A proposed abortion bill introduced in Arkansas this week would ban all abortion services after a fetal heartbeat is detected — which can occur as early as six weeks, before some women even realize they’re pregnant — and charge doctors who perform abortions after that arbitrary cut-off with a Class D felony, punishable by up to six years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
GOP lawmaker Jason Rapert filed the legislation on Monday, and half of Arkansas’ state senators — 18 of the Senate’s 35 total members — have already signed on as co-sponsors. Rapert says he may bring the bill before the Arkansas Senate’s Public Health Committee later this week.
So-called “heartbeat bills” are an attempt to redefine the medical terms of pregnancy, as well as a direct challenge to women’s constitutional rights. Even though medical professionals agree the point of viability typically occurs around 22 or 23 weeks of pregnancy — and Roe v. Wade grants women the right to terminate a pregnancy up until viability — fetal heartbeat measures would narrow the window for obtaining legal abortion services by as much as 17 weeks. This type of legislation is so radical that it often divides the anti-choice community. A similar measure failed in Ohio at the end of last year because abortion opponents couldn’t reach a consensus on it.
Rapert has acknowledged his bill may face legal challenges — particularly since it’s even more stringent than other states’ 20-week abortion bans that are currently being blocked in court. But, as he explained to the Associated Press, he is committed to imposing his own medical definitions on the women in his state. “When there is a heartbeat there, you have a living human being,” he said.
Since Republicans won both chambers of Arkansas’ state legislature in November’s elections, they’ve made it clear that abortion restrictions are high on their agenda — even though Arkansas, which only has one surgical abortion clinic left in the entire state, is already fairly hostile to reproductive rights. Abortion opponents are pressuring GOP lawmakers to push through a slew of new anti-choice legislation, including a 20-week abortion ban and a measure to block health insurance coverage of abortion services.