The biased language in these bills has no basis in medicine or reality. They’re written to divert attention away from the fact that they ban abortion and hurt women.
Politicians who support six-week bans on abortion — which amount to complete bans on abortion — have hoodwinked traditional news outlets into amplifying political talking points that mask their true, harmful intentions. Among such talking points: “fetal heartbeat,” a manipulative term deployed to justify banning abortion early in pregnancy.
We call these politicians’ bills 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 deploy provocative phrases such as “fetal heartbeat”? Because they evoke 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 nonsense: disinformation 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 4-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 politicians 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 at a record high, with 73% of Americans in favor of protecting access to safe, legal abortion.
An ideologically extreme group called Faith2Action conjured the first six-week abortion bans in 2011. It 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 the “radical homosexual agenda.” With full-page ads in major newspapers, Porter quoted gay people who “overcame” their sexual orientation through the dangerous, debunked practice of conversion therapy.
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.
What Makes Misleading Anti-Abortion Language Dangerous
Writing an inaccurate phrase in legislation doesn’t convert it into a fact, or into a legitimate description of what politicians intend to do. Six-week bans block access to abortion before many women know they’re pregnant. Anti-abortion politicians’ talking points are crafted to mislead people about this basic fact.
If these laws take effect, depriving women of the constitutional right affirmed in Roe v. Wade, women will face the heartbreaking—and life-threatening—consequences of losing access to safe, legal abortion. Remember: In 1965, one out of every six women who died from pregnancy-related causes had obtained an illegal abortion—and that’s just according to official reports (doctors believe the actual number was higher).
No Six-Week Abortion Ban. No Bans, PERIOD.
Our right to abortion care is not debatable.
Real Public Health Crises Ignored—or Made Worse
Some politicians pushing these six-week abortion bans have given lip service to promoting healthy pregnancies, but done nothing to confront real—and life-threatening—public health challenges that face people in their states. 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 anti-abortion politicians have lifted scarcely a finger to address this widespread, growing public-health crisis.
Consider the big picture in three states: Georgia, whose six-week ban awaits the governor's signature; Missouri, which has a six-week ban moving through its legislature; and Ohio, whose governor has signed a six-week ban into law.
In Georgia, maternal mortality rates rank 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 10 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 of areas without providers—are in St. Louis, Mo.
In Ohio, women face a triple threat: Abortion could be banned before many women know they’re pregnant, the state is “defunding” vital preventive reproductive-health care services, and President Trump’s gag rule could bar 76,000 low-income Ohioans who get preventive care like birth control through the Title X program from accessing that care at Planned Parenthood health centers.
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 politicians in these places cared about pregnant women 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, disinformation, and outright lies about abortion and pregnancy to further their efforts to outlaw safe, legal abortion. Inflammatory language about abortion later in pregnancy, and claims of “abortion until birth,” remain part and parcel of 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 people — including the media, as well as everyday Americans — into giving their agenda the oxygen of amplification.
Why do anti-abortion politicians rely on such rhetorical tricks? Simple: they know their true agenda is outside the mainstream, and deeply unpopular. We’ve said it before, and will say it again: Support for Roe v. Wade and access to abortion is at a record high. In fact, 73% of Americans do not want women to lose their access to safe, legal abortion.
Abortion is also 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 get away with hiding its agenda. Call these bills what they are: six-week abortion bans. There is no more accurate way to say it.
There have been more than 250 abortion restrictions introduced in this country since January.
These attacks are only the beginning. It’s up to us to stand united against this unprecedented effort—and to fight back.