The Truth About Six Week Abortion Bans

The first anti-abortion bill was filed in North Carolina within days of the start of the 2021 legislative session, as reported in NC NOW Legislative Update #1 in 2021 – 2/1/21 It is a six week abortion ban, HB31, known in politics as a “fetal heartbeat ban.” There is a special deceptiveness with the six week abortion ban.

First of all, six weeks of gestation is really four weeks after fertilization. This ban would kick in before most women know they are pregnant – about a month after fertilization.

Second of all, there is no fetus at this point. The correct medical term is embryo. An embryo becomes a fetus starting week 11 of gestation, which is 9 weeks after fertilization. 

Thirdly, there is no heart at six weeks gestation. These bans require sophisticated vaginal ultrasound (internal) to try to capture faint sound. According to Dr. Ted Anderson, president of American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG),  “What is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops.”  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states the ban term does not ‘reflect medical accuracy or clinical understanding,’ according to The Guardian. Nonetheless, a slew of six week abortion bans were introduced mostly in the South and the Midwest in 2019.

More abortion bans are being introduced in 2021. A six week abortion ban was introduced in South Carolina and was signed into law on February 18. The South Carolina law threatens doctors with up to two years in prison for violating the ban. The testimony of one of the pro-choice witnesses is captured in NC NOW’s legislative update #2, at

Update on South Carolina, March 21, 2021: Organizations including the Center for Reproductive Rights sued to stop the ban, and a federal court granted a preliminary injunction on the six week abortion ban in South Carolina.

It is interesting for lawmakers to propose a 6 week abortion ban when North Carolina’s 20 week abortion ban was struck down as unconstitutional in 2019. North Carolina had a 20 week abortion ban from 1973 to 2019 , where 20 weeks of gestation means 18 weeks after fertilization. The 1973 20 week ban law was amended to be more restrictive by a further change to the so called “Women’s Right To Know” law in 2015. The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision keeps abortion legal across the United States, although abortion access does different states have different restrictions, or restrictions that differ slightly according to what passed in a state.  

The courts have been blocking these bans so far, concluding that it is unconstitutional to prohibit an individual from having an abortion before viability of the fetus or embryo. But the new strongly anti-abortion makeup of the Supreme Court of the United States could change that.

These abortion bans allow politicians to make across the board medical decisions that supersede what doctors and other medical personnel consider best for their patients, and also what patients want for themselves. These abortion bans at arbitrary points in a pregnancy greatly impact women seeking abortions. In addition, they impose criminal sanctions on abortion providers, who are already beleaguered. Restrictions like abortion bans make it clear that women need new federal legislation to strengthen their access to abortion and to prevent the Supreme Court from legislating from the bench.


Federal Judge Blocks North Carolina Ban On Abortions Later Than 20 Weeks, 3/27/19, 

“US and NC Abortion Bans: What Are We Looking At? ,” 5/20/19, NC NOW,

“Doctors’ organization: calling abortion bans ‘fetal heartbeat bills’ is misleading,” 6/5/19, The Guardian,

North Carolina NOW Legislative Update #1 in 2021 – 2/1/21, 2/4/21, NC NOW, 

NC NOW Legislative Update #2 in 2021 – 2/8/21, 2/8/21, NC NOW,

“South Carolina Governor Signs 6-Week Abortion Ban Into Law,” 2/18/21, Huffington Post, 


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