CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
A group of 16 male lawmakers in Michigan have introduced a package of bills that would criminalize abortions after a fetal heartbeat can first be detected. So-called “fetal heartbeat” measures, which can outlaw the procedure as early as five or six weeks, represent the most radical type of abortion ban that’s ever been approved on a state level.
House Bill 5643, House Bill 5644, and House Bill 5645 were introduced as companion measures this week. The first measure requires doctors to find the fetal heartbeat and offer women a chance to listen to it before proceeding with an abortion; the second two would ban the procedure altogether after that point, and level a $50,000 fine against doctors who violate that rule.
In order to detect a fetal heartbeat at the earliest stage, doctors typically need to use an invasive transvaginal probe — something that has sparked outrage in the past, as women’s health advocates have decried mandatory probes as state-sponsored rape.
The leading anti-choice group in the state, Right to Life of Michigan, has declined to throw its weight behind the second two bills. A spokesperson for the group told Michigan Radio that they support the conversation about “the fact that this is an actual baby with a heartbeat,” but they do not believe a six-week abortion ban would hold up in court.
Indeed, it’s not much of a leap to assume that Michigan would be in for a costly legal battle if the legislature approves a harsh six-week ban. After North Dakota became the first state in the country to approve a heartbeat ban last year, a federal judge overturned it, pointing out that it’s blatantly unconstitutional. Under Roe v. Wade, abortion services are legalized until the point of viability, which is typically around 24 weeks.
Across the country, abortion opponents have been divided on heartbeat bills, which have failed to advance in states like Ohio, Alabama, and Kansas because Republican lawmakers won’t always agree to support them. In general, the anti-choice community hasn’t agreed on a consistent strategy to end abortion — it’s divided over whether it’s better to gradually chip away at Roe v. Wade by passing indirect measures to make it harder to get an abortion, or whether it’s necessary to take a bold stance to ban nearly all abortions.
This past year, Michigan made national headlines for some of its other attacks on abortion rights. In March, a controversial new state law took effect that will ban women from using their insurance coverage for abortion services, requiring them to purchase a separate rider if they don’t want to pay for the total cost of an abortion out of pocket — even in cases when they’ve gotten pregnant from rape or incest. The law was widely derided as “rape insurance.”