Anti-abortion ‘heartbeat bill’ clears Georgia Senate panel

Shortly after a Senate panel approved a proposal early Monday that would ban most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, protesters erupted in chants as the bill’s sponsor and those who voted in favor of the measure left the committee room.

Chanting "shame" and "no safe seats" as Capitol police escorted Republican lawmakers to an elevator, abortion rights advocates vowed to continue to fight House Bill 481, which would outlaw most abortions once a doctor detects a heartbeat in the womb.

If it passes, it would be among the strictest abortion laws in the country. Current Georgia law allows abortions to be performed until 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

The bill's sponsor, Acworth Republican state Rep. Ed Setzler, has called the proposal a commonsense measure to recognize a fetus with a heartbeat as its own distinct person. Anti-abortion advocates have for years tried to pass laws that establish what they call "personhood" for the unborn, giving them rights.

The panel, meeting in a packed room, considered three amendments from Riverdale Democratic state Sen. Valencia Seay, all which would have vastly altered the legislation. All were defeated on a party-line vote of 3-2.

Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan last week appointed state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, to the committee to ensure the legislation's passage. The Senate Science and Technology Committee normally has two Democrats and two Republicans as members, with Buford Republican state Sen. Renee Unterman — as chairwoman — only voting when there is a tie.

Seay said her heart was heavy after the vote.

“I have made an attempt to try to get a commonsense approach to women having a right to do what it is they do, and that is give birth,” she said. “Common sense comes from us who have delivered, who have given birth, and respect women making the choice for themselves.”

Unterman took no public comments Monday after the panel heard about four hours of testimony during a hearing last week that drew an overflow crowd.

The bill was amended last week to allow expectant mothers to collect from fathers costs associated with pregnancy and delivering a child.

Under the proposal, women still would be able to get later abortions in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the mother is in danger or in instances of “medical futility,” when a fetus would not be able to survive after birth.

Someone who has become pregnant after an incident of rape or incest would have to file a police report to have the abortion performed.

The bill would also allow parents to claim an embryo, once a heartbeat is detected, on their taxes as dependents and count a fetus toward the state's population in the census.

While he had not yet received an analysis of the fiscal impact to the state, Setzler said he believed the cost to Georgia in lost tax revenue would be between $10 million and $20 million each year.

The legislation narrowly passed the Georgia House earlier this month. It will now be considered for a Senate floor vote as soon as this week.

Since the bill was altered, it will have to go back to the House for the chamber’s approval before it can head to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk.

Kemp, who is expected to sign the legislation if it passes, voiced his support for the measure on Twitter shortly after the committee vote.

“Today,” he wrote, “we took another step to ensure that life is valued and protected in Georgia.”

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