What You Need to Know About the Heartbeat Bill

On May 7, 2019, Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed the controversial Heartbeat Bill, known formally as House Bill 481. Since then, many more people have been asking questions and voicing concerns about a bill that has been a topic of discussion for months now—a bill that is more than just a ban on abortion. 

  1. 1. HB 481

    The bill bans abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy—the period of time is currently set at 20 weeks. The bill's name stems from the fact that it prohibits abortion once doctors can detect that the fetus has a heartbeat. House Bill 481 is the most extreme abortion ban in the country.

    Georgia is the fourth state this year to pass this law, with states Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, South Carolina and West Virginia aiming to follow suit.

  2. 3. Consequences

    Under the new law, any woman who seeks an abortion from a health care provider past the six weeks would be subject to life in prison. If proven at fault for a miscarriage, for example due to drug-use, the woman would be liable for second-degree murder and subject to life imprisonment or capital punishment. Conspiracy to commit murder by the individual or someone who seeks to help may be subject to 10 years. Under the bill, fetuses have independent rights and “are a class of living, distinct person” who have the right to due process.

  3. 4. Date

    The bill takes effect on Jan. 1 2020.

What do opponents have to say?

The biggest argument that situates itself in the center of this debate is that many women do not know they are pregnant at the six week stage. Six weeks gestation, which is the period of development during the carrying of a fetus, is just shortly after the first missed period which is common for many women without the reason being pregnancy.  It is also argued that the fetus doesn't yet have a heart at this period, with the cardiac activity that is being detected stemming from the fetal pole, one of the first structures that can be visually detected in early pregnancy.

Georgia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates, especially when you look at black, queer, and low-income individuals. The elimination of a health care option such as abortion can further hurt these rates.

What do supporters have to say?

Georgia Republican governor, Brian Kemp, promised to enact the “toughest abortion bill in the country.” An AJC poll showed that about 44% of Georgia voters support the bill. Supporters say that life must be protected at all stages and that every baby has a right to have the opportunity to live; it allows for the 14th amendment rights of equal protection to go into effect.

What is being done?

Roe v. Wade established a woman's right to abortion in 1973 and the constitutionality of the bill is being questioned as it could overturn the decision.  It is important to note that bans like this have been repeatedly blocked in courts with heartbeat bills in Iowa, North Dakota and recently Ohio getting struck down. The Supreme Court has held that a state cannot ban abortion before viability or the ability to survive successfully which is determined at about 24-28 weeks of pregnancy. However, the Supreme Court’s current conservative majority should not be ignored.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has pledged to sue the state over the Heartbeat Bill and challenge it in court, and Hollywood has taken a stand with The Writers Guild of America threatening to boycott the state.

Picture courtesy of Stephen B. Morton/ AP