On Wednesday, the House of Representatives held a hearing on a bill that would criminalize all abortions after the fetus's "heartbeat" is detected, which is often at about six weeks. In order to drive home their point, House Republicans saved a seat for an ultrasound machine in the front row of the proceedings. NARAL Pro-Choice America, who was present at the hearing, shared a photo of the machine sitting in between two representatives.
At one point later on in the hearing, Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King narrated an ultrasound, Jezebel reported. He described the heartbeat and movements of the fetus, which was developed beyond six weeks. “If the heartbeat is detected, the baby is protected,” King said in his opening statements, while stressing that life began “when sperm meets egg."
According to "Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017," for which Wednesday's hearing was held, all doctors who perform an abortion after six weeks would face up to five years in prison. “The constitutionality of this bill is evident,” King said. His argument is that Congress can extend the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause to include fetuses, guaranteeing “life and liberty of Americans living in their mothers’ wombs.” He added that a fetus's right to life outweighed a woman's right to liberty. “Ultrasounds prove without a doubt that life is present."
Trent Franks, a Republican representative from Arizona, was also present at the hearing on Wednesday and supported King's claims. The sound of the “heartbeat,” he said after King's presentation, “should speak to the hardest hearts.” Franks previously sponsored the 20-week abortion ban.
Fortunately, there were people in the room who supported a women's right to choose and they made their voices heard. Democratic representative Steve Cohen, of Tennessee, called the bill, HR 490, a “direct attack” on Roe v. Wade. He also referenced the 20-week ban, which recently passed the House, calling it “blatantly unconstitutional.” Cohen argued that the "lack of exception for rape and incest further victimizes rape and incest victims by forcing them to carry to term.”
At another point in the hearing, Dr. Kathi Aultman, an Associate Scholar for the anti-abortion advocacy group the Charlotte Lozier Insitute, called herself a "mass murderer" when she testified before the committee. She explained that she'd preformed abortions on women before, and obtained one herself. However, now, she doesn't “believe a woman can remain unscathed after an abortion.” She also told a story about her adopted cousin who was the product of rape, but abortion is illegal in their home country. “Perhaps we should ask those who were conceived through rape if others like them should be denied protection," she said.
Conservative political activist Dr. Star Parker also took the stand, during which she compared abortion to slavery—a theory she's preached on college campuses before. Her testimony received a lot of backlash on social media.
The only female lawmaker in the room was Democratic representative Pramila Jayapal, of Washington. "This bill is blatantly unconstitutional," she said during the hearing. "Women have a constitutionally protected right to abortion, it's a fact that's been made clear by the Supreme Court." She went on to name states that have attempted to pass similar abortion bans in the past, like North Dakota and Arkansas. "Those laws were ruled unconstitutional, so there's no reason to believe this law would face a different fate."
She added that seven out of 10 Americans don't want to overturn Roe v. Wade. "They do understand that we as women have the right to determine how we are going to proceed with choices that we make about our own body," Jayapal said. While she said she respects another woman's choice not to get an abortion, "the reality is, I have a right to determine was happens in my own body."
Considering the United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, it was disheartening that the only time the mother's health and well being was mentioned at all during the hearing was when Priscilla Smith, a Senior Fellow at Yale School of Law and the Democrats' only witness, took the stand. "This is an attempt to ban abortion outright and stop women from making decisions about their bodies," she said. "Instead of wasting its time banning abortion, this chamber should focus on lowering infant mortality rates."