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Fetal Heartbeat Bill Could Change Testing Requirements

By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) has introduced legislation HB405, “The Fetal Heartbeat Bill.” This would most likely, once again bring the transvaginal probe back into the picture, but with a different objective.

During the 2012 Session, Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) introduced SB12, the “Right to Know and See Act.” This would have mandated the use of  transvaginal ultrasounds. It was a follow up to the 2002 legislation requiring abdominal ultrasound to be performed so that the mother could see the embryo before making the final decision to have an abortion. After a major backlash, that legislation died.

Last session, a similar bill addressing fetal heartbeat passed the Alabama House by a vote of 73-29, but later languished in Senate committee.

The traditional Doppler ultrasound picks up the fetal heartbeat as late as twelve weeks. The new transvaginal ultrasound can hear it as early as four to six weeks.

The transvaginal ultrasound is performed by inserting a 2cm diameter wand-like device into the women’s vaginal wall and resting it against the cervix. The probe is first covered in a probe condom and ultrasound gel is added. “The probe sends out sound waves which reflect off body structures,” according to the US National Library of Medicine.

Research results show that since most women seek abortions within the first trimester, the transvaginal ultrasound is the best option for detecting a fetal heartbeat in that early stage.

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The bill states, “The procedure for detecting the heartbeat shall be pursuant to the applicable medical standard of care.” While the bill, like those in other states, does not specify this test, it is the only one available in which a physician can be certain.

“Transvaginal auscultation outperformed transabdominal auscultation in every gestational age range,” according to the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.

The bill reads, “Section 4. A physician shall not perform an abortion on a pregnant woman whose unborn child’s heartbeat has been detected according to the requirements of this act.”

Should a physician fail to perform the test or continue with the procedure after detecting a heartbeat, they would be charged with a Class C felony and have their license revoked. According to the language of the bill, the patient would not be held liable.

Nationally, “informed consent” bills are in varying degrees of legislation and court litigation. Most states, including Alabama, have a law requiring a physician to perform an abdominal ultrasound giving the patient an opportunity to see the fetus. The bills also vary as to the method used to determine the heartbeat. Where North Dakota requires transvaginal ultrasound, Arkansas only requires abdominal ultrasound.

Proponents of these bills claim it increases the likelihood that a woman would choose not to go forward with an abortion after hearing the heartbeat. Opponents claim the procedure is “unnecessarily invasive.”

Many states are attempting to pass similar laws, but have been met with opposition. Some are listed below:

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Arkansas — Banned abortions after 12 weeks in January 2013. Governor Mike Beebe vetoed it only to be overridden by the Arkansas House of Representatives. A federal judge issued a temporary injunction in May 2013. By March 2014, Judge Susan Webber Wright struck down the portion that prevented abortions, describing the law as unconstitutional.

Kansas — As of January 2015 debates are still expected by the Legislature regarding fetal heartbeat, but a bill is yet to be introduced.

Kentucky — Introduced by Rep. Joseph Fischer in January 2014. HB 132 was sent to the Health and Welfare Committee where it died.

Michigan — Introduced by Rep. Tom Hooker in the House in June 2014 and was then referred to the Committee on Health Policy

Mississippi — Sponsored by Rep. Andy Gipson in January and died in committee in February 2013.

North Carolina — In July 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed their bill. In December 2014 the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck it down.

North Dakota — Signed into law in March 2013 by Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Before it could go in effect, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction. Then, US District Judge Daniel Hovland ruled the law unconstitutional in April 2014.

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Ohio — In March 2015, the House passed the legislation 55-40 but faces opposition in the Senate and from Gov. John Kasich.

Rhode Island — Introduced by Rep. James N. McLaughlin in January 2015.

South Carolina — In January 2015, introduced by Sen. Lee Bright in the Senate and referred back to committee.

Texas — Introduced in 2013 by Rep. Phil King.

Wyoming — Introduced Jan. 2013 by Rep. Kendel Kroeker. Struck down by House committee by a vote of 4-5 in Feb. 2013.

States like Missouri, New York, Kansas, and North Carolina are requiring that the woman hear the heartbeat, but are requiring a waiting period between 24 and 72 hours before the abortion can proceed.

So far, the heartbeat issue has not made it to the US Supreme Court. Many predict that it will be struck down as unconstitutional, based on the language in Roe v. Wade establishing that an abortion is legal until the point of viability, (between 24 and 28 weeks).

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Likewise, Paul Linton, former general counselor for Americans United for Life, has argued that fetal heartbeat laws “have no chance in the courts.” He, like most Pro-Life advocates prefer, instead, a legislative strategy that chips away at Roe v. Wade.

Written By

DIG DEEPER

Elections

Scofield is seeking reelection for a fourth term representing state Senate District 9. 

Courts

The case is over an Alabama law that appoints a guardian ad litem for unborn children in certain abortion cases.

National

The Alabama Center for Law and Liberty filed an amicus curiae brief in the United States Supreme Court, asking it to overrule Roe v....

Courts

The law, which was challenged by the ACLU, would have forced minors seeking an abortion without parental consent to be subjected to a trial.