This month, lawmakers in Michigan introduced a series of bills that would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The legislation would also severely criminalize doctors by making it a felony to perform such a procedure.
The legislative package mandates that doctors search for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion, and makes the abortion illegal if a heartbeat is found. HB 5643, the first of the three bills, also states that if no heartbeat is found, a doctor must give the pregnant woman “the option of hearing or seeing the evidence of the fetal heartbeat” and inform her of the likelihood that her pregnancy can be carried to term.
On top of the ban, the legislation makes it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion even after no heartbeat is detected. According to one of the bills, instead of allowing the woman to get the abortion she wants after failing to find a heartbeat, the doctor should either suggest that further tests be performed or “delay until a later date performing a diagnostic procedure to determine if the fetus is physically developing.” Shelli Weisberg, the legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, says that the delay is intended to put off the procedure until a heartbeat can be found. “The catch there is to force the woman to continue to delay her decision, and of course if there’s a heartbeat once she comes back to her doctor she won’t be able to get the abortion she wanted,” Weisberg told RH Reality Check.
The bills makes it a felony to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is found. According to HB 5644, the second in the series, a physician convicted of such a crime would face up to four years in prison and a fine of $50,000. Weisberg says that this criminalization of post-heartbeat abortions puts an unfair burden on doctors and could affect the quality of their care. “It’s simply not fair because doctors’ provision of medical care is colored by the possibility that they may end up facing prison time,” she told RH Reality Check.
Introduced by state Rep. Thomas Hooker (R-Byron Center), along with 16 co-sponsors, the package of legislation has already elicited an outcry from Michigan’s pro-choice advocates, including Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright (D-Muskegon), who in a statement condemned the proposed legislation. “One of the new bills is so extreme that similar bills have routinely been ruled unconstitutional when they have been passed in other states,” she said in the statement. “The other insults women by second-guessing their ability to make reasoned and informed health care decisions on their own by pressuring them to listen to a fetal heartbeat before having a medical procedure. Women don’t want the government interfering with their health care decisions, and this must stop.”
So-called fetal heartbeat bans, which have popped up across the country since 2011, are widely seen as some of the most radical and severe anti-choice legislation in the United States. Because a heartbeat can be found as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant, fetal heartbeat abortion bans essentially make illegal the vast majority of abortions. “These bills are absolutely designed to outlaw most abortions,” said Weisberg. “It’s an end run around trying to outlaw abortion outright by putting these ridiculous edicts in place.”