EDITORIAL: Put brakes on fetal heartbeat bills

York Dispatch Editorial Board

At six weeks gestation, a human embryo is half an inch long. 

At six weeks gestation, a woman might not realize she is pregnant. 

At six week gestation, an embryo will have a cluster of cells that will eventually become a heart that will produce a "fetal heartbeat," but no circulatory system.

And yet several Republicans in the state Legislature, including at least four covering parts of York County, want to follow states such as Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Ohio that have passed laws banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected.

Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for the state's 33rd Senate District seat.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, whose district includes part of western York County as well as Adams and Franklin counties, is sponsoring SB 912, which would compel a doctor to listen for a fetal heartbeat and outlaw an abortion if that sound is detected. 

He introduced his bill on Monday, Oct. 21, and Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Centre, introduced a companion bill in the House at the same time. Republican Reps. Seth Grove, Dover Township; Mike Jones, York Township; and Dawn Keefer, Dillsburg, have joined 41 others in sponsoring House Bill 1977.

Mastriano and Borowicz framed their bills in terms heard around the country as states continue to debate similar legislation.

“If a person is pronounced dead when their heart stops, why are they not considered alive when their heartbeat begins?” Borowicz said. 

Protesters for women's rights march to the Alabama Capitol to protest a law passed last week making abortion a felony in nearly all cases with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest, Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Montgomery, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

But that's not the issue here. The issue is that these laws take away the right of a woman to control her own body, including having an abortion, a right that was codified in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

And the laws do it in ways that do not even make sense scientifically. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the largest professional organization for women's health in the U.S., officially opposes such abortion measures as they "do not reflect medical accuracy or clinical understanding," according to Newsweek.

Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to veto the legislation if it make it through the Legislature.

“These policies run counter to the notion of individual freedom and lack a sound scientific basis. Further, as we have seen in other states, these policies are detrimental to efforts to attract and retain businesses, entrepreneurs and workers," Wolf said.

But the Legislature needs to just stop the bills right now, before more time and money is wasted taking them through the process.

FILE - In this June 20, 2019 file photo, The Supreme Court is seen under stormy skies in Washington. Both sides of the abortion debate are waiting to see if the Supreme Court adds new disputes over state abortion regulations to its election-year docket. The court is expected to announce Friday new cases it will consider in the term that begins next week. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Similar laws have been passed in five other states, and court orders have stopped them from going into effect, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies and supports reproductive health and rights. The goal is obviously to take one of these bans to the Supreme Court to force a decision to repeal or reaffirm Roe now that the court has a right-wing bent, with the hope that the decision will set back reproductive rights by 50 years.

As it stands, women in Pennsylvania have a right to an abortion through the 24th week of their pregnancy. This allows the women and their doctors time to determine an appropriate response to a problem pregnancy or a nonviable fetus. It allows women who have been raped or are victims of incest a chance to end a nightmare.

But at six weeks gestation, a woman has only missed one period. She might be feeling some morning sickness and fatigue, but she certainly won't be showing. 

Legislators have no business telling that woman that she must spend the next seven months pregnant. That's a conversation she should have with her doctor, and no one else.