Don’t Call 6-Week Abortion Bans “Heartbeat” Bills. Here’s Why.
By Greg Greene, Miriam Berg | June 1, 2021, 12:30 p.m.
Category: Abortion Access
The biased language in these bills — including the unconstitutional Texas abortion ban — has no basis in medicine or reality. They’re written to divert attention from the fact that they ban abortion and hurt pregnant people.
Politicians like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott who support six-week bans on abortion have hoodwinked traditional news outlets into masking the harmful impact of these bills. Among the misleading talking points: “fetal heartbeat,” a manipulative term deployed to justify banning abortion early in pregnancy, in what is close to a complete ban on abortion.
We call the unconstitutional Texas statute and other such measures what they are: abortion bans. Read below to learn why you should, too.
How “Heartbeat” Language Misrepresents the Facts
Why do politicians and opponents of reproductive rights use provocative phrases such as “fetal heartbeat”? Because they place false images in people's minds — false images meant to make people view common and accepted health care as immoral and shameful.
In truth, the “fetal heartbeat” talking point is misinformation intended to deceive the press and public. As gynecologist Dr. Jennifer Gunter explains, at six weeks of fetal development, there is no "heart" that beats — instead, there is detectable activity within a four-millimeter wide growth known as a fetal pole:
“The politicians know exactly what they are doing as [the term ‘heartbeat’] is a way of making a 4 mm thickening next to a yolk sac seem like it is almost ready to walk.”
—Dr. Jennifer Gunter
Why Politicians Want to Mislead You
Here’s why abortion foes like Gov. Abbott manipulate public opinion with misleading terms: because they know their true agenda is deeply unpopular. Among proponents of six-week abortion bans are groups and individuals whose stated mission is to ban all abortion — even though support for Roe v. Wade and access to abortion is overwhelming, with 79% of Americans opposed to overturning Roe.
An ideologically extreme group called Faith2Action conjured the first six-week abortion bans in 2011. The group bills itself as “the birthplace of the heartbeat bill,” and its website features model legislation for politicians to duplicate in their states.
Faith2Action is also an anti-LGBTQ hate group, founded by anti-abortion activist Janet Porter. Porter once served as legislative director at Ohio Right to Life, a group dedicated to banning access to abortion — and she subsequently led the Center for Reclaiming America, a group devoted to combating what it labeled as the “radical homosexual agenda.”
What to take from all this: The people behind six-week abortion bans need misleading talking points as cover for their dangerous — and unpopular — agenda.
No Six-Week Abortion Ban. No Bans, PERIOD.
Our right to abortion care is not debatable.
Real Public Health Crises Ignored—or Made Worse
Governor Abbott and other politicians who’ve pushed these six-week abortion bans have paid lip service to promoting healthy pregnancies, but have done nothing to confront real — and life-threatening — public health challenges that people face. Maternal mortality rates across much of the United States have exceeded levels experienced in every other wealthy country — with people of color, especially Black women, dying at the highest rates. Yet these same politicians pushing abortion bans haven’t bothered to address this widespread, growing public-health crisis.
Consider the big picture in Texas and three other states: Georgia, Missouri, and Ohio — where governors have signed six-week bans.
In 2012, Texas moved to end its successful federally-funded Medicaid family planning expansion rather than let patients get potentially lifesaving care at Planned Parenthood. As a result, many people were left with nowhere to turn — either because there were no other providers in their communities, or because other providers couldn’t accommodate all of the patients served by Planned Parenthood health centers.
Texas then started its own state-funded family planning program (first called “Women’s Health Program,” then called “Healthy Texas Women”) — a deeply flawed program designed to limit access to sexual and reproductive health care, including care at Planned Parenthood health centers.
Since the shutdown of the state’s previous federally funded family-planning expansion, nearly 45,000 Texans have lost access to care — and another 39,000 have lost access to birth control. Despite the failure of this program, the Trump administration upended longstanding federal law and greenlit Texas’ request to again receive federal Medicaid funding for the program.
In Georgia, maternal mortality rates are the second worst in the country. Cardiovascular issues like cardiac arrest are a leading cause of death in childbirth. That includes a young Georgia mother named Kira, who bled for hours in the hospital before dying from cardiac arrest.
The state of Georgia also has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.
Georgia politicians have made these problems worse by refusing to expand Medicaid. The resulting funding shortfall has contributed to hospital closures in rural areas, depriving many women of color of access to maternal health care. Today, half of Georgia’s 159 counties have no obstetric providers.
In Missouri, maternal mortality rates are 50% higher than those recorded in the nation at large. Missouri also ranks among the nation’s ten worst states for infant mortality.
Experts say that a contributing cause is the state’s number of OB-GYNs per capita, which is among the lowest in the nation. A study of the country’s biggest cities, in fact, has found the most overworked OB-GYNs — those carrying the highest patient loads per provider — are in St. Louis, Mo.
In Ohio, lawmakers attempted in 2019 to ban abortion at a point before many women know they’re pregnant. (The ban remains blocked in the courts, for now.) The state is also “defunding” vital preventive reproductive health care services.
It shouldn’t surprise you that Ohio also has among the nation’s worst maternal mortality rates, infant mortality rates, and OB-GYN shortages.
The takeaway: If Abbott and politicians in other states passing bans cared about pregnant people and babies, they would work to increase access to health care.
When Do Anti-Abortion Politicians Mislead? All the Time
Politicians at the highest levels have used misleading talking points, misinformation, and outright lies about abortion and pregnancy to further their mission to outlaw safe, legal abortion. Inflammatory language about abortion later in pregnancy, and claims of “abortion until birth,” remain fundamental to efforts by anti-abortion politicians to shock Americans into supporting dangerous abortion bans nationwide.
Deceptive, medically unsound rhetoric about six-week abortion bans has to be examined with this track record in mind. Politicians and activists who spread these talking points have one motive: to ban abortion. They use pithy, attention-grabbing talking points in an effort to draw the media and everyday Americans into amplifying their agenda.
Why do anti-abortion politicians rely on such rhetorical tricks? Simple: they know their true agenda is outside the mainstream, and deeply unpopular.
Abortion is very common. Nearly one in four women in America will have an abortion in her lifetime. Every day, women across the country face the deeply personal decision of whether or not to continue their pregnancy.
Bottom Line: It’s a Ban
Don’t fall for disinformation. And don’t let the anti-abortion movement camouflage its agenda. Call these bills what they are: abortion bans.