A bill that would create one of the strictest abortion laws in the country is headed to the Georgia governor’s desk.
The Georgia House narrowly voted 92-78 to approve legislation that would outlaw most abortions after around six weeks of pregnancy — before many women realize they are pregnant. It takes 91 votes for a bill to pass in the House.
People in the House gallery could be heard yelling “shame” shortly after the bill passed.
The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Ed Setzler, said the legislation is something that “commonsense Georgians” should be proud of.
“This bill recognizes the fundamental life of the child in the womb is worthy of legal protection and balances that basic right to life with the very different situations women find themselves in in pregnancies,” he said.
House Bill 481 would outlaw abortions once a doctor detects a “heartbeat” in the womb. Current Georgia law allows abortions to be performed until 20 weeks.
The measure passed the Senate last week on a party-line vote.
Georgia is the third state in as many weeks to pass similar legislation. A federal judge blocked Kentucky’s version of the law hours after it was signed by that state’s governor.
Mississippi’s governor last week also signed “heartbeat” legislation into law. Last year, a court struck down that state’s 15-week abortion ban, calling it unconstitutional.
What is a heartbeat is at the center of dispute. Setzler and supporters say it should be used to establish when life begins. Doctors who oppose the legislation, however, said what sounds like a heartbeat at six weeks signals the practice motions of developing tissues that could not on their own power a fetus without the mother.
Democrats have vowed to use the vote to defeat Republicans in the 2020 elections.
State Rep. Vernon Jones, D-Lithonia, said enough Republicans might lose to shift power in the state House.
“If your members vote for this bill in 2020, your party loses,” Jones said. “There’s going to be a new speaker of the House here. If there’s a new speaker, many in your party will lose power, all of you will lose your chairmanships. If you all lose based on this bill, this body is going to change over.”
Staci Fox, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said it would take its fight to court and the polls next year.
“Our elected officials heard from their constituents — they just didn’t listen. And we will not forget it,” she said. “Lawmakers will be held accountable for playing politics with women’s health, and this fight is not over.”
Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign HB 481 after the legislative session, which ends Tuesday. He vowed during his 2018 campaign to sign the strictest abortion laws in the country.
“Georgia values life,” Kemp said in a statement shortly after the vote. “We stand up for the innocent and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. The legislature’s bold action reaffirms our priorities and who we are as a state.”
Cole Muzio, a lobbyist with the conservative Family Policy Alliance of Georgia, called the legislation the bill the “pro-life community has been waiting for.”
“As science and conscience continue to drive culture in our direction, this is increasingly a winning issue,” Muzio said. “More importantly, however, we will continue to find ourselves on the right side of history.”
Speaking in front of a group opponents of the legislation after the vote, state Rep. Erica Thomas, D-Austell, who is pregnant, said she was “very upset right now.” She had strong words for Kemp.
“You did this in your first year because you know that you are done,” she said.
That remark prompted applause and chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” And that prompted a confrontation with a slew of state troopers who were watching.
After police initially told protesters to disperse, officers got into a tense discussion with Thomas and other state representatives. Eventually, the demonstrators slowly filtered off. Police, who had readied plastic handcuffs to use on protesters, made no arrests.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has already said it will file a lawsuit challenging the legislation.
“If Governor Kemp signs this abortion ban bill into law, the ACLU has one message: We will see you in court,” said Andrea Young, the group’s executive director.
A federal judge in North Carolina on Tuesday ruled that a ban on abortions after 20 weeks is unconstitutional. The North Carolina ruling, however, has no impact in Georgia.
After remaining quiet the past few weeks, Hollywood actors, writers and local businessmen and women have publicly voiced their opposition to the legislation. Several prominent medical groups, including the Medical Association of Georgia — a doctors lobby — had also urged lawmakers to defeat the bill.
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, once a heartbeat is detected, to claim an embryo on their taxes as dependents and count a fetus toward the state’s population.
There are currently about 20 lawsuits involving abortion — including several “heartbeat” laws — up for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court that could be used to challenge the Roe v. Wade decision. The 1973 ruling established a nationwide right to abortion.
Georgia anti-abortion activists hope the state’s “heartbeat bill” will be the one that overturns the court’s ruling.
Setzler said HB 481 is “fundamentally different” than other similar bills that have been overturned by the courts because it gives a fetus “personhood status.”
Said Setzler: “We’ve laid the groundwork for the federal courts and for our state courts in recognizing the personhood of the child to withstand legal scrutiny ultimately and be enacted as the law of our state.”
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Staff writer David Wickert contributed to this article.