Should Christians Support The Pennsylvania Heartbeat Bill?

The Pennsylvania “Heartbeat Bill” (HB 904 / SB 378) is a legislative effort being presented to Christians as a major step forward against the murder of preborn children in our state. This bill seeks to regulate abortion after a heartbeat is detected, bringing the permissible age that children can be murdered from twenty-four weeks down to (allegedly) seven or eight weeks. Christians are told that this effort is worth our support and money. Legislators voting in support of it are then considered worthy of our vote during election season.

It is of course entirely understandable that well-meaning Christians would support such an effort, because on the surface it appears to be a great, even courageous move by pro-life legislators in our state. When you peel back the rhetoric and grandstanding however, it demonstrates the sheer worthlessness of pro-life legislation, in contrast to the biblical method of refusing to compromise with sin a political strategy known as immediatism.

In this article, we’ll ask several key questions regarding the Pennsylvania Heartbeat Bill, and walk you through the problems that come when people try to regulate murder.

Is this a smart strategic move?

Heartbeat bills have several practical problems. First and foremost, 14 other states have presently signed heartbeat bills into law. Of those 14 bills, not one is currently being enforced. Not a single life has been saved by a heartbeat bill. Whatever the particular cause may be for each bill’s lack of enforcement, at the end of the day, lobbying for heartbeat bills has been a complete waste of Christian resources that could have been directed toward more effective, biblical efforts.

Second, many people hope that a heartbeat bill will become a vehicle to overturn Roe v Wade. A state court deems the bill to be unconstitutional, then pro-life lobbyists push to have the case heard at the federal level. This strategy has several problems.

  1. The ruling in Roe has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, as pro-lifers have pushed bill after bill to the courts for the last 40+ years to no avail. This tired strategy of electing pro-life presidents to appoint pro-life justices has proven itself to be a fools errand. It was a conservative majority court that ruled in Roe v Wade, and again in Planned Parenthood v Casey, and again and again and again in the many court rulings that upheld Roe.
  2. If by some miracle a heartbeat bill were upheld by the Supreme Court, it would not undo Roe’s court opinion allowing for abortion. Rather, it would simply force women to get their abortions earlier, or to conspire with the abortionist to lie about the heartbeat. This demonstrates the need for abolitionist legislation that criminalizes abortion. To be clear, abolitionists don’t believe in appealing to the Supreme Court, in the hope that they will permit the states to punish murder; we deny judicial supremacy, and uphold a state’s right of nullification. But even if we did follow the pro-life strategy, it would be abolitionist legislation that would give the courts a case that they could use to “overturn” Roe. The central holding of Roe is that women have a right to abortion due to a right to privacy (that was magically read into the constitution). Only a bill that challenges the right to abortion (by e.g. criminalizing it) can be used to overturn this central holding.

Finally, the abortionist (that is, the co-conspirator/murderer/profiteer) is trusted with being honest about a heartbeat being present. If he reports no heartbeat, then he is allowed to perform an abortion if he “deems it necessary”. See the following language from the bill:

“The physician shall utilize the physician’s best clinical judgment to determine whether or not a fetal heartbeat is present…No abortion shall be performed after a fetal heartbeat is detected. — PA Heartbeat Bill (HB904)

The Pennsylvania heartbeat bill is strategically unsound, a mere gesture against abortion that has no power. Heartbeat bills in other states have proven to be fruitless; they affirm the fiction of judicial supremacy, operating needlessly within the boundaries of Roe, and they include loopholes which allow abortion to continue unimpeded. The only benefit they have is to provide pro-life legislators with campaign fodder that they can feed to Christians who are tricked into believing that they are making a difference.

Is this a constitutional bill?

Heartbeat bills, just like Roe v Wade, violate the 5th and 14th amendments to the US Constitution which state that “no person…shall be deprived of life…without due process of law”. A heartbeat bill still allows children in the womb to be deprived of life, without due process of law, as long as they don’t have a detectable heartbeat. It simply changes the criteria for which children receive constitutional protection, and which children are ignored.

On this point, we need to be absolutely clear about one thing — the Pennsylvania heartbeat bill DOES NOT outlaw abortion after 6 weeks. Upon passage, it would still be completely legal to murder preborn children within our borders, even past the point of a heartbeat. This is because only an abortionist is punished for killing a child with a heartbeat; abortions that are performed without an abortionist (such as self-induced abortion) would still be legal. Pennsylvania code says the following:

§ 3218. Criminal penalties.

