Michigan's Sweeping 'Fetal Heartbeat' Abortion Bills Would Be The Harshest In America

Not wanting to be outdone by Louisiana, where an omnibus of abortion legislation was signed in Thursday by Gov. Bobby Jindal, Michigan lawmakers have introduced fetal heartbeat abortion bills that would effectively ban the procedure after the sixth week of pregnancy. If passed, Michigan would have the earliest — and most stringent — abortion restriction in the nation.

The ban is part of a three-bill package that would require pregnant women to undergo an external ultrasound, and possibly an internal (transvaginal) one. Doctors who perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected could face up to four years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

According to bill HB 5634, when Michigan doctors detect a fetal heartbeat, they would have to offer the woman a chance to hear the heartbeat, explain that there's a possibility of miscarrying, and discuss other options. If no fetal heartbeat is detected, then doctors must recommend that the woman delay the abortion so more diagnostic tests can be done to "determine if the fetus is physically developing."

Essentially, the bill ensures that if women wait long enough — meaning, not very long at all — they simply won't be able to have an abortion.

HB 5644 states that performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected is "a felony punishable by imprisonment," a fine, or both. The third bill, HB 5645, adds the act to the list of felonies under Michigan's criminal code.

Michigan Republicans are responsible for the legislation, which so far has the support of 15 Republican representatives and one independent. The heartbeat ban has sparked outrage from the state's Democratic lawmakers, including state Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, who condemned the three bills in a statement released on her website.

Republicans like to say they are the party of small government, but they can’t seem to take their hands off women and their medical choices. ... Worse, it is insulting to all the women of Michigan to insinuate that women aren’t intelligent and competent enough to make their own medical decisions without the state’s interference. These are horrible bills, and they must be defeated.

Sponsoring state Rep. Tom Hooker said his reasoning for the ban is that heartbeats are the way we measure life.

If an elderly person reaches the end of their life, we judge their death by when their heartbeat stops. Using the same line of reasoning, although I believe in life from conception, if you have a heartbeat the law should at least consider that a life.

But that's not even in accordance with Michigan law. The state's Determination of Death Act acknowledges that brain death, or the "cessation of all functions of the entire brain," can be used to determine death. In many cases, a patient has a heartbeat even though all brain activity has stopped. In the case of a fetus, a heartbeat might occur around the sixth week of gestation, but brain waves generally don't develop until much later in the pregnancy.

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Fetal heartbeat bans have been one of the most controversial abortion restrictions gaining momentum in the U.S. The Alabama House of Representatives approved a fetal heartbeat ban last March, while Texas legislators included a heartbeat ban as a "trigger provision" in a package of anti-abortion laws in 2013 — the ban will immediately be enacted if Roe v. Wade was overturned.

However, fetal heartbeat bans are either blocked or struck down in court because they are blatantly unconstitutional. In April, a federal judge overturned North Dakota's fetal heartbeat law, which was approved last year by Gov. Jack Dalrymple. When signing the law, Dalrymple said the ban was " a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade."

As another anti-abortion battle heats up in Michigan, one is already underway in Louisiana: On Thursday, Gov. Bobby Jindal approved a law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The measure will likely close four of five abortion clinics in Louisiana.