Several pro-life bills have been introduced in the Ohio legislature, but the one that I especially hope inspires identical bills in each of the other 49 states is the one they call the “Heartbeat Bill.” More than any other mere piece of legislation, this is the bill that could change millions of hearts and minds on the abortion issue. And more than any other, this bill, when it is inevitably litigated and taken to the Supreme Court, could result in the overturn of Roe v. Wade. The bill would ban abortions after the baby’s heartbeat can be detected. At present, a baby’s heartbeat can first be detected at between 18 days and 5 weeks after conception. Since most abortions are done after that point, the bill would effectively ban nearly all abortions in Ohio.
It seems so obvious, once presented, that it makes you wonder why nobody thought of it before. Everyone has a heartbeat; everyone can connect, everyone can relate as a fellow human being when they hear a heartbeat. This is pure genius — and it will ring true. For it is based on a simple physical fact, an objective, measurable criterion — nothing more complicated than a heartbeat! And yet that simple physical phenomenon resonates more deeply than almost anything in human existence: The beating of the human heart has a visceral, elemental, universal affective power.
Only a few short years ago, a baby’s heartbeat could not be detected until 6 weeks. That date has moved up earlier and earlier thanks to advances in technology.
It is similar to the way ultrasound technology has advanced our ability to see the baby in the womb — an ability that has effected some very high-profile conversions to the pro-life cause, including Dr. Bernard Nathanson, at one time the director of the world’s largest abortion facility, and, more recently, Abby Johnson, former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Nathanson and Johnson are now highly visible and effective pro-life advocates, whose inside views of the abortion industry give them added credibility with people who are ambivalent on the issue.
Another technology that has made Roe v. Wade more absurd than ever is neonatal care. The Supreme Court in 1973 arbitrarily drew a line at “viability,” ruling that states could impose no restrictions on abortion before “viability,” and some restrictions — at least, theoretically — after that arbitrary point. But the survival rate — and the rate at which babies not only survive but thrive, with no permanent problems — of premature babies has increased dramatically, and moved to earlier and earlier ages. There may be no greater image of our society’s schizophrenia than that of the many hospitals in which, in one room, a 22-week baby is being brutally killed, while in another room in the same hospital, a 22-week-baby is benefiting from the latest technology to help him or her survive and thrive.
These macabre juxtapositions pointedly show how arbitrary and irrational was the Court’s selection of “viability” as some sort of magical dividing line between person and non-person. The line keeps moving — and it was always subjective in the first place. After all, a 1-year-old toddler cannot survive on its own. A person with advanced Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease or Huntington’s cannot survive on their own. Anyone who’s in the intensive care unit of a hospital — whether for days or for weeks — is not surviving on his or her own. “Viability” as a criterion for deciding who’s human and who’s not was always just plain silly — so silly that it would be laughable if it didn’t have the most deadly serious of consequences: the murder of more than 50 million children in the United States since 1973.
The pro-life movement is a huge, broad, diverse movement, and part of its diversity has been in tactics. There have been those who, with photographs and statistics, have tried to show the magnitude and the horror of child-killing. Others have taken a sunnier, “Life is good” approach, urging us to “celebrate life.” I’ve always thought both approaches, and more, were needed.
In the Ohio “Heartbeat Bill,” we have the perfect confluence of “all of the above.” It is as much an appeal to people’s hearts as it is an irrefutably logical counterblow to a nonsensical court ruling. It brings to the foreground a graphic, physical reality — while making a poignant appeal to the sweetness of natural human affection. It is so plain, so simple, so obvious that it can be understood by any child — and maybe, just maybe, by even some hardened adults.
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