ATLANTA — Abortion rights activists chanted “shame” as Republicans on a Georgia Senate committee moved Monday to ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
The Senate Science and Technology Committee approved the bill on a party-line vote of 3 to 2. The legislation, backed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, has passed the House and now could go quickly to the floor of the GOP-controlled Senate.
Republicans are moving to enact tough abortion restrictions in the state legislatures they control, even though they’re certain to be challenged in court. Similar “heartbeat” bills just passed the Ohio Senate and the Tennessee House, and are advancing in Mississippi, Florida, and South Carolina.
They’re hoping the U.S. Supreme Court — with new Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — will uphold state laws that undermine the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing the right of women to abort a fetus that can’t survive outside the womb.
Courts have repeatedly struck down similar laws. A state judge found Iowa’s “heartbeat” law to be unconstitutional in January. Last week, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order blocking enforcement of “heartbeat” measure in Kentucky.
In Georgia today, women have the legal right to seek abortions during the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy. A fetal heartbeat is generally detectable at around six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.
The proceedings inside the Capitol have been fraught with tension and emotional arguments from lawmakers and advocates on both sides, some of whom shared personal abortion stories. The issue has drawn large crowds — mainly protesters against the bill. Troopers urged activists to stay calm in the hallways on Monday, warning they’d arrest anyone who continued to chant.
The two Democrats on the Senate committee, both women, tried to introduce three amendments countering the idea that a fetus is a person before it’s viable outside the womb.
One amendment introduced by Democratic Sen. Valencia Seay would have eliminated tax benefits the bill would provide for expecting parents; another would have essentially nullified the bill by making it revert to current state law, which grants abortion rights during the first 20 weeks of gestation.
After all three amendments were voted down by the committee’s Republicans. Seay slammed the bill and the lawmakers who support it, all of them men.
“I’ve made every attempt to rectify this non-commonsense approach,” Seay said. “Common sense comes from us who have delivered, who have given birth and who respect women making a choice for themselves.”
The Georgia bill makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest -- but only when the woman files a police report first -- and to save the life of the mother. It also allows for abortions when a fetus is determined to be not compatible with life due to serious medical issues.
Republicans have allowed some changes since House passage, including to allow a pregnant woman to pursue child support from the father for direct medical and pregnancy expenses.
Republican Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth, the House bill’s author, said last week that the government’s paramount duty under the state constitution is to protect “the fundamental right to life of our citizens, particularly those that are most defenseless among us.”