Legislation has been introduced this session in both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly which would protect the lives of unborn children once a heartbeat can be detected in the child.
The “heartbeat” bills have been filed by Senator Andrew Koenig of Wildwood and Representative Nick Schroer of O’Fallon. Koenig’s proposal is Senate Bill 139 and Schroer’s bill is House Bill 126.
The bills specify that before a doctor can proceed with an abortion, he or she must first make a good faith determination concerning the presence or absence of a heartbeat using methods consistent with standard medical practice.
If a heartbeat is detected, the doctor must inform the woman that the law prohibits him or her from performing the abortion unless there is a medical emergency posing a threat to her health. The doctor is required to offer the woman the option of viewing or hearing the heartbeat. If no heartbeat is detected, an abortion may be performed or induced within 96 hours of the conclusion of the heartbeat test.
A doctor who performs an abortion when a heartbeat has been detected will have his or her medical license revoked, and may not reapply to be a licensed physician in the future. A doctor who fails to perform a heartbeat detection test prior to an abortion is subject to having his or her license revoked or suspended by the State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts.
While there are different perspectives in the medical community, it is generally accepted that a preborn child’s heart starts beating by approximately 22 days after conception, and that the heartbeat can be detected by an early ultrasound exam from 6-8 weeks into the pregnancy.
“Heartbeat” bills are being debated in state legislatures all across the country. They are a direct challenge to U.S. Supreme Court rulings governing restrictions on abortion. In the landmark case known as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court established that states may not restrict a woman’s access to abortion prior to the point at which an unborn child is viable.
Most legal challenges to the Supreme Court’s precedents on abortion never make it to the High Court. The outcome of those cases are determined by federal circuit courts of appeal. Missouri falls within the jurisdiction of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Three states within the 8th Circuit have already passed “heartbeat” bills into law.
Arkansas enacted such a law in 2013. A U.S. District Court ruled that the post-heartbeat abortion prohibition was unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit then let stand the District Court decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a further appeal of the case. However, a portion of the Arkansas law requiring that a heartbeat detection test be performed before an abortion is still in effect.
North Dakota also adopted a “heartbeat” law in 2013. It suffered the same outcome, with the 8th Circuit allowing a District Court decision invalidating the law to remain in effect, and the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting an appeal of the 8th Circuit decision.
The State of Iowa adopted a “heartbeat” law last year. It is currently being challenged in Iowa state court. The Iowa Supreme Court has interpreted that state’s constitution to provide that a woman’s access to abortion is a fundamental right.