(a) Application of chapter.–Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, no criminal penalty shall apply to a woman who violates any provision of this chapter solely in order to perform or induce or attempt to perform or induce an abortion upon herself. Nor shall any woman who undergoes an abortion be found guilty of having committed an offense, liability for which is defined under section 306 (relating to liability for conduct of another; complicity) or Chapter 9 (relating to inchoate crimes), by reason of having undergone such abortion.— Pennsylvania Code, Title 18 Chapter 32

In other words, abortion regulations apply to abortionists and related personnel, but women can still murder their own children without penalty. Chemical abortions are available for purchase online, and can be delivered to any home. The woman takes two pills, one to kill the child, and another to induce premature labor. Then she sits on a toilet until the child passes out of her body, and she flushes him or her down the toilet — at any gestational age, under the protection of Pennsylvania law, and in defiance of the U.S. constitution.

The Pennsylvania heartbeat bill, together with other pro-life regulation, does not provide children with due process prior to execution. Rather, it regulates when, where, how etc. a child can be legally executed without due process.

Is this a God honoring piece of legislation?

The key question for Christians is whether or not God approves of compromised pro-life legislation, like the Pennsylvania heartbeat bill. Whether or not it is practical, or it limits abortions in any way — the arguments that pro-lifers make for compromised legislation are secondary to the key issue of whether or not God approves of it. If God supports an effort, then it will never ultimately fail. If God opposes an effort, then however well-intentioned it may be, it will never ultimately succeed.

We know that God does not approve of injustice, or of those who write injustice. He said as much through the prophet Isaiah.

Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! [Isa 10:1-2 ESV]

You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. [Lev 19:15 ESV]

The Pennsylvania heartbeat bill is unjust for several reasons, all of which reflect various ways that it embeds partiality into law.

  1. Children with a heartbeat are given special legal privileges, such that they receive protection from homicide (when performed by an abortionist), whereas those who are younger do not. This is partiality; justice demands that we all receive equal protection under the law.
  2. The abortionist is punished, whereas the parents seeking to murder their child are not. This is partiality; justice demands that everyone involved in committing murder should be punished for that murder.
  3. The punishment for killing a preborn child who is wanted by his/her parents is a felony, such that s/he is granted the same level of protection as a born child or adult. The punishment for killing a preborn child who is unwanted (and who has a heartbeat) is a misdemeanor, a much lighter sentence. This disparity between wanted and unwanted children betrays a third form of partiality; a truly just law would give the same punishment for the same crime, regardless of how valued the victim was in the eyes of his/her parents.

The Pennsylvania heartbeat bill, like all pro-life legislation, is a fundamentally unjust law, because it embeds partiality in the form of ageism into the law, in the hope that it will do something good. This is similar to how leftists will embed racism into the law, granting special privileges to a minority group in the hope that it will do something good. The intentions may be well-meaning, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and God does not give us authority to use unjust means to accomplish just ends. Embedding partiality and injustice in the law has many side effects that pro-lifers often fail to realize, and their short-sighted pragmatism needs to be seen for what it is — man’s effort to solve a problem of sin through his own worldly wisdom, rather than trust in God’s means and providence.

Total Abolition: The Only Righteous Option

The only legislative option that Christians have in our fight against abortion is to put forward an uncompromising bill of total abolition (criminalization of abortion as homicide). This is the only kind of legislation that is actually grounded in truth; everything else is built upon a lie. Children are valuable and should be protected because they are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 9:6), not because they have a heartbeat. Christians are to take that truth, and consistently, repeatedly call our civil rulers to submit to God’s authority and standard of righteousness (Rom 13) over and over again until they obey.

This is what William Wilberforce did in the fight against slavery, and it was the gradualists (those people who called for gradual, incremental emancipation) that became his greatest opponents. In the same way, pro-life legislation has become the greatest opponent to criminalizing abortion, because it relies on man’s pragmatism and effort rather than a message of uncompromising repentance and trust in God. Only a bill of abolition has the moral authority to serve as a message of repentance to the legislature and people of our state. Only truth has the power to defeat error.

In Pennsylvania, a legislator has courageously agreed to put forward a bill of total abolition, but the Pennsylvania heartbeat bill poses a tremendous threat to our success. We’ve seen in other states that when a bill of abolition is put forward, these compromised pro-life bills are used as replacements that allow legislators to literally get away with murder. If you can believe it, pro-life Republicans are the ones who will kill bills to criminalize abortion (typically in committee), and they’re able to get away with it by voting in favor of these other worthless bills that only pretend to help the preborn, thus preserving their reputations during election season.

As our bill of abolition moves forward, we need your help to support legislators who truly care for the preborn, and expose those who do not. Sign up to receive action alerts, and we will periodically send you quick, easy ways to make the voiceless children heard in Harrisburg.

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