States Debate Life and Death Laws

Georgia and Tennessee lawmakers have advanced bills that would ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.

(photo: Pixabay)

Georgia and Tennessee lawmakers have advanced bills that would ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The measures are the latest in a rolling series of state-level laws on life issues across the country.

The Republican-majority Georgia Statehouse approved House Bill 481, “Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act,” in a 93-73 vote Thursday. The fetal heartbeat bill had advanced through the House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 17 to 14. All Republican members of the committee voted for the bill, and all Democrat members of the committee voted against. Legislative deadlines meant that a vote on the bill had to take place by the end of March 7.

The bill includes exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest, which would be demonstrated by a police report filed by the woman, as well as for pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother or are deemed to be “medically futile.”

Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp had promised abortion restrictions during his campaign, and his website states that he is supportive of legislation that would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. Georgia’s General Assembly has a Republican majority in both houses.

In Tennessee, the state’s Catholic bishops recently issued a statement saying that they were opposed to the Tennessee Legislature passing a “Heartbeat Bill,” as it would result in a costly legal challenge that the state would lose.

In order for the “heartbeat bills” to be found constitutional, some say, the Supreme Court would have to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found a woman had a constitutional right to have an abortion.

House Bill 77, that would ban abortion after the detection of a heartbeat, passed by a 65-21 vote in the Tennessee House of Representatives on Thursday.

Meanwhile, three states further north, Maryland lawmakers advanced the “End of Life Option Act,” which would permit those with terminal illnesses to end their own lives with medication from a doctor.

The “End of Life Option Act” would require that adults seeking to die be deemed “mentally capable,” in severe pain and have a prognosis of less than six-months life expectancy, before they can be prescribed life-ending drugs.

The bill has previously been proposed several times, but it did not receive approval from two House committees — the Health and Government Operations Committee and the Judiciary Committee — until this year.

The “End of Life Option Act” has 68 co-sponsors — three short of the number required to assure passage of the legislation. The bill’s lead sponsor, Del. Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard County, told a local Fox station before the vote that she was “never confident [about the result] until the vote is taken.”

The bill, which received preliminary approval by the House of Delegates on March 6, passed a full vote of the House on Thursday by a margin of 74-66.

While the majority of the bill’s co-sponsors were Democrats, the measure did not have unanimous party support.

Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore County), voiced her opposition to the bill, saying that it was “not up to us to say when your life should end” and that she did not think the state should assist with suicide.

The bill will now be considered by the state Senate.

The Maryland Catholic Conference issued the following statement after House passage of H.B. 399:
“Today’s vote by the House of Delegates confirms what we already knew — that physician-assisted suicide is not a partisan issue and those who are concerned about the health disparity and economic discrimination issues raised by the bill stand in strong opposition to its passage. Among those in opposition were a majority of the members of the Legislative Black Caucus and many members of Democratic House leadership, and we applaud their courage to stand up to the out-of-state interests pushing this predatory agenda. We call on the members of the Maryland Senate and Governor Hogan to act swiftly to decry the action of their colleagues in the House and stop this dangerously flawed bill from advancing.”

Assisted suicide currently is legal in six states and the District of Columbia.

These bills are the latest in a wider national trend of increased and opposed life legislation in 2019.

In January, New York passed a sweeping abortion law that codified a right to an abortion and removed abortion from the state’s criminal code. Vermont passed a similar law in February. Efforts to pass similar legislation failed in Virginia, but are continuing in Rhode Island.

Ohio lawmakers reintroduced the “heartbeat bill” in February after it was vetoed by Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2018.

In addition, as a measure to repeal Colorado’s death penalty passed a state Senate committee this week, the Colorado Catholic Conference expressed support for the bill.


This story is developing. Register staff contributed to this report.