State Senate anti-abortion bill gains traction in House

A key state House committee passed legislation Tuesday that would make grants available to pregnancy resource centers that provide services other than abortion.

Senate Bill 308 would establish a grant program through the state Department of Public Health to promote pregnancy and parenting services as alternatives to abortion. Under the legislation, pregnancy resource centers could not use grant funds to refer clients to clinics that provide abortions or counsel women to get abortions unless their pregnancies are life-threatening.

The state Senate passed the bill last month on a 38-16 vote. Senate Health and Human Services Chairwoman Renee Unterman, R-Buford, the bill's sponsor, said the legislation is a "positive alternative" to restricting access to abortions.

“What pregnancy resource centers do is offer the resources to make good decisions,” Unterman said. “Not only can they stay in business, but hopefully they can expand and decrease the number of abortions that we have in the state of Georgia.”

Unterman estimated there are 27,000 abortions each year in the state.

SB 308 would require centers to register as nonprofits and submit to annual audits by the Department of Public Health. The bill would prohibit centers from using grant funds to provide "counseling or written material" that includes political or faith-based content.

House Health and Human Services Chairwoman Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, expressed strong support of the legislation.

“We only talked about no abortions, and then there was no help for any prospective mother who decided not to have an abortion, but then there was no referral to medical care,” Cooper said. “We need to push for care of that pregnant woman, not just through the delivery process but onto the first year and onto life.”

Some lawmakers who voted against the bill expressed concerns that grant funds would not provide women access to information about abortion even though it is legal.

"Until abortion is illegal in this country, that's still an alternative," said Rep. Nikki T. Randall, D-Macon. "This is only saying you can only get these funds as long as you don't counsel pro-abortion. That's not right, because it's not illegal."

Other opponents of the bill questioned the quality of care pregnancy resource centers offer. Some expressed concerns that not all centers have medical professionals on-site for examinations.

Roula AbiSamra, board chair of Access Reproductive Care-Southeast, said pregnancy support centers make patients feel “more traumatized,” “misinformed” and “unsupported” than abortion clinics do. AbiSamra also said pregnancy support centers sometimes give inaccurate information to their patients.

“We’ve provided information on where to find safe and qualified abortion providers to women who were told there is no such thing,” AbiSamra said. “Their experiences suggest that centers with an ideological agenda serve mainly to perpetuate stigma and shame in our communities.”

SB 308 is one of several anti-abortion bills on the move at the state Capitol. Last month, the House passed two such bills.

House Bill 555, sponsored by Rep. Joyce Chandler, R-Grayson, would require the Juvenile Court and Administrative Office of the Courts to compile and deliver statistics on girls 17 and younger who seek abortions without parental consent. House Bill 762, sponsored by Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, would prevent anyone, including doctors who perform abortions, from selling aborted fetal tissue.

SB 308 now goes to the House Rules Committee, which will decide if it gets a vote.