Ohio 'heartbeat bill' could ban abortions before most women know they're pregnant

ShutterstockAn illustration of a human embryo at week six of development.
  • A Republican-controlled Ohio House revived a vetoed “heartbeat bill” to ban abortions in the state.
  • The legislation would prevent abortions – including in cases of rape and incest – after an embryo’s heartbeat is detected, typically around week six of pregnancy.
  • Most women don’t know they’re pregnant until seven weeks or later in the process.
  • About one-fourth of all clinically recognised pregnancies spontaneously or naturally abort.
  • Providing access to both birth control and elective abortions may reduce a typical woman’s lifetime abortion rate six-fold.

On Thursday, the Ohio House revived a controversial and vetoed bill that could dramatically limit women’s reproductive rights if it becomes law.

The “heartbeat bill,” as the legislation is known, is anti-abortion measure to ban doctors from performing legal abortions on women with “a detectable fetal heartbeat,” typically around six weeks into a pregnancy – and even in cases of rape or incest.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, vetoed the legislation 2016 and instead signed alternative anti-abortion legislation that limits women’s’ rights to the procedure after week 20 of a pregnancy.

The resurrected bill will now move on to the state’s Republican-controlled Senate for consideration, where “its fate is unclear,” according to the Dayton Daily News.

Below are the key biological stages of pregnancy as they relate to a developing baby, including when its heartbeat is first detectable.

Ohio heartbeat bill pregnancy zygote embryo fetal baby development weeks progress milestones timeline chart sky gould business insiderSkye Gould/Business Insider

Across all age groups of women, as many as 25% of all clinically recognised pregnancies end in miscarriage, which means they spontaneously or naturally abort and fail to lead to a full-term baby.

Birth control, which prevents pregnancies yet the administration of President Donald Trump has moved to restrict and which many religious groups oppose, leads to a six-fold reduction in abortions over a woman’s lifetime, according to a study published in July to the pre-print server bioRxiv.

The study is awaiting peer review by other scientists, but it is based on the records of 1.2 million pregnancies in Denmark, as well as records of Mormon frontier women. The six-fold reduction statistic includes both unintended spontaneous abortions as well as elective procedures, and it comes from comparing women who had access to contraceptive drugs and elective abortions to those who did not.

“Modern birth control with access to elective abortions markedly reduces – rather than increases – the lifetime number of abortions a woman produces,” the study concludes.

The study does not distinguish how having access to birth control but not elective abortions, as may soon be the case in Ohio, might affect rates of abortions generally.

This story has been updated. It was originally published on December 9, 2016.

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