Opponents stand in the gallery as the House debates House Bill 481, which would outlaw most abortions once a doctor can detect a heartbeat in the womb, in the House chambers during Crossover Day at the Capitol on March 7, 2019. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Why ‘heartbeat bill’ in Georgia has stirred up passions on both sides

I had the great pleasure early last month of covering the “Night to Shine” prom at First Baptist Church of Atlanta.

Hundreds of teens and adults with special needs turned out for the annual event, held simultaneously at more than 600 places of worship across the world and sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation so they experience what it feels like to be, well, loved. Not because they are different but because that’s what they deserve.

Georgia Lawmakers Pass 'Heartbeat' Abortion Bill

The proms are a not-so-subtle reminder that, no matter what the world might communicate to them, that God has a plan for their lives, plans to prosper and not to harm, plans to give them hope and a future.

Whether born with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, mild to severe intellectual or developmental disabilities, they didn’t just evolve into being but were “fearfully and wonderfully” made.

I thought about them and their parents as news swirled yet again around when women should be allowed to get an abortion.

It proved to be a gut-wrenching few weeks, but in the end, the Georgia House voted 93-73 to approve the so-called “heartbeat” bill that would outlaw most abortions once a doctor can detect a heartbeat in the womb, usually around six weeks. Current Georgia law allows abortions up to 20 weeks.

Not surprisingly, a half-dozen women Democrats walked out of the chamber in protest of the vote; 20 House Democrats stood and turned their backs on a Republican colleague as he made the successful plea to pass the abortion bill, one of the strictest in the country.

Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, vowed the opposition would not forget the vote and promised to hold lawmakers accountable for playing politics with women’s health.

“This fight is not over,” Fox said in a press release.

Rep. Ed Setzler speaks in support of House Bill 481, the “heartbeat” bill, at the Georgia State Capitol on March 7, 2019. The Acworth Republican is the bill’s sponsor. EMILY HANEY / EMILY.HANEY@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Terri Potter, one of the mothers I met at “Night to Shine,” hailed the vote.

After giving birth to a son with Down syndrome, Terri Potter said she rejected doctors’ counsel to test for the disorder because she knew it wouldn’t make a difference.

“I would never play God and kill an innocent baby that God created,” she said.

My earliest memory of the abortion debate dates back more than 40 years, and it still leaves me feeling queasy.

» RELATED:  Georgia House approves anti-abortion ‘heartbeat bill’

As a 20-something, I thought I had it all figured out, especially after a college professor convinced me that a mother doesn’t love her unborn child.

It all made sense to me. Then at age 29, I miscarried and my heart broke into a million little pieces.

Democrats turn their backs on state Rep. Ed Setzler (right), R-Acworth, as he speaks in support of House Bill 481, outlawing most abortions once a doctor can detect a heartbeat in the womb. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

I know that in some ways, my miscarriage was a blessing. Whatever was wrong, my husband and I didn’t have to make the hard decision to carry the fetus to term or abort it. All I remember from that time is one day I was pregnant and the next I was spotting and the next I was hemorrhaging. My first pregnancy ended in a hospital emergency room.

I share this to say I have no idea what it feels like to have such a decision thrust upon you, but I’ve talked to enough women to know that it’s a bad place to be. In many of those cases, despite learning their children had birth defects like the ones I mentioned earlier, they made the decision to carry them to term.

None of them ever regretted that decision.

I understand why so many believe terminating a pregnancy should be a woman’s choice. I understand, too, why that usually attracts strong opinions on both sides.

My doctor’s recommendation when I started spotting was bed rest, but impending miscarriage, birth defects and risks to a mother’s health are all reasons why a doctor might recommend an abortion.

I can’t even fathom what that must be like.

Nor can I imagine having to decide between my life and that of my child, whether at six weeks or 20 weeks pregnant. At the same time, I know ailments like heart failure, cancer, diabetes or in the case of a friend of mine severe preeclampsia, a condition in which a woman develops very high blood pressure, can all put a mother’s life at risk.

And what about cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s health is in danger? What then?

The “heartbeat” bill still leaves room for those exceptions, but it didn’t matter to those opposed to the bill. They still believe it signals an end to Roe v. Wade.

I’m not so sure, but here’s why I get so queasy when it comes to this issue: Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of the 1973 landmark decision legalizing abortion.

» RELATED: Georgia governor backs bill to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is nixed

In 1998, nearly 20 years before her death in 2017, I interviewed McCorvey when I worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram only to find her in the midst of a decidedly different fight — to undo the Supreme Court decision and win others to Christ.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Her goal then, she told me, was “to persuade some young woman not to make the mistake of getting an abortion.”

And it was her opinion that Roe v. Wade should be reversed.

“Legal child-killing should stop,” she said.

McCorvey went a step further, saying she regretted her role in the campaign to legalize abortion.

“I was used,” she said. “Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who took the case to the Supreme Court, clarified everything when she said that Norma McCorvey wasn’t important. That Jane Roe was. I think that pretty much says it all.”

Here’s another reason this issue makes me queasy. It’s a big one.

Most abortions, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, are not for health reasons or because someone was raped or the victim of incest.

The three most common reasons — each cited by three-fourths of patients — were concern for or responsibility to other individuals; the inability to afford raising a child; and the belief that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents. Half said they did not want to be a single parent or were having problems with their husband or partner.

Can you imagine how many of us wouldn’t even be here if our parents decided to abort because they didn’t want to be a single parent, because having us would interfere with work, or because they couldn’t afford one of us?

I realize the notion might seem too simplistic, but think about that.

I know. It makes you queasy, doesn’t it?

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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