Pro-life groups across the country hope a wave of new “heartbeat laws” adopted by states will not only protect babies from abortion in the early stages of pregnancy but also give the Supreme Court an opportunity to reverse its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that led to the legalization of abortion nationwide.
Last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, signed a law defending unborn babies who have a detectable heartbeat, which usually develops around six weeks of gestation. Under the law, abortions can only be performed after that point to save the life of the mother.
“We’d like to see abortions not even happening in Ohio, and that’s our goal,” said Jamieson Gordon, director of communications for Ohio Right to Life. “But we also understand that some pieces of legislation like the heartbeat bill could be very good vehicles to take to the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade.” She said the pro-life movement in the state has worked to chip away at Roe v. Wade for a long time. Ohio passed 22 pro-life initiatives in the past eight years.
The American Civil Liberties Union already promised to challenge the law before it takes effect in three months, but with a pro-life attorney general in Ohio, Gordon said Ohio Right to Life is confident the state will put up a good defense.
Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications at the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, told me that because of the push for extreme pro-abortion laws in Virginia and New York and the nomination of pro-life Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the pro-life movement across the nation has gained a lot of momentum.
“Pro-life state legislatures have really picked up the ball and run with it,” she said. “There’s such positive momentum and energy on the pro-life side as evidenced by the heartbeat bill advancing in Ohio and other states.”
The Georgia legislature passed a heartbeat bill at the end of March, and Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, is expected to sign it soon. The ACLU in Georgia has also vowed to challenge that law, set to take effect Jan. 1, 2020. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, also a Republican, signed a heartbeat law on March 21 despite a federal judge’s ruling last year that struck down less-restrictive protections for babies in the state. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, another Republican, signed a heartbeat bill on March 14, but a federal judge blocked it shortly afterward. And a state judge in January found Iowa’s heartbeat law unconstitutional.
In some states, pro-life advocates are shying away from early term abortion laws in favor of other strategies to protect babies. Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, told me that while his organization respected and endorsed many of the state lawmakers who are pushing a heartbeat bill this term, the group doesn’t want to risk a costly legal battle that could end with the state being ordered to pay the legal fees of Planned Parenthood if the law passed and was overturned in court. The state has already redirected Title X family planning funds away from Planned Parenthood, causing the abortion giant to suspend services in Nashville in December.
“In our view, filling the coffers of Planned Parenthood and the ACLU with legal fees is counterproductive,” Harris said. “We’re living in an environment here in Tennessee where we’re winning the battle. And to go backward and allow them to gain the high ground by introducing and passing legislation that can’t currently pass constitutional muster is counterproductive.” Instead, Tennessee Right to Life has supported a measure, which passed out of a Senate committee last week, that would protect most babies from abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Quigley told me there is a wide range of opinions on the best strategy to dismantle Roe v. Wade, and the situation varies by state. But, overall, “certainly, we are hopeful with the new composition of the court,” she said.
A few other heartbeat bills are still waiting for votes in legislatures across the country, as well. Lawmakers introduced two matching bills in both chambers of the Florida legislature and are waiting for them to be assigned to committees. The South Carolina House Judiciary Committee sent a heartbeat bill to the floor last week, but lawmakers haven’t voted on it yet. And Louisiana state Sen. John Milkovich, a Democrat, filed a heartbeat bill in the state Senate this month.