Having failed to bring Ohio Right To Life on board to support her bill, Janet Porter, head of Faith 2 Action, helped create Ohio ProLife Action to advocate for a new form of anti-abortion legislation. Porter’s bill has already passed the Ohio House and is scheduled to go to committee in the Senate after a four-month stalemate over the legislation.
Under Porter’s bill, it would be illegal to abort a pregnancy once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Porter claims that she has the votes to pass the legislation and Governor John Kasich is pro-life, and could be expected to sign the bill into law.
Using doppler, it is possible to detect a heartbeat between 43 and 49 days after fertilization, or at the seven week threshold. Using a stethoscope, the heartbeat is discernible at 16 weeks. It is normal, in places where unrestricted abortion is allowed at all, for the time frame to be 13 weeks. A pregnancy is medically termed to be in the embryonic stage until 10 weeks and the fetal stage thereafter.
The “heartbeat bill” gets around those who argue that the Bible defines life as beginning when the blood flows, though at six weeks, the heart and blood vessels are extremely rudimentary. The “blood flows” argument is a rebuttal to those who want to ban abortion from the moment of fertilization of the egg by a sperm, using the Bible against those whose sole reason for wanting to ban abortion is religious principles. When Roe v. Wade first opened the door for legal abortions, the trimester rule was applied. Abortions were permitted “on demand” for the first trimester, 13 weeks, allowed with medical advisement for the second trimester, up to 26 weeks, and only in extreme circumstances in the final trimester. As medicine has advanced and premature babies were surviving at earlier and earlier stages of pre-natal development, the trimester rule became less inflexible, replaced in many places with a “viability” rule – can the fetus survive outside the womb.
There is much more to viability for a fetus than a heartbeat. In fact, the medical profession judges viability by the development of the respiratory system. The earliest baby to have survived birth was born at 21 weeks, 5 days and spent 16 weeks in neo-natal intensive care. The respiratory system is developed enough for independent viability at 31 to 32 weeks. At seven weeks, an embryo is not viable. It may at some point be possible to help a premature baby born at 20 weeks to survive, but before that, there are too many organ systems that aren’t even in place.
We shouldn’t be having this debate. We thought it was all settled with Roe v. Wade, that women no longer had to die from pre-natal complications or bear their rapist’s or incestuous relative’s babies. We didn’t expect the number of abortions that were performed or that some women would use abortion as birth control. But we can’t lose the reasons we wanted access to abortion in trying to stem the misuse of it. When the anti-abortion forces decided to include birth control in their crusade, when they also lobbied against factual sex education, they were trying to cut off the things we needed to prevent unwanted pregnancies and increasing the demand for abortions. The advocates for choice don’t really want the wholesale murder of babies. We want to prevent unwanted pregnancies more than we want to terminate them. But we also want that door left open, not just as a last resort for unwanted pregnancies, but as a first resort for saving the lives and sanity of women in physical or emotional danger. Like everything else in dealing with the conservative movement in America, it all comes down to fighting the propaganda and the way our side has been presented to those who only get their information from right-wing sources.