Indiana GOP’s ‘Heartbeat Act’ Would Ban Abortion at Six Weeks

Indiana has a 20-week abortion ban, but this proposed bill would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually at six weeks' gestation.

Indiana has a 20-week abortion ban, but this proposed bill would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually at six weeks' gestation. Shutterstock

Indiana’s 2016 legislative sessions began this week, and one Indiana lawmaker has introduced legislation that would prohibit abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which could be as early as six weeks’ gestation.

Sponsored by state Sen. Jim Banks (R-Columbia City), SB 144 would make it a felony to “perform or induce an abortion before determining whether the unborn human individual has a detectable heartbeat,” and after a heartbeat has been detected.

The proposed bill would modify Indiana’s current ban on abortions at 20 weeks post-fertilization.

Laws that place an undue burden on a person seeking abortion care before viability are unconstitutional, according to the 1992 Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

“This important legislation would protect unborn Hoosiers’ right to life and also includes important women’s health protections,” Banks said in a statement. “It is my hope that this bill would help continue the decline in abortions performed in Indiana.”

The bill, known as the “Indiana Heartbeat Act,” would not apply to instances in which the health or life of the mother is at risk. It would establish an interim study committee on adoption promotion and support.

“The abortion provisions of SB 144 are unconstitutional, directly in opposition to the viability criteria established in Roe v. Wade. However, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky does support the formation of an interim study committee on adoption promotion,” Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said in statement.

This constitutes the latest attempt to restrict abortion access for Indianan women by the state’s GOP-dominated legislature. Republican Gov. Mike Pence promoted medically inaccurate information when he quietly signed a $3.5 million contract with Real Alternatives, an anti-choice group that refers women to partnering crisis pregnancy centers. The state contract charges that centers receiving funding cannot use it to promote contraceptive use or refer women to an abortion provider.

The Real Alternatives website includes misinformation, such as a causal link between abortion and breast cancer.

Anti-choice legislation has forced clinics throughout Indiana to close. There are six abortion providers practicing in Indiana, with none in the northern part of the state. Many women’s heath advocates believe that laws like the state’s informed consent law and its forced waiting period place an undue burden on people seeking and providing abortion services. These laws require patients seeking abortions to receive in-person “counseling” and written information from a physician or other health-care provider 18 hours before the abortion begins.

Banks, who is running for a congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman, also filed SB 77, which would ban the use of public funds for research using fetal tissue in Indiana, including any research conducted at public universities.

Another bill proposed by Sen. James Tomes (R-Wadesville), SB 5, would raise penalties for the purchase and sale of fetal tissue in Indiana. Republicans in state legislatures across the country have proposed similar laws in the wake of attack videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-choice front group, claiming that Planned Parenthood illegally profited from the sale of fetal tissue. GOP-led investigations on the matter have turned up no wrongdoing on the part of Planned Parenthood.