The heartbeat bills: Anti-rights movements sharing tactics from Taiwan to the U.S.

September 28, 2020

BY Dana Zhang

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In 2019 an anti-abortion referendum was proposed in Taiwan, a country where abortion has been legal since 1985. The proposal, initiated by an association with Christian backgrounds, aims to ban abortion after embryonic or fetal heartbeat can be detected. Their hope is to amend the current law which affirms that abortion can be carried out up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Thus, the proposal was named: “The Heartbeat Bill,” and their supporters’ loudest slogan is “respect life.” The proposal was ultimately rejected by the Central Election Commission which is responsible for monitoring the process of the referendum in 2020, earlier this year. However, it demonstrated how conservatives have never given up in their attempts to push back on the sexual and reproductive rights progress we have made, even in a relatively progressive country towards SRHR like Taiwan, which was also the first country to achieve marriage equality in Asia.

In fact, both the “respect life” slogan and the heartbeat bill are cliché arguments of anti-abortion movements worldwide, mistakenly referred to as “pro-life movements.” Similar arguments have been popular for decades among the so-called “pro-life” supporters in the United States, and recently have been re-kindled after Trump’s election in 2017. The Heartbeat bill is one of the rehashes used by “pro-life” supporters under the slogan of “respect life,” and in the United States, 6 states passed similar bills in 2019 alone. The “progress” made by anti-rights movements in the United States, actually encouraged conservative groups in Taiwan, who justified their referendum proposal by saying “Taiwan should learn from the progressive democratic country (the United States), and see the recent progress they made (The Heartbeat Bill).” 

With the passing away of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the heartbeat bills in the U.S., which have been suspended by federal court since 2019, might see another revival, becoming another addition to the long wave of attacks against women and particularly against women of color, black women, trans people, indigenous women, and migrant women situated in the global north by the conservative parties. Moreover, it might trigger another wave of backlash against the bodily autonomy of these groups across the world amid the pandemic, regardless of borders or whether abortion is legal within those borders. Stay alert, stay together, and get ready to continue the fight for abortion access as a fundamental part of reproductive justice and our basic human rights.