Kentucky’s Heartbeat Abortion Bill Has Already Pushed Opponents To Promise A Legal Fight

Drew Angerer/Getty Images News/Getty Images

While it doesn't make news every day, the battle for reproductive rights is very active in states across the union. On Tuesday, lawmakers in one of the most prominent battleground states took a step towards all but outlawing abortion in a move that opponents are already calling unconstitutional. Kentucky legislators introduced a "heartbeat" abortion bill, which would make all abortions illegal as soon as it's possible to detect a fetal heartbeat — and the ACLU has already come out strongly against the measure.

"It's blatantly unconstitutional," said ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri, according to NBC News. "This is certainly the most blatant attempt to take aim at Roe v. Wade. It's extreme. It's yet again anti-abortion politicians trying to push abortion out of reach for women in this state."

This isn't the first time that so-called "heartbeat bills" have arisen in state legislators. Most recently, the Ohio legislature passed a bill outlawing abortion once an ultrasound could detect a fetal heartbeat, which happens at around six weeks — before many women even know they're pregnant. The measure in Ohio also would have penalized doctors who performed abortions, and it didn't include exceptions for rape or incest.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed the heartbeat bill in December and lawmakers weren't able to get enough support in the legislature to override the veto. They pledged to try again in 2019 after the new governor had been sworn in, however, as Cleveland.com reported.

Similar to the vetoed bill in Ohio, the Kentucky measure also includes the threat of felony charges for doctors who perform abortions, and it only exempts cases where the woman's life is at risk, according to WFPL. Kentucky already has only one abortion provider in the whole state thanks to previous restrictions that made it more and more difficult for clinics to keep their doors open. And as Amiri told NBC News, this new bill would effectively make it impossible for women to access abortion care at all.

"Most women don't even know they're pregnant at six weeks," she told NBC News. "So this is a virtual ban on abortion."

Across the country, anti-abortion activists have pursued a strategy of dismantling Roe v. Wade in a step by step fashion, using restrictive bills to increasingly limit abortion rights, as The Washington Post describes. "Heartbeat bills" are among the most restrictive ones, and courts have struck them down in the past. Specifically, "heartbeat bills" passed in North Dakota and Arkansas were struck down in 2013, according to The Hill. Iowa's recently passed bill is similarly mired in a court case that the judge has not yet ruled on, according to the Des Moines Register.

Some anti-choice activists see "heartbeat bills" as too expansive to effectively challenge Roe v. Wade in court, as The Guardian explained concerning Iowa's new law. But that hasn't stopped them from popping up in several places.

While this bill is far from a done deal, there's a very good chance that Kentucky's conservative legislature and governor could quickly turn it into law, as NBC News reports. The ACLU has promised that should the bill pass, though, it will immediately take the state to court.