It’s the first time for the United States, and it might allow babies their first breaths. The Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017, known as the “Heartbeat Bill,” (H.R. 490) is the first ever heartbeat bill introduced at the federal level. It’s headed to a hearing next Wednesday, November 1.
The text of the bill is simple, though its implications are profound. H.R. 490 says, in full:
This bill amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime for a physician to knowingly perform an abortion: (1) without determining whether the fetus has a detectable heartbeat, (2) without informing the mother of the results, or (3) after determining that a fetus has a detectable heartbeat.
It provides an exception for an abortion that is necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical (but not psychological or emotional) disorder, illness, or condition.
A physician who performs a prohibited abortion is subject to criminal penalties—a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.
A woman who undergoes a prohibited abortion may not be prosecuted for violating or conspiring to violate the provisions of this bill.
A baby’s heartbeat is present at 22 days after fertilization (roughly five weeks of pregnancy), and recent scientific studies indicate the heart may begin to beat six days sooner than that, at 16 days. Ultrasounds can detect the heartbeat very shortly after it begins.
Rep. Steve King (IA) is not a solo act in this bill, though he is leading the charge. Rep. Trent Franks (AZ) is the original cosponsor and, altogether, there are 169 co-sponsors. While the list predictably holds names of Republicans, the cosponsors so far include one Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson (MN). Reportedly, other members of Congress, who elected not to co-sponsor the bill, have indicated their support and a likely “yes” vote, should it come to the House floor. This would bring the vote count to 200 currently, but Rep. King expects to gain more supporters as discussion on the bill continues. 218 votes are needed to pass the House.
Should the Heartbeat Bill make it through its current subcommittee, it will be sent to the full Judiciary Committee. If it passes there, the floor vote is expected to take place on January 19, 2018 which is during the week of Roe v. Wade‘s anniversary.
When the Heartbeat Bill was launched earlier this year, Rep. King explained that it could not be more scientifically clear when life begins. “The question that has hung before the courts, since 1973 is: ‘When does life begin?’ – we all know when that is,” he said. While science unequivocally states that life begins at fertilization, Rep. King also asserts that anyone should be able to plainly agree and see that there is life when there is a heartbeat.
“The core tenet is this: If a heartbeat can be detected, the baby is protected,” he said.
This bill simply seeks to support what science has shown in the decades since Roe v. Wade was decided, and that is the moment that life begins–with a heartbeat.
ACTIVISM NEEDED: Email and call the two Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee Republicans who are not cosponsors, Karen Handel (GA-6) and Ron DeSantis (FL-6). Ask them to vote the bill out to the full Judiciary Committee next Wednesday. One of them must vote in favor of the Heartbeat Bill in order to outnumber the Democrats on the subcommittee, who reportedly do not support the bill.