In May Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a so-called “heartbeat” bill banning abortions as early as six weeks. It was the fourth such bill passed by state legislatures this year. What all of these bills, and similar ones passed prior to this year, have in common is they are based on model legislation written by Faith2Action, which bills itself as “the nation’s largest network of pro-family groups”.
While the bills do not cite a specific gestational time limit for abortions, they amount to a ban at about six week’s gestation. That’s when a doctor can detect a “flicker of cardiac motion” on a transvaginal ultrasound according to Dr. Catherine Romanos, a doctor who performs abortions in Ohio and is a fellow with the group Physicians for Reproductive Health. There are legal penalties of up to ten years for any doctor who performs an abortion after detecting a ”so-called heartbeat” unless it is necessary to save the life of the woman. There is no exception for a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest.
There is considerable speculation surrounding the issue of what charges could be brought against a woman who performs her own abortion with drugs or other means. What if she travels to another state and has a legal abortion? Could she be charged in her home state? Unless these bills specifically exempt such women, no one is sure how far the states will go in prosecuting women, perhaps even for murder.
“Personhood” language in the Georgia bill makes it a part of the battle as to whose rights mean more, a zygotes or a woman? This creates potentially large ramifications. It is the criminalization of pregnant people. While other state’s “so-called heartbeat” bills do not contain “personhood” language, other states have unsuccessfully attempted to pass such bills, as well as the U.S. House. A number of states are considering “personhood” bills.
In the current climate how long will it take for women to be held accountable for the termination of a pregnancy whether or not she did anything deliberate to bring it about? The answer: already at least two cases have been documented. Purvi Patel spent several years in prison before her lawyers were able to get her conviction vacated and released for time served. She had been charged with feticide and felony neglect of a dependent for pursuing a self-induced abortion. Bei Bei Shuai was charged with feticide after she attempted suicide by ingesting rat poisoning. After 435 days in jail she pled guilty and was released for time served.
Women are already dying because of lack of health services in states like Georgia. Laws like these contribute to the loss of yet other services. O course marginalized groups of women will suffer even more – women of color, poor women, LBGTQ women, women in prison.