April 20, 2023
Last week the Nebraska State Legislature advanced LB 626, which is commonly known as the Nebraska Heartbeat Act. This bill would limit most abortions to the sixth week of pregnancy when heartbeats are normally detected within developing babies. The primary intention of the bill is to put strict limitations on abortions which are performed for the convenience of the mother, rather than for medical reasons.
On January 6, 2023 Medical News Today, published an article entitled, "When does a fetus have a heartbeat?" That peer reviewed article states that "Cardiac tissue starts to pulsate at around 5 – 6 weeks of pregnancy, registering as a heartbeat on the ultrasound, though the heart has not developed yet." So, we know scientifically when a baby receives a heartbeat. Whenever an abortion is performed after the sixth week of pregnancy, it can rightfully be said that such an abortion stops a beating heart. A beating heart is universally understood around the world as a sign of life, so stopping a beating heart without a justifying reason should be viewed as an act of murder.
LB 626 is a good fit for Nebraska and today I would like to tell you why I believe that is the case. First, limiting abortions to the sixth week of pregnancy when heartbeats are normally first detected represents a much better demarcation of when human life begins than viability. This is so, because heartbeats can be scientifically detected with ultrasound machines, but there is no scientific way to detect viability.
Viability occurs when a baby is capable of living on its own after being removed from the mother's womb. Viability had been the standard set in the courts by Roe v. Wade until the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health case kicked the decision back to the states.
Viability cannot define when life begins. The standard of viability is unknowable and keeps changing over time. For example, when Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 viability was believed to take place at 28 weeks. But as time progressed, doctors revised that standard until they finally concluded that babies are viable at 23 weeks. Today doctors at Riley Children's Hospital in Indiana argue that viability actually occurs at 22 weeks. So, viability remains an enigma today.
LB 626 does not limit all abortions to the sixth week of pregnancy. For example, removing a baby due to an ectopic pregnancy or to preserve the life of the mother are procedures which are explicitly excluded from the definition of an abortion in LB 626. Neither does removing an already deceased baby's body from the womb count as a form of abortion according to the bill. LB 626 even makes allowance for invitro fertilization (IVF).
Under the bill, a physician attending to a pregnant woman would be required to perform an ultrasound to detect the baby's heartbeat before performing an abortion. This is an important step because many pregnant women over the years have changed their minds about getting an abortion after hearing their baby's heartbeat on an ultrasound machine. Hearing the baby's heartbeat enables a pregnant woman to make a more fully informed decision about getting an abortion. Getting an abortion is never an easy decision for a woman to make, so providing her with all of the relevant information she needs to make such is a decision is what physicians ought to do and what lawmakers should ensure they do. However, once a heartbeat is detected, the option of getting an abortion would no longer be available.
The Nebraska Heartbeat Act may not be the perfect or the ultimate solution to the problem of abortion, but I believe it represents a much better solution than the current 20-week allowance in Nebraska, which is when a baby is said to begin experiencing pain. Pain is another unknowable phenomenon. Physicians cannot detect when a baby begins to experience pain; instead, they can only detect when a baby is capable of reacting to pain. Limiting abortions to the sixth week of pregnancy better ensures that a baby would never have to experience the pain associated with an abortion.