New year, new opportunity for anti-abortion lawmakers in America to try to restrict a woman's right to choose. Republican state Rep. Robert Gofort just introduced a bill to ban abortions in Kentucky as soon as a foetal heartbeat is detected. This type of legislation, commonly known as a "heartbeat bill," would mean abortions could be banned as early as six weeks of gestation. At that point, most women don't even know they're pregnant.
The procedure is already severely restricted in Kentucky, which only has one abortion provider serving the entire state. Gofort's bill, which he pre-filed in mid-December before the new session began, makes it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion once the heartbeat is detected. It makes exceptions for cases where a woman's life is at risk, but not for rape or incest.
Similar measures have been halted in other states or blocked by the courts. Last summer, Iowa's heartbeat bill was blocked before it could go into effect. Most recently, outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed his state's heartbeat bill. Reproductive rights advocates argue these bills are unconstitutional because of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1992 decision on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld a woman's right to choose an abortion before viability. (According to research, a foetus is not considered viable before 20 weeks of gestation.) Ever since, abortion bans before the 20-week mark have been struck down.
Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, cautioned in an interview with Refinery29 last month that more states will likely try to pass anti-abortion legislation with the hopes of it bringing the legal challenge that helps make abortion illegal in the United States once again due to the current balance of the Supreme Court.
"We are going to see a number of states, if not passing extreme abortion bans, [at least] debating them and seriously consider them in 2019. Most of the attention has been focused on the Supreme Court and passing restrictions that are unconstitutional right now, but could provide the court with the opening to undermine or overturn [Roe v. Wade]," Nash said. "There are multiple opportunities for the courts to weigh in. It’s a very dangerous time, if you support abortion rights."