Whew! There has been a lot of stuff on abortion out there lately!! So, I decided I’d link to some of the more interesting things and make some comments. Let’s get started!
Georgia just passed a “Heartbeat Abortion Bill” which would outlaw all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at about 6 weeks of pregnancy, which is 4 weeks of development. The thing about this bill, along with the other state “heartbeat abortion bills” is that they run afoul of Roe v. Wade which says that states can’t restrict abortion prior to fetal viability. Clearly, this law can’t go directly into place and is going to be litigated through the courts, perhaps up to SCOTUS, which is the entire reason that it was passed.
As a quick fetal development reminder, 6 weeks of pregnancy means 6 weeks since a woman’s last menstrual period. This is actually 4 weeks from ovulation and, a couple days later, fertilization of the ovum. The embryo at this point has implanted in the uterus, but is barely recognizable as an embryo. The “heartbeat” is not a 4-chamber heart as you would see in a 12 week pregnancy. Pretty much all you can see is the blood moving through a primeval tube that will eventually turn in on itself and become a heart. There are no limbs and the head and tail (yes, there is a vestigial tail at this point) are hard to differentiate. Most women still think their period is late at this point and may just be beginning to have a few symptoms of pregnancy.
Another issue with the Georgia bill is that it includes a “fetal personhood” section, making a fetus after the point of 6 weeks of pregnancy a “natural person”. According to this article, there could be some interesting consequences of this. For example, in population determinations, unborn children would have to be counted. Women who attempt abortions without medical help could be prosecuted on their own for attempted murder. Indeed, women who miscarry because of certain risk factors, like smoking, could be implicated in their miscarriage. But, the Georgia bill also has a significant inconsistency in it. It allows for abortion past 6 weeks of pregnancy in the case of rape or incest, but then has the fetal personhood component. The fetal personhood component would seem to implicate that after 6 weeks of pregnancy, any abortion is tantamount to murder. So, abortion due to rape or incest is inherently the same as murder. Clearly, the courts are going to have to clean this up. It’s a mess.
Alabama, Ohio, and Kentucky have all passed “heartbeat” bills recently. They are all going to (or have been, in the case of Kentucky) be struck down by the courts until one of them reaches SCOTUS. The Alabama bill does not have a rape or incest clause so they can have a “clean” bill to take to the Supreme Court. These are all just opportunities to challenge Roe v. Wade and Casey. V. Planned Parenthood.
But, more craziness abounds. An Ohio bill has passed that would require insurance companies to cover a procedure in which an ectopic pregnancy is placed back into the uterus. The problem is that this procedure does not exist. Women with ectopic pregnancies need surgery just to survive the pregnancy; the pregnancy itself is not viable by definition.
And, again in Ohio, there is a bill that would require that doctors who provide medical (as opposed to surgical) abortions provide women with information that the procedure is reversible. Except that it’s not. In a medical abortion, a woman is given mifepristone, an anti-progestin, to end the pregnancy. 24 hours later, she then takes misoprostol to expel the pregnancy from the uterus. The “reversal” is to give large doses of progesterone in the first 24 hours after the first pill. The problem is that there is no good evidence that the “reversal” actually works. A woman undergoing a medical abortion needs to go into the procedure sure that she wants the procedure done. There is no reliable way out.
So, here are some of my thoughts on the whole situation. First of all, at least the lawmakers are passing the bills they want passed. I hate TRAP laws, which nibble away at abortion rights by trying to pretend that abortion is some particularly dangerous medical procedure. At least lawmakers are being honest about what they are doing. They want to completely get rid of abortion. OK. The lines are drawn.
I don’t like the idea of terminating a healthy pregnancy at any point. Nonetheless, some of the silliness in the bills addressed above shows that we can’t trust lawmakers to make these decisions for us. (Reimplanting an ectopic? Really? Did you even talk to a doctor?) Legal versus moral choices are hard.
I’m not comfortable with heartbeat abortion bills. I’m not remotely convinced that life begins at conception (and most pro-lifers aren’t either, or they’d have a bigger fit about IVF than they do), but I know that we need to be protective of human life by viability. That’s a huge window in which fetuses are developing. And, that’s probably why I’m generally skeptical of the entire enterprise of trying to deal with the abortion issue through legal means.
We know how we can cut the number of abortions by half. Provide low-cost long-acting reversible contraception to women. Colorado did it with incredible results. Why all states aren’t doing it, I have no idea. I don’t believe that a state is committed to reducing abortions until they can show that all of their women have access to LARC. We know that it works. Women will use it. And it’s empowering to women. They can choose their contraception.
It’s going to be an interesting year or so as we watch these cases wend their way through the court system.