America’s new abortion landscape under states’ “heartbeat laws”

US

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Laws banning most abortions at the point of the “first detectable heartbeat” are beginning to take effect across the country, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure in 1973.

Such laws, often referred to as “fetal heartbeat bills,” ban abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which can happen around six weeks into pregnancy, although a timeframe typically isn’t specified in the measures.

Swift court actions in states including Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee revived laws stalled under Roe in the decision’s wake. That has left some people who were planning abortions — and the clinics lined up to provide them — scrambling.

Here’s a look at what has happened following the ruling, where that leaves residents of affected states, and what may come next:

WHERE ARE THE LAWS IN EFFECT?

Stalled laws were reimposed in Ohio, South Carolina and Tennessee within days of the Supreme Court ruling. In September, Texas became the first state to successfully impose such a law, with the dozen or so other states seeing theirs placed on hold under Roe. Similar laws are the subject of court action in at least four other states.

Ohio was able to reimpose its “fetal heartbeat” law, which had twice been vetoed because of constitutional considerations under Roe, within hours of that case’s reversal. At the request of Republican Attorney General Dave Yost, a federal judge lifted the stay that had prevented enforcement since the law was signed in 2019. The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood sued in the Ohio Supreme Court on behalf of a group of abortion providers Wednesday, arguing the law also violates the state constitution.

South Carolina’s “heartbeat” law went into effect Monday, after an injunction blocking the law was removed. Tennessee’s took effect Wednesday. In Georgia, where a federal judge declared the “heartbeat restriction” unconstitutional in 2020, a federal appeals court Friday has given parties three weeks to file briefs addressing the effect the Supreme Court ruling on the state’s appeal of the lower court ruling.

Q: IS ABORTION STILL LEGAL IN THESE STATES?

A: Yes, but only until cardiac activity is detected. That can happen around six weeks of gestational age, which is before many women even know they are pregnant.

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