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Fetal heartbeat at the centre of new abortion fight

By Dr David Cowan

11 January 2019 at 07:06 BST

New bill banning most abortions once a fetal heartbeat detected introduced Kentucky, critics warn of more legal battles ahead.


Senate Bill 9 would make it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which takes place as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. Critics say the bill is on  a fast track in the Republican-dominated state Senate and will face immediate legal challenge if it passes.

Constitutional conflict

The controversy adds to the three lawsuits over abortion restrictions currently being pushed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU warns the heartbeat bill would prohibit most abortions in Kentucky and is ‘blatantly unconstitutional.’ ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri said, ‘this is certainly the most blatant attempt to take aim at Roe vs. Wade. It’s extreme. It’s yet again anti-abortion politicians trying to push abortion out of reach for women in this state.’ The Supreme Court 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling prohibits states from banning abortions before viability. Abortion opponents hope the Supreme Court will be more receptive to limiting abortion rights following the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a key vote to preserve abortion rights. Kennedy was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who voted as a federal appeals court judge in 2017 in favour of delaying an abortion for a pregnant immigrant teenager in federal custody.

Virtual ban

Detection of a fetal heartbeat occurs around six weeks into pregnancy. The ACLU argues the ‘vast majority’ of abortions occur after six weeks of pregnancy and called a six-week ban unconstitutional under more than 40 years of precedent. The ACLU attorney stated most women don’t even know they’re pregnant in this timeframe, and thus ‘this is a virtual ban on abortion.’ Other states have attempted introducing the measure. Ohio governor John Kasich vetoed a similar heartbeat abortion measure as one of his final acts in office. In Iowa, a heartbeat law was temporarily blocked while a judge weighs whether it is unconstitutional. North Dakota’s fetal heartbeat law was struck down as unconstitutional and the US Supreme Court refused to review the lower court rulings. Kentucky lawmakers head home Friday for a break before reconvening in early February for the rest of the year’s session. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said he was unconcerned by the threat of another lawsuit or the cost of more litigation, ‘I don’t think you can put a price on the life of the unborn.’


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