Supporters of Planned Parenthood rally outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. February 11, 2017.

© 2017 Reuters

The United States Congress held a hearing today on a bill that would essentially ban abortion after six weeks’ gestation. It’s easy to brush this off as an extreme bill that won’t gain traction, but in fact it points to a dangerous normalization of greater restrictions on abortion in the US.

State legislators around the country, and the US Congress, have been trying to pass laws for years to limit access to abortion. This bill, the “Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017”, goes further than most and dangerously limits women’s access to a termination, with no exceptions for the health of the woman or for those pregnant from rape or incest.

I know what a near total abortion ban looks like in reality. I have spent years researching such bans in Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, and it is ugly, cruel, and devastating to both women and society as a whole.

When abortion is criminalized in this way, even women who suffer a miscarriage can face a criminal investigation. Please, imagine that. Every woman seeking medical care for a miscarriage could theoretically be thrown into prison.

This isn’t wild speculation. In El Salvador, women who suffered obstetric emergencies have actually been convicted of murder and jailed for years. Women are denied access to abortions, even if their health depends on it. In 2013, a young mother wanted to end a pregnancy because it was making her sick, and she had a one-year-old she didn’t want to leave orphaned. But the law forbade doctors from helping her. So, she languished in a hospital bed until an emergency C-section was performed. The baby had a fatal disability and died within hours. That is what a total ban looks like in practice.

A bill like the one presented today makes suspects out of women who have miscarried, and makes criminals of victims of rape who get pregnant and want to terminate, women needing abortion because of ill health, and women simply making a deeply personal decision not to continue a pregnancy for any reason. This bill is a giant step backward and a sweeping attack on the rights of women.

Members of Congress should not let this go to a vote.