U.S. Rep. Michael Guest, R-Miss., is pushing for Congress to adopt a nationwide ban on abortion once cardiac activity becomes detectable, or around the sixth week of pregnancy. The legislation is H.R. 705, The Heartbeat Protection Act.
“Our (U.S. Supreme) Court supports life,” Guest said on the U.S. House floor Monday. He said its decision to allow state abortion bans to go forward in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last month means “we now have a legal system that has opened the door for a wave of pro-life support.”
Mississippi adopted a similar “heartbeat” law in 2019 that courts quickly blocked, citing the now-defunct Roe v. Wade precedent. While doctors can detect early cardiac activity at six weeks, “heartbeat” is a misnomer because a heart has not formed at that stage.
No Rape, Incest Exceptions
Like the Mississippi law, the federal abortion ban Guest is co-sponsoring includes no exceptions for abortions in cases of rape or incest. It includes a vague exception for “an abortion that is necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-threatening physical condition caused or arising from the pregnancy itself, but not including psychological or emotional conditions.”
Supporters of abortion rights warn that even some people who need abortions for life-saving medical reasons may not be able to get them with such vaguely defined exceptions, though. Dr. Cheryl Hamlin, who provided abortion care at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization before Mississippi law forced the state’s only abortion clinic to close on July 7, told the Mississippi Free Press that she believes such exceptions are too vague and “women will die” because of that.
“It will happen because what does not look like a life-threatening condition today could rapidly devolve into one if the local OB-GYNs are now afraid to do the right thing until it really becomes dire,” she said. “… There will be women who will die because their OB-GYN or family doctor is afraid to treat them because they’re afraid of the implications. ‘Well, it’s not fully life-threatening, yet.’ ‘It’s maybe only 50% life-threatening, or maybe 75%. Is that enough?’ ‘Does it have to be 100%?’ So yes, it will happen.”
The federal six-week ban legislation says that a physician who performs an abortion after cardiac activity becomes detectable or who fails to check for cardiac activity “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.” But the bill says “a mother upon whom an abortion is performed may not be prosecuted under this section.”
The Heartbeat Protection Act enjoys the support of 122 Republican co-sponsors, including Guest and Mississippi’s other two GOP House members: Rep. Trent Kelly and outgoing Rep. Steven Palazzo.
Guest Called Abortion A ‘State’s Rights Issue’
Michael Guest’s call for a national abortion ban seems to contradict statements he made in the months and year leading up to the Dobbs decision. On July 29, 2021, Guest and other Mississippi Republicans signed onto an amicus brief in the Dobbs case, telling the U.S. Supreme Court that “Mississippi’s case provides the court a chance to release its vice grip on abortion politics, as Congress and the States have shown that they are ready and able to address the issue in ways that reflect Americans’ varying viewpoints and are grounded in the science of fetal development and maternal health.”
In May 2022, he reiterated his belief that abortion should be up to the states, telling WJTV that he believed “our Supreme Court is going to return this decision back to our state legislators, and they’re going to be able to make a decision.” Then, in another appearance on WJTV before the Dobbs ruling last month, an anchor asked Guest about his view again.
“I believe this is a state’s rights issue,” the Republican congressman said at the time. “I believe if you look at this that the federal government should allow each state to be able to set their laws on the protection of life. … In my view of the law and in my research in the amicus brief I helped lead to the Supreme Court asking them to overturn Roe v. Wade, this needs to be a state issue. We need to send this to the states.”
Scripture, science, our legal system, our states and the American people support the Pro-Life Movement. Congress must defend life. pic.twitter.com/UEeDMGgTXw
— Congressman Michael Guest (@RepMichaelGuest) July 18, 2022
But on the U.S. House floor less than a month after the ruling, Guest explicitly called on his colleagues to override state abortion laws and set a national standard.
“I urge my colleagues to support scripture, science, our legal system, our states, the American people and the lives of our unborn children by supporting the pro-life movement,” he said Monday.
The bill is unlikely to get a vote in the current congressional term, but offers a preview of the kind of legislation Republicans could prioritize if they succeed in winning back control of Congress in the November 2022 midterm elections. Republicans have proposed other national abortion-related bills, too, including a proposed national law granting 14th Amendment rights to fetuses and fertilized eggs and one requiring fathers to begin paying child support starting at conception.
Young: ‘Women’s Rights Are Human Rights’
Guest’s Democratic opponent in the November election, Shuwaski Young, told the Mississippi Free Press in a candidate questionnaire that he has an “unwavering belief … that women’s rights are human rights.”
“As a proud Girl Dad, it is imperative that I contribute to an equitable and just country that my daughter and your daughters can grow up in. It is simple, a woman has the sole right to control and determine her reproductive journey and when they decide to become a mother,” he wrote. “I understand that we exist in a political landscape and culture that ties in religious beliefs and communal values on a women’s reproductive journey. However, our country’s Constitution is predicated on the separation of church and state.
“As the future Congressman of Mississippi’s Third District it is my responsibility to guarantee this inherent right to all American women. Finally, I believe that the decision for abortion should be between a woman and her doctor. No one, especially men, should have the arrogance to tell a woman what to do with her own body.”
Guest has not responded to the questionnaire. He and Young will be on the ballot in Mississippi’s 3rd Congressional District on Tuesday, Nov. 8.