Georgia lawmakers prepare for first ‘post-Roe’ legislative session



As the lawsuit challenging Georgia’s abortion law makes its way through the state courts, lawmakers are preparing to gather for the first “post-Roe” legislative session.

It will be the first time lawmakers meet since the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade, which for nearly 50 years guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion. That decision prompted the U.S. Court of Appeals in July to allow Georgia’s 2019 law to take effect, banning most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant.

Abortion rights activists and providers have challenged the law in state court, but after getting an initial win from a Fulton County Superior Court judge, the restriction is back in place. An appeal of the Fulton County decision is pending before the Georgia Supreme Court.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, a Dahlonega Republican, said the Senate Republican Caucus is content with the 2019 bill.

“I don’t think there’s a strong push right now to introduce any legislation on abortion this session,” Gooch said. “We’re going to wait and see what happens in court. But we believe (the law) will stand the test of the judicial process and remain in effect.”

For abortion rights advocates and most Democrats, this session will mostly be about playing defense, said Vivienne Kerley-de la Cruz, state director for Planned Parenthood Southeast.

“We will continue to fight for the protection and expansion of access to abortion and other kinds of reproductive health care in the legislative session,” she said. “That is our No. 1 priority.”

Kerley-de la Cruz said she expects someone to file a bill that would explicitly stop the mailing of abortion pills, similar to one filed last year.

The Senate last year approved a bill that would require pregnant women to see a doctor in person before being able to obtain mifepristone, the abortion pill, and ban the medication from being sent through the mail. A doctor would also have to perform an ultrasound before the drugs could be prescribed and schedule a follow-up visit. The bill failed in the House.

Current law requires doctors to determine the age of the embryo and identify whether there is fetal cardiac activity before abortions can be performed. Those are typically determined through an ultrasound, meaning doctors already must see patients in person before a pregnancy can be terminated.

That bill was filed in response to 2021 guidelines from the Food and Drug Administration that allowed the abortion pill to be sent through the mail once a doctor has prescribed the medication to a patient, but an in-person visit is not required. On Tuesday, the FDA approved an update to the abortion pills’ instructions to align with the policy change. The Biden administration created the policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to allow people to have access to the abortion pill after a telehealth visit.

State Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick, on the other hand, said she is playing offense. The Lithonia Democrat has filed a bill that would require the state to compensate women who wanted to terminate a pregnancy but, because of the state’s abortion law, was not allowed to do so.

The bill ― which has no chance of passing the Republican-dominated General Assembly — would require the state to pay for a variety of things such as “reasonable living, legal, medical, psychological and psychiatric expenses,” reimbursement of funeral and burial costs if the mother dies because of the pregnancy or delivery, as well as health, dental and vision insurance for a child until age 18.

“If you are claiming to be the pro-life party and pro-life state, this is the perfect opportunity to put your money where your mouth is,” she said. “If you want to force women to have children, pay for them.”

Many Republican lawmakers, who overwhelmingly support the 2019 law, say they don’t expect to see legislation further restricting access to abortion this session. Instead, they said they will pursue legislation that makes parenting easier once children are born.

For example, lawmakers passed bills that extended the amount of time low-income Georgia mothers can receive benefits under Medicaid, the public health program that provides care to the poor and disabled, from two months to six and then from six months to one year after the birth of a child in 2020 and 2022, respectively.

Anti-abortion activists have said they hope to address the “loopholes” that allow later abortions in some instances.

Georgia’s law allows abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity and up until 22 weeks of pregnancy in cases of rape or incest. Victims would have to have reported the incident of rape or incest to the police to qualify for a later abortion. Abortions past 22 weeks could also be performed if the fetus has congenital or chromosomal defects and would not survive.

Mike Griffin, a lobbyist with the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said his organization will continue to “do anything we can to protect human life inside the womb.” Griffin said it was unfair to allow abortions based on how a child is conceived.

“We don’t think any life ought to be discriminated against regardless of where it is — inside the womb or outside the womb,” he said.