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Today I got one of those surveys our state representatives occasionally send around, ostensibly to solicit our views on the issues. Unfortunately, my GOP representative, Andrew Koenig, is an inhabitant of the far reaches of the right wing, and that fact is reflected in his survey questions (although, to be fair, when compared to the surveys distributed by my federal representative, Todd Akin, Rep. Koenig’s efforts are only mildly tricky).  One very simple question, however, sent chills down my spine:

There has been legislation proposed in other state legislatures to ban abortions if a heartbeat can be detected.

7. How do you feel abut these legislative actions?

–I Support

–I Oppose

–They are not a Function of State Government

–No Opinion.

Bear in mind that Koenig sits on the House’s Children and Families Committee – where he could do lots of harm in this area. Is he feeling out his constituents to learn what kind of brownie points he’d score if he pushed this particularly onerous abortion restriction? Will this be the next anti-abortion move from the Children and Families Committee next session? (And, just to satisfy my personal curiosity, where is he going with the question about whether or not abortion restrictions are a function of state government?)

Such a heartbeat bill would essentially prohibit abortions any time after 18-24 days post conception, when an embryonic heartbeat can first be detected. It would effectively ban a legal, medical procedure that should be freely available to women. Many women do not even know that they are pregnant at such an early stage.

The other state legislature that Koenig refers to is Ohio where a heartbeat bill has been wending its way through the legislative process since last February. If it is finally passed, it will be the most restrictive law in the nation.

The proposed Ohio law is so extreme that it has ignited controversy even among anti-abortion adherents. Ohio Right to Life does not support the legislation because they believe it unlikely to withstand a court challenge, and they worry that its failure to do so could set the anti-abortion movement back considerably and prefer not to risk it. Instead, they would rather continue their current strategy of nibbling away at reproductive rights a little at time until they have finally, unobtrusively, eaten the whole thing. The executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio agrees that if the law were to pass, it would be held up in the courts for a very long time.

While not as severe as the “personhood” amendment that has been proposed in Mississippi – which would grant legal protections to an egg from the moment of fertilization, raising questions about everything from contraception to in vitro fertilization – a heartbeat bill would be very bad news for Missouri’s women and, at the very least, would divert legislative energy that could be better directed toward resolving the state’s serious economic problems. We can only hope that Koenig’s query represents a trial balloon that goes up and never comes down again. We’ve all got much more important things to worry about right now.