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A 6-Week Abortion Ban Would Outlaw Abortion

In mid-January, Iowa Rep. Steve King introduced his "heartbeat bill," meant to outlaw nearly all abortions in the U.S. At a press conference on Tuesday, according to BuzzFeed, King said he hoped to "eliminate a large share of abortions, about 90 percent," with the bill. But could a national six-week abortion ban really pass? It seems unlikely, since it will probably be interpreted as violating the constitutional "undue burden" clause, but it could still cause future damage to reproductive rights.

At a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol building, King seemed optimistic, saying, "By the time we march this thing down to the Supreme Court, the faces on the bench will be different. I’m not sure how different, but I’m hopeful." President Donald Trump is only responsible for appointing one additional "face"; so it's unclear what King meant by the plural "faces." A similar bill in Ohio was recently vetoed by Gov. John Kasich, and in its place, a 20-week abortion ban was enacted. Reproductive rights advocates fear that King's bill could similarly open the door for other restrictions that seem more moderate in comparison. King hopes that his bill will have a hand in overturning Roe v. Wade entirely.

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King's bill, H.R. 490, would outlaw abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks, before many women even know that they're pregnant. Thanks to restrictions like waiting periods and reduced access, it takes longer than ever for many women to procure an abortion, so even if an unintended pregnancy was discovered at four or five weeks, it still might not be soon enough. It's unlikely that a pregnancy test will show a positive result before four weeks for a woman with an average cycle, and of course, many women have irregular cycles.

The bill does provide an exception if a woman's life is endangered, but it does not accept "psychological or emotional conditions" as valid risks, meaning that a woman at risk of suicide would still be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy. There is no exception for rape or incest. Detecting a heartbeat so early in a pregnancy requires the use of a transvaginal ultrasound, which could be traumatic for a rape survivor. In a press release on his website, King stated that "America was founded on the concept that our rights come from God," and that "our most important responsibility that God has bestowed upon us is to protect innocent human life." Presumably, he believes that responsibility does not extend to actual human women.