Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday approved new restrictions on late-term abortions in Georgia, sealing a victory for conservative leaders who championed the issue at the Capitol this year.
Deal's signature makes Georgia the latest state to generally ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, cutting by about six weeks the time women in Georgia may have an elective abortion.
Commonly referred to as a "fetal pain" bill, House Bill 954 will tighten medical exemptions for terminating pregnancies and require any abortion performed after 20 weeks be done in a way to bring the fetus out alive. The new law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, makes no exception for rape or incest. The measure says that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, therefore the state has an interest in protecting it.
"Today, we are reaffirming Georgia’s commitment to preserving the sanctity of all human life," Deal said in a statement released by his office. "This legislation provides humane protection to innocents capable of feeling pain while making an important exception for ... medically futile pregnancies."
Supporters have said the law will save lives and protect more fetuses. "It's going to save 1,200 babies a year," said state Rep. Doug McKillip, R-Athens, who sponsored HB 954.
Opponents said the state is legislating decisions that should be made by medical experts and puts doctors at risk who work with difficult pregnancies.
According to doctors' testimony during hearings earlier this year, medical experts widely believe fetuses do not fully develop connections related to pain before at least 24 weeks.
“Women should not be forced to adhere to legislative directives that are based on unsound medical science," said Leola Reis, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based Planned Parenthood Southeast.
HB 954 was the subject of intense deal-making and debate. It passed the General Assembly on March 29 -- the last day of this year's legislative session -- only after a compromise was reached among different factions of the Republican majority to soften the bill's language and reach. Even then, it did not pass without vocal protests and walkouts by Democratic women and women's health advocates who fought the bill.
As part of the compromise, an exemption added to the bill gives doctors the option to perform an abortion past 20 weeks when a fetus has congenital or chromosomal defects. According to language in the bill, those defects must be profound and "irremediable" anomalies that would be "incompatible with sustaining life after birth."
It also includes protection for doctors from civil suits brought as a result of the legislation. Otherwise, doctors who are involved in abortions after 20 weeks that do not meet the law's mandates could be charged with a felony and face up to 10 years in prison.
Seven other states -- Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma -- have similar "fetal pain" restrictions; an eighth, North Carolina, restricts abortion at 20 weeks.
Assisted-suicide bill becomes law
Assisting someone in committing suicide will become a felony in Georgia under a bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal.
Lawmakers passed House Bill 1114 during the past legislative session after the Georgia Supreme Court struck down the state's previous assisted-suicide law as unconstitutional.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, had said lawmakers took great pains to make sure that typical end-of-life medical decisions, such as withholding food in terminal cases, will not be affected by the new law.