State Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, author of the anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill, walked past protestors on Monday as he arrived for the Senate committee meeting at which HB 481 was voted out. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: Medical Association of Georgia opposes ‘heartbeat’ bill

On Monday, the state Senate Science and Technology Committee voted 3-2, along both gender and partisan lines, to advance House Bill 481, the “heartbeat” measure that would ban nearly all abortions in Georgia.

One day earlier, the Medical Association of Georgia, the most influential physicians’ group in the state, addressed a letter to state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, announcing that it would oppose the legislation.

The letter failed to get a mention before Monday’s vote. We’ve asked Unterman for comment, but have not heard back.

“HB 481 both criminalizes physicians and creates a private right of action against physicians when physicians care for their patients within their scope of practice,” wrote Dr. Rutledge Forney, president of MAG.

Forney warned that the bill, which would ban any abortion once a heartbeat is detected, “could undermine efforts to recruit and retain OB-GYN in Georgia, and could further restrict access to health care in rural Georgia.”

Half of Georgia’s 159 counties have no obstetrician/gynecologist.

The Senate version of the bill was unveiled in committee last week. Unterman delayed a vote until Monday to allow committee members to draft amendments.

HB 481 is not on the Senate’s Thursday calendar, but could come up for a full floor vote on Friday.

The measure presents a dilemma for the two female members of the Senate GOP caucus. State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, is a physician. As chair of her committee, Unterman was not required to vote on Monday. The presence of an ex officio member, state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, resulted in a majority of three Republican men, who voted down amendments proposed by two Democratic women – and sent HB 481 to the Senate Rules Committee.

As mentioned, HB 481 prohibits abortion once the heartbeat of the “unborn child” – the word “fetus” is not used -- is detected. That’s at roughly six weeks, before most women know they’re pregnant.

One of the main features of the “heartbeat” bill is a self-enforcement provision that allows women who undergo an abortion to sue the abortion provider for damages – based on the loss of a human life that began at six weeks.

For decades, the Medical Association of Georgia has waged a war in the state Capitol against malpractice suits that it says contribute to high insurance rates among physicians.

Read the entire MAG letter here, or stroll through it below:

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Today’s referendum to expand MARTA into Gwinnett has a number of compelling storylines. Here’s one we’re closely watching: The test of the county’s current Republican political establishment, and the Democratic one that would replace it.

Many of the biggest names in Gwinnett County politics have lined up behind the vote, including the commission chair, sheriff and district attorney - some of the longest-serving Republican officials in the county.

The high-powered names extend beyond the county. Gov. Nathan Deal endorsed the expansion as did Stacey Abrams, who used her political celebrity to push the vote in a radio ad.

The Democratic Party of Georgia deployed staffers across the county, and some of the state’s best-known -- and priciest -- operatives were hired to promote the referendum. 

And yet, all these high-powered assets could fail against a far less formidable opponent: There is no formal opposition from local groups, and national organizations that poured cash into defeating other transit initiatives have bypassed this fight. 

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One other element to note: Gov. Brian Kemp’s pointed silence on the referendum. While other prominent Republicans back the measure, Kemp has not put any of his political capital behind the idea.

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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was in the state Capitol for separate appointments with both House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville. The topic at both meetings was Senate Bill 131, which would authorize a state takeover of the city-owned Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, which passed the Senate earlier this month.

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A CNN report sheds some light on why last week’s meeting between Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams could have been particularly meaningful.

The network reports that the vice president is considering selecting a running-mate early to “highlight the argument that the party’s most urgent task should be defeating President Donald Trump.” 

We explore why that pairing could make sense here.

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U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's second-in-command will be in Brookhaven this afternoon to talk infrastructure. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., will be making an appearance with U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, to discuss "the growing transportation and infrastructure needs of the Atlanta area," per the press release.

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A memorial service for Democratic consultant Allan Crow will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 30, in the chapel of Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Atlanta.

Crow, 66, died earlier this month at his Decatur home, after a 10-year struggle with neuroendocrine cancer. A Louisiana native, Crow served in the 1990s as the Southern political director with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

He moved his practice to Atlanta in 1998, and served as political consultant for Secretary of State Cathy Cox in her unsuccessful 2006 primary bid for governor of Georgia.

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Democrats led by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson and state House Minority Leader Bob Trammell will mark the ninth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act at 3 p.m. today at Central Presbyterian Church across from the state Capitol.

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