Senate backs new anti-abortion effort in Georgia

The Georgia Senate approved an effort Thursday to make state grants available to dozens of pregnancy resource centers across Georgia, something the legislation’s sponsor said was a “positive alternative” to restricting women’s access to abortions.

Senate Bill 308 would create a grant program through the state Department of Public Health that promoted pregnancy and parenting efforts at these centers. The bill would require the department to ensure none of the money was used to counsel women to get an abortion unless necessary to prevent her death. The money also would not be allowed to be to pay for an abortion or for referrals to clinics that provide abortions.

Under rules in the bill, the centers would be required to register as nonprofits and would have to submit to annual audits by the department. Supporters hope to get $2 million in state funds for the new program from the proposed 2017 state budget now under review in the Legislature, although the bill would allow private donations to also seed the fund.

During an emotional, hour-and-a-half-long debate in the chamber, the bill’s sponsor, Senate Health and Human Services Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said there are about 70 pregnancy resource centers statewide and that their objective is to encourage a live birth. “They do a fabulous job, because they offer alternative services other than abortion,” said Unterman, who estimates that there are approximately 27,000 abortions each year in Georgia. The bill would require the state to track how many women seek an abortion after receiving services from the centers.

Unterman identifies as an anti-abortion advocate and has actively pushed a number of abortion bills in her 17 years at the Capitol, including helping to write a 2007 law requiring an ultrasound or sonogram be offered before an abortion is performed in Georgia.

Democrats opposed the measure, saying it allowed the state to fund what state Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, called “biased organizations” that may not employ doctors or anyone with medical experience that some women need to see for health reasons. Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said she worried the centers may provide “false advertising” or “misleading information” about their services.

This latest attempt at the Capitol to reduce the number of abortions in Georgia stems from controversy last year over the release of covertly filmed videos that Planned Parenthood’s critics said showed it profits from the sale of body parts after abortions. Two people involved in producing those videos were recently indicted by a Texas grand jury that investigated the allegations against Planned Parenthood.

Over the summer, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle demanded that state health officials stop using public tax dollars to fund any medical services at Planned Parenthood, including those for low-income women paid for through the federal Medicaid program. That has not happened, and Unterman has said she and Cagle agreed to take a different approach with the support of the Georgia Life Alliance, the state’s affiliate to the National Right to Life Committee.

SB 308 passed on a party line 38-16 vote, and now goes to the state House for consideration.

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