“Heartbeat Bills” Gain Traction in Republican-Controlled State Legislatures, In Latest Pro-Life Effort to Make Abortion Practically Illegal

Late last week, Mississippi governor Phil Bryant signed a bill that bans abortions the moment that a doctor is able to detect a fetal heartbeat. According to legislators in favor of the bill, fetal heartbeats can be detected by an ultrasound as early as six weeks; for many women, this means that they may not even be aware of their pregnancy before they’ve been legally forbidden from getting an abortion, making this one of the most prohibitive pieces of abortion legislation in the country. Mississippi already has made it so that there’s only one — I repeat, ONE — clinic in the entire state where women can legally have an abortion.

Gov. Bryant made sure to surround himself with female congressional representatives for his bill-signing photo op, which is ironic and disingenuous considering the Mississippi has the most male-dominated congress in the country. The law will go into effect this summer if it’s not overturned by the courts. Pro-choice advocates have already begun to rally for a legal battle, while Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves, a proponent of the “heartbeat bill,” expressed his commitment to spending “whatever it costs to defend this lawsuit because I care about unborn children.”

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Reeves may feel that he cares deeply about unborn children, but the infant mortality numbers in the state paints a more complex picture of where Mississippi is failing its newborns. According to official figures gathered by the CDC, Mississippi has had either the highest or second highest infant mortality rate in the nation for the past four documented years. The numbers also reflect some of the highest rates for poor birth outcome in the country, including measures like preterm births and low birth weight, as well as the highest rate of births to unmarried mothers.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s House and Senate are working their way through crafting their own restrictive “heartbeat bill,” a piece of legislation that is backed by Governor Brain Kemp. The Senate just passed the latest iteration of the bill in a party-line vote. The Washington Post reported that the final version of the bill is expected to pass in the House.

Other states have passed similar bills in the past year only to have the legislation thrown out in court, which has prompted elected officials in the state of Tennessee to look for other restrictive alternatives to heartbeat bills. “We’re trying to construct a law that won’t get us into court on the losing side,” said Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally. Instead, the state is looking to craft a trigger ban that will go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

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