By Leah Sankey
Florida lawmakers have filed a “fetal heartbeat” bill that would ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected in an embryo. This typically occurs at around six weeks – before many women even know they’re pregnant. This would essentially outlaw abortion in most cases. According to the bill, any person who provides an abortion after a heartbeat is detected has committed a third-degree felony. Women have come a long way Since Roe V. Wade affirmed that access to safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right in 1973, and it is in no small part due to having reproductive autonomy.
On Mar. 29, Georgia passed their own heartbeat bill. The state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, has already shown his support for the bill. Once he signs it, it will go into effect on January of 2020. Members of the Handmaid Coalition of Georgia protested the bill dressed in red robes and white bonnets outside of the state capital.
Before this year, only two states had tried to enact six-week abortion bans, North Dakota in 2013 and Iowa in 2018, the courts struck down both, stating that they were unconstitutional. In the first weeks of 2019, Mississippi and Kentucky passed heartbeat laws. In addition to Georgia, six-week bans are being pushed by lawmakers in Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Ohio according to NPR.
Roe V. Wade is still standing… for now. The Supreme Court currently recognizes a woman’s right to an abortion up until around 24 weeks of pregnancy – when a fetus is considered viable outside of the womb. In a Facebook post, Georgia’s governor vowed to “fight for life at the Capitol and in the courtroom.” Heartbeat bills are blatantly unconstitutional, but abortion opponents say that their main goal is to create laws that clash with Supreme Court decisions so that they can land a new case, giving them the opportunity to overturn or weaken Roe V. Wade. With the newly conservative majority on the Supreme Court, this is a frighteningly real possibility.
If Roe were overturned, the availability of abortion would be determined on a state by state basis. It would be protected in New York and California, where they have enacted their own constitutions protecting the practice. So, women would have to travel to get an abortion, have an unwanted pregnancy, or go the illegal route, possibly risking their lives. It goes without saying that this would disproportionately affect lower-income women, who don’t have to means to travel or hire an in-home doctor.
In 1965, before Roe, illegal abortions accounted for 17% of all deaths attributed to childbirth and pregnancy that year, but the actual number is likely much higher according to the Guttmacher Institute. Now, abortions are safer than carrying a child to term, according to Planned Parenthood. The years before Roe should offer something of a cautionary tale.
If abortion were further restricted or made illegal, it wouldn’t stop women from getting them, even if it means harming themselves or going to unqualified practitioners. Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures and allows women to be in charge of their bodies. We are not mere vessels, and we shouldn’t be treated as such.