Doctor weighs in on heartbeat bill banning abortions after 6 weeks: 'A lot of women don't know that they are pregnant this early'

Days after opening up about her abortion on her talk show Busy Tonight, actress Busy Philips spoke out against critics challenging her characterization of the rising abortion bans in America as “sad.” While others feel differently about the changing landscape, there’s no denying that a wave of new restrictions is moving across the country.

In the last three months alone, five states have passed prohibitive abortion legislation, several of them banning abortions at as early as six weeks. Known as “heartbeat” legislation, these laws translate into near-total bans on abortion, since many women are unaware at this stage that they are even pregnant.

The abortion issue, undeniably a divisive one, impacts a large majority of Americans. According to the Guttmacher Institute, by the age of 45, one in four women in America will have an abortion. So what do women need to know about these laws, and how significant is the six week “heartbeat” ban?

Abortion restrictions are increasing nationwide. Alok Patel, MD, shares abortion law facts with Yahoo Lifestyle — and explains the 'heartbeat' that's present at six weeks. (Photo: Getty Images)

Alok Patel, MD, a pediatrician and public health expert, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that — as other reports have clarified — late stage abortions aren’t common. “If you talk to experts or look at data, abortions performed after 24 weeks are still really rare,” Patel tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Over 90 percent of abortions are actually performed before 13 weeks and only about 1-1.5 percent are performed after 21 weeks.”

Those performed at later stages, he says, are often about safety. “Abortions after 24 weeks are very serious and often involve serious conditions for the mother or the baby,” says Patel. “There’s a variety of congenital conditions or fetal anomalies that ob-gyns can detect in the second trimester that may lead to the baby’s death or a severely debilitating life. It would be really hard to imagine a world where politicians require a doctor wait until a life-threatening situation to provide care, possibly an abortion, to save a mom’s life.”

Patel also unpacks what the six-week abortion ban really means.

“At about six weeks, a primitive tube is pumping blood, and there is technically electrical impulses, or, a heartbeat. The heartbeat has many months to go where it can develop to the point that a baby can survive outside a mother’s womb,” he says. “[But] the blood pumping doesn’t mean that the baby has a developed brain, can move around, or does anything else. All it really says is ‘hey, at six weeks, things are going according to plan.’”

Although abortion is an issue that primarily involves women, Patel insists that everyone has a role. “The core of this topic is reproductive science and women’s health. But guys, it’s also our job to read up, be informed, and support women regardless of what they choose to do,” Patel tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Abortion is a highly politicized, contentious, heated topic. But stay informed, do your research, use contraception and realize that abortion is a very personal topic.”

To hear more from Dr. Patel, watch the video above.

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