National Heartbeat Bill Would Protect Babies After 6 Weeks
Republicans have introduced a national heartbeat bill that would protect nearly all unborn Americans from abortion and educate the public about how early fetal life begins — an education campaign that pro-life advocates say has saved lives by itself.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) introduced the Heartbeat Protection Act of 2023 (H.R. 175) earlier this month. If an abortionist carried out an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, beginning at roughly six weeks after fertilization, the abortionist would be fined and/or sentenced to five years in prison.
“Instead of abortion stopping a beating heart, with the heartbeat bill, a beating heart will stop abortion,” Janet Porter, president and founder of Faith2Action, told The Washington Stand. After Texas enacted a heartbeat bill, abortions fell by 97%.
The possibility of passing a heartbeat bill is no longer “wishful thinking,” said Porter. “This is a bill that has been upheld by the Supreme Court. It saved 20,000 babies in the state of Texas before Roe v. Wade ever fell." The number of abortions carried out in Texas fell from 5,706 to 2,251 after the state passed its own heartbeat bill, S.B. 8; abortions subsequently fell from 2,596 last June to just 68 the month after the Dobbs decision.
Kelly received an acknowledgement at this year’s March for Life from his co-sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). “A new national debate on abortion has begun as lawmakers on the state level act quickly to protect children in the womb when a heartbeat can be detected at around six weeks,” Smith told the crowd, personally thanking Kelly for his lifesaving initiative.
Kelly said the bill would allow voters in post-Roe America to “begin modernizing our abortion laws with ethical, common-sense limits that prioritize the safety of defenseless babies and their mothers, and by doing so, catch up with the rest of the enlightened world.” The bill deserves the support of those who “sincerely believe that human life is a sacred gift from God in need of society’s protection.”
The media narrative holds that congressional Democrats staved off a red wave in the 2022 midterm elections after mobilizing their base against the threat of a “national abortion ban.” But Republican Governors Greg Abbott of Texas, Brian Kemp of Georgia, Mike DeWine of Ohio, and Kim Reynolds of Iowa all signed heartbeat bills in their respective states before cruising to reelection last fall.
Such protections remain popular with voters, as well. A 2017 Barna poll found 69% of Americans — including 55% of Democrats — support protecting unborn children who have a beating heart. A 2019 Hill-HarrisX poll and another 2022 poll also found a majority of all Americans support heartbeat bills.
“We are thankful to pro-life leaders Mike Kelly and Chris Smith for introducing the Heartbeat Protection Act. What began as a grassroots movement to show the humanity of an unborn child with a heartbeat turned into the first state level pro-life law put into effect since Roe v. Wade,” Connor Semelsberger, director of Federal Affairs at the Family Research Council, told TWS.
The potential that the bill will display the unborn child’s humanity has led pro-abortion activists to dispute the reality of a fetal heartbeat. “To deny a heartbeat is to deny science,” Porter told TWS. “Stacey Abrams looks like a fool, because there’s not a person around who doesn’t understand that if there’s a heartbeat, there’s life. Everybody who’s a parent knows that. Everybody who’s taken biology class knows that.”
“To ignore it is heartless,” Porter said. By campaigning on the bill, Republicans can show the abortion industry and its political defenders “to be the cold and calculating, heartless people that they are.”
The bill’s message “gives us the high ground. This gives us virtual victory.”
The educational campaign that goes along with promoting heartbeat legislation has already saved lives, she said.
In March 2011, Porter played a recording of an ultrasound, which included a fetal heartbeat, in the Ohio statehouse. “The room was silent except for that heartbeat. And a protester, who was pretty disruptive moments before, was seen wiping tears from her eyes,” Porter said.
The most dramatic results came months later. “A woman came up to me and said, ‘My friend asked me to drive her to the abortion mill, and I couldn’t do it, because I heard about this baby’s heartbeat,’” Porter remembered. “Months later, she came up and hugged me and said, ‘Here’s a picture. This is little Aidan,’” who is now 12 years old. “Just the hearing, just the publicity is the best ad campaign you can buy.”
“That publicity is worth a life,” Porter insisted. “What will it do nationally?”
Some accuse Republicans of playing politics with the legislation, as the bill will not pass the Democrat-controlled Senate or survive a veto from President Joe Biden. But “any other so-called ‘practical’ bill, whether it’s defunding [abortionists] or a pain-capable 1% protection bill, isn’t going to go through the Senate or the White House either,” Porter said.
Porter hopes the bill will get a hearing from congressional leaders, whom she said have shied away from it before. In 2017, then-Speaker of the House “Paul Ryan … wouldn’t bring it to a vote, even though we had the votes” to pass it, Porter said.
Semelsberger said, “While the Heartbeat Protection Act will not save all unborn children, it draws a clear line very early in pregnancy, at which point unborn life should be protected” by national legislation. “It is time that Congress seriously consider a strong pro-life bill that can set a national minimum standard to protect unborn life in the womb.”
Setting a national standard of six weeks is “a way to reach into California, New York, Michigan,” said Porter.
Kelly’s bill has received the endorsement of Heritage Action for America, as well as former Vice President Mike Pence’s nonprofit, Advancing American Freedom. Pence also endorsed the Life at Conception Act, introduced by Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), which recognized the personhood of unborn children by clarifying that they enjoy the protections of the 14th Amendment.
Democratic Party officials have already begun to campaign against Kelly’s bill, and its supporters. Pence’s “list of proposed legislation also includes an extreme abortion ban that threatens doctors with jail time and has no exceptions for rape or incest,” said a press release from the Democratic Party’s “War Room,” specifying the Heartbeat Protection Act (which, in its present iteration, does include exceptions for rape and incest). Pence “has made his anti-abortion stances the hallmark of his shadow campaign for the 2024 Republican primary — drawing his fellow GOP contenders to showcase their extremism as well as they each compete for the MAGA base.”
Fresh off his landslide victory, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) has recently said he would be open to signing a heartbeat bill. “If he wants to run for president, this gives him not just a pro-liberty position, but a pro-life one. We’re going to watch his results,” said Porter. “I think can bring [President Donald] Trump further to the Right, as well.”
The Heartbeat Protection Act currently has 62 cosponsors, all Republicans.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.