of the mother or that would risk “substantial and irreversible impairment of a bodily function.”
However, a written opinion issued by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery warned the Tennessee General Assembly that the heartbeat bills proposed by the House and Senate may not have withstood constitutional scrutiny. Attorney General Slatery however said that the bills’ provisions requiring doctors to perform an ultrasound prior to an abortion procedure may be constitutionally valid.
The bill was also opposed by some pro-lifers, including Tennessee Right to Life, out of fear that HB0108 would have given the U.S. Supreme Court, which at that time had a pro-abortion majority, an opportunity to strengthen Roe v. Wade by declaring heartbeat laws unconstitutional.
As a result, the provisions banning abortion from the moment a heartbeat can be detected was stripped from HB0108 through an amendment added to the bill on February 12, 2018. As such, the new amended version of HB0108 ceased to become a heartbeat bill.
In its place, provisions were added requiring doctors to offer women the opportunity to know the results of an ultrasound prior to undergoing an abortion. However, nothing in the new amended HB0108 requires abortionists to perform an ultrasound in the first place. Abortionists are only required to offer women undergoing abortion the results of an ultrasound if they choose to perform the test. The newly amended HB0108 later passed both the House and the Senate and was later signed into law by Governor Bill Haslam, but because the heartbeat language was taken out of the bill, the law is not a heartbeat law. Tennessee has yet to pass a heartbeat through either chamber of the Tennessee state legislature.
A fetal heartbeat bill, HB 59 (Full text), was introduced in the Texas House or Representatives on July 18, 2013. The bill was filed in the House but was never referred to a committee for consideration.
A fetal heartbeat bill, HB 97 (Full text), was introduced in Wyoming in January of 2013. The bill was struck down by a house committee in February 2013.