ATLANTA —The Georgia Senate has approved a bill that would ban abortions after an unborn baby’s heartbeat can be detected, about six weeks into pregnancy.
The state Senate passed House Bill 481 on Friday. It will now return to the House, which has already approved an initial version of the bill but will now need to vote on changes made by the Senate.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp applauded the bill’s progress. He is expected to sign the legislation if it comes to his desk.
The legislation would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after a baby’s heartbeat is detected. Those who do could lose their medical licenses. It includes an exception for cases of rape or incest, as well as if doctors determine that a pregnant woman’s life is in danger or that the baby would not survive.
Current Georgia laws bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
If signed into law, the legislation is likely to face legal challenges. The American Civil Liberties Union has already said it is prepared to file a lawsuit against the measure. A similar law in Kentucky was blocked by a federal judge just hours after going into effect.
Tennessee’s Catholic bishops chose to oppose their state’s heartbeat bill over concerns that it would not stand up to judicial scrutiny. They voiced concern that it was an imprudent approach to fighting legal abortion, citing other states where legal challenges to such bills ended up further enshrining a legal “right to abortion” and forcing the state to pay significant sums of money to the lawyers representing the pro-abortion challengers to the laws.
In a March 22 opinion piece for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, state Rep. Ed Setzler, who sponsored the Georgia heartbeat bill, argued that it is both scientifically and legally sound.
“[S]cience tells us that a child with a beating heart has crossed the definitive scientific threshold in which they have a 95 percent chance of being carried to term and the definitive medical threshold that for centuries has established the presence of human life: the heartbeat,” he said.
The Georgia representative also argued that the heartbeat bill can survive a legal challenge. He said it is unique among other similar state legislation because it establishes “the legal personhood of the unborn child,” building on “the long-established foundation of a state’s authority to recognize a person’s rights more expansively than the minimum required by federal law.”
Setzler said the bill is an effort to balance “the individual liberty of pregnant mothers with the right to life of the distinct persons living inside of them.” He noted that it would ensure new benefits for pregnant women, including “access to child support from the baby’s father and a full dependent tax deduction.”
The Georgia Catholic Conference has encouraged support for the legislation.
“The core of the bill is a prohibition against abortion after a detectable fetal heartbeat, usually six to eight weeks after conception,” the conference said. “While we understand life to begin at conception, not heartbeat, this language is as close as the authors think we can come and still withstand challenge in court.”
The conference added that the bill “contains exceptions in the case of rape, threatened death of the mother, or a medically futile diagnosis, all of which are exceptions that we would prefer were not permitted. Nonetheless, we recommend support because it would prohibit many abortions that are legal today.”