Winds of change have enveloped the state with the final passage of the “heartbeat” bill by Georgia legislators on Friday, March 29.
“Georgia values life. We stand up for the innocent and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a press release. “... Our efforts to protect life do not end here. We must work to ease the adoption process, find loving homes for those in our foster care system, and protect the aging and vulnerable.”
The bill prohibits abortion once a heartbeat is detected by a doctor, which typically happens around six weeks into a pregnancy. The current law in Georgia allows abortions up to 20 weeks.
Under HB 481, women in Georgia would still legally be able to receive later abortions in situations involving rape or incest when the woman has filed a police report, if the mother’s life is in danger or when a fetus would be unable to live after birth. Parents will also have the right to claim an embryo on their taxes as dependents once the heartbeat is detected.
State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, said he approved of the bill because he’s “100 percent pro-life.”
Dunahoo said he isn’t happy with the few abortion exceptions the bill provides, such as in the cases of rape and incest, but he feels as though legislators have still accomplished a major feat.
“If we can move 97 percent of what we need, that’s a lot better than zero,” he said.
Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said he voted yes on the bill to hold true on his promise to the 49th District, regarding his anti-abortion stance.
“As science and technology has become more advanced, it has become increasingly difficult to deny the humanity of life from the start,” Miller said. “As a parent we all know the excitement of seeing that first ultrasound. I know there are passionate and compassionate views on both sides of this issue.”
He said that he respects and understands the position of abortion-rights supporters, but when faced with the choice he stands “for protecting life.”
Lee Koz, executive director of the anti-abortion Choices Pregnancy Care Centers in Gainesville and Flowery Branch, said the bill is a great step forward for the state.
“It’s the best bill for pro-life that has ever been put forth in this country,” he said. “It’s the strongest heartbeat law I’ve ever read, and I’m fully in support of this law.”
Koz said he hopes other states will follow suit, eventually challenging the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.
Other states have introduced similar legislation, including Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Ohio and Missouri.
Sonja West, who is an Otis Brumby distinguished professor of First Amendment law at the University of Georgia, said overturning a Supreme Court decision is typically “extremely difficult.”
“This is especially true for opinions that have been repeatedly reaffirmed by the Court, as is the case with core holding of Roe v. Wade,” West said. “But, as we all know, Roe is not a typical Supreme Court case. There has long been a great deal of controversy among the public and among the justices, over whether Roe v. Wade was rightly decided and should be considered settled law.”
The ACLU of Georgia said it would challenge the bill it called “unconstitutional” in court.
If signed and not blocked in court, the law would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Leigh Miller, the second vice chair for the Hall County Democratic Party, said the bill would do the opposite of saving lives.
Miller said the legislation would cause more deaths, including women who obtain illegal abortions by those not qualified to do so.
“Everyone I know who is pro-life has a good, caring heart,” she said. “Everyone I know that is pro-choice has a good, caring heart. The politicians in our state are using our hearts and emotions to manipulate us into a political lather and battle out the unanswerable questions of when life begins and what God intends.”
Instead of passing HB 481, she wishes that Georgia representatives would back legislation that increase access to OB-GYN care and hold discussions about Georgia’s high maternal mortality rate.
“It worries me that our legislature hastily passed this bill and chose not to listen to the Medical Association of Georgia and many other obstetricians and other physicians who loudly spoke out against this dangerous bill,” she said. “This bill will cause more unnecessary death, not less, and I don’t see a justification for that atrocity.”
The Medical Association of Georgia and the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians, sent letters to lawmakers opposing the legislation.
A group of women at the Georgia Capitol protested the bill dressed as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which depicts a dystopian future where women are controlled by the government and forced to breed. The activists in red cloaks and white bonnets have been an almost daily presence ever since the House passed the measure earlier this month.
The bill had also received backlash from the Writers Guild of America East and West who released a joint statement on March 26, condemning HB 481.
If the bill is signed into law, the guilds stressed the possibility many people in the industry would leave Georgia or not bring productions to the state.
Part of the statement reads, “This law would make Georgia an inhospitable place for those in the film and television industry to work, including our members.”
Through examining debates supporting or disapproving of the “heartbeat bill,” Koz said he has seen “symptoms of tyranny” from those who favor abortion rights.
“They want to force their world philosophy and they want to force this process down on people,” he said. “Could it be argued that pro-life position is forcing our world view and our philosphy on a secular society? Absolutely not because I believe in objective morality.”