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A pair of bills before the Wyoming Legislature fixate on the heartbeat of the embryo or fetus before an abortion.

House Bill 97 would prohibit abortions if an embryo or fetus heartbeat is detected.

Senate File 88 would provide pregnant women the opportunity to listen to the fetus’ heartbeat before an abortion, among other things. Abortion rights advocates oppose the bills.

HB97

Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-Evansville, a sponsor of HB97, said that detecting heartbeats is a unique way to look at life.

“It became clear that if a baby had a heartbeat, that seemed simple to me that it’s wrong to kill it,” he said.

The bill substitutes two words in current state law with four words. Current law says abortions are prohibited after the embryo or fetus has “reached viability.” The proposed law removes “reached viability” and adds “a detectable fetal heartbeat.

The bill defines a “legal heart beat” as “cardiac activity or steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac that is detectable using standard medical equipment.”

Kroeker said that the idea for the bill just came to him, but it’s possible that he heard about it in the news.

Last year, Ohio had a similar measure. Anti-abortion groups told The Associated Press that they want all 50 states to require pregnant women to see and hear a heartbeat before an abortion.

SF88

In addition to presenting pregnant women the option of listening to the heartbeat, SF88 requires physicians to tell the women at least 24 hours before the abortion about the abortion method that will be used, medications, side effects and risks including “infection, hemorrhage, cervical or uterine perforation, danger to subsequent pregnancies, the increased risk of breast cancer and the death of the unborn fetus.”

Furthermore, a doctor would have to explain alternatives to abortion. Doctors would have to describe the age and anatomic and physiologic characteristics from ultrasound. Doctors would have to offer the woman the opportunity to view the ultrasound image. The woman would have to sign a document saying she’s been notified of her opportunity to view and hear the heartbeat.

If a pregnancy threatens the life of a woman, she would be able to receive an abortion immediately, the bill says.

Sponsor Rep. Leslie Nutting, R-Cheyenne, said she got the idea for the bill from a variety of places.

“This bill does not try to pit pro-choice against pro-life,” she said. “What it is doing is recognizing the right that these women, who need to have the most information available as they can so they can be informed in making what may be one of the most important decisions in their lives.”

Nutting, a retired nurse, said she has had personal experience with problematic abortions.

“My experience was with an abortion that was being performed and did have complications to that,” she said. “That was years ago. Since then, I worked mostly in the VA and most of the VA patients have been men.”

SF88 would require women to receive a list of clinics that provide free ultrasounds, and that concerns Sharon Breitweiser, the Wyoming executive director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

Most Wyoming clinics that offer free ultrasounds are run by religious groups that are anti-abortion, she said.

“There’s going to be a cost to the state to compile that list,” she said. “There’s no corresponding list for the Department of Health to provide a list of abortion providers or [free or reduced] contraception.”

Breitweiser disagrees with the 24-hour waiting period in the bill, as not respecting a woman’s wishes to end a pregnancy when she wants.

She said studies have debunked some of the medical concerns, such as an increased risk of breast cancer.

Heartbeat

Many in the medical community declined to talk about fetus heart development, not wanting to be associated with the legislation. Travis Klingler, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Laramie, described basics without opining about either bill.

If physicians use a transvaginal ultrasound, they can hear a heartbeat about the fifth week of pregnancy, Klingler said.

In Kingler’s practice, women receive transvaginal ultrasounds free of charge as part of their prenatal care. However, that’s not standard with all doctors. Transvaginal ultrasounds require a probe in the vagina that sends out soundwaves.

“The only other way [to detect a heartbeat] would be with a handheld doppler,” Kingler said. “Probably the earliest you can detect it is around nine to 10 weeks.”

The courts

States are allowed to regulate abortion to an extent, said Stephen Feldman, a constitutional law professor at the University of Wyoming.

Although Roe v. Wade was the first U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize most abortions, courts now refer to a 1992 case, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, which modified the Roe decision.

“Basically the standard that the courts apply is the undue burden standard,” he said. “Under that approach, states can impose more restrictions than they used to be able to impose under Roe.”

But during a woman’s first and second trimesters, the courts have stated a woman can have an abortion free of laws that put an undue burden on that right.

“Thus, legislation that bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is present would be unconstitutional under the undue burden test,” Feldman said.

However, the Senate bill has portions that could be upheld by the courts, Feldman said.

“Any type of consent form — like signing a consent form and waiting 24 hours — those have been upheld as constitutional,” Feldman said. “With regard to use of an ultrasound, if it’s requiring a woman to undergo an invasive ultrasound, from my perspective it would be unconstitutional.”

The stats

It’s tough to track the exact number of abortions in Wyoming.

Fewer than five abortions per year have been reported to the Wyoming Department of Health.

“We have had people thinking maybe that wasn’t an accurate number,” Health Department spokeswoman Kim Deti said. “Last year, the office sent out letters to physicians reminding them we’re supposed to report this.”

The Centers for Disease Control reported that in 2009, 782 abortions were performed for Wyoming residents outside the state — 475 were performed in Colorado, 160 in Montana and 128 in Utah.

Women may be leaving the state because there are not many abortion providers in Wyoming, Deti said.

Sponsors

HB97 has 11 sponsors: Kroeker, Reps. Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, Marti Halverson, R-Etna, Lynn Hutchings, R-Cheyenne, Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, Mark Semlek, R-Moorcroft, Matt Teeters, R-Lingle, Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, and Sens. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, and Leslie Nutting, R-Cheyenne.

SF88 is sponsored by seven legislators: Nutting, Paul Barnard, R-Evanston, Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, and Reps. Hutchings, Jaggi, Tom Reeder, R-Casper, Stephen Watt, R-Rock Springs.

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