Heartbeat bills are often considered to openly contradict the jurisprudence of Roe v. Wade and subsequent court cases, which established a framework for abortion regulations – the closer an unborn baby is to viability, the more restrictions on abortion are generally deemed to be constitutional. In the earliest weeks of pregnancy, court precedent says, government cannot limit abortion in a way that places an "undue burden" on women.
Because of this, heartbeat bills have historically fared poorly in the court system. In January, an Iowa judge ruled against the state's heartbeat law, which had passed last year. Similar laws in North Dakota and Arkansas were also struck down in recent years.
However, supporters of heartbeat bills plan to keep passing the legislation in state after state, hoping that it eventually ends up before the Supreme Court. Their wager is that the court, with its current makeup, will take the opportunity to deliver a fatal blow to Roe v. Wade.
Another category of legislation seeks to ban abortions performed for specified reasons, such as the sex or race of the baby, or a diagnosis of disability. Kentucky has signed into law one such a bill, which is currently being challenged by the ACLU in court.
While a ruling in favor of these laws would not necessarily eliminate legal abortion, pro-life advocates would view it as a step in the right direction and a powerful recognition of the humanity of the unborn child.
Safety standards for abortion clinics
In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down two key regulations on abortion clinics in Texas - a requirement that abortion doctors must have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and a rule that abortion clinics must meet the standards or ambulatory surgical centers. The vote in that case was 5-3.
Other cases are already in the court system. Next week, a court will hear a challenge to a Virginia law stating that only doctors may perform abortions, rather than nurses or other medical personnel.
One case to watch is June Medical Services v. Gee, which involves a 2014 Louisiana law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The legislation closely mirrors the Texas law struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016. A district court initially ruled against the law, but its decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals' 5th Circuit. The Supreme Court was asked last month to hear an appeal in the case.
Several states have introduced bans on Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) abortions. This abortion method, known by opponents as a "dismemberment abortion," is most commonly performed in the second trimester. North Dakota signed a ban on these abortions into law earlier this year.