Georgia Senate OKs governor-backed ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

Published 6:15 pm Friday, March 22, 2019

By Ben Nadler
The Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) — Amid protests and a heavy police presence, the Georgia Senate on Friday passed a bill banning almost all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

The bill, backed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, will now go back to the House to approve Senate changes.

Women in Georgia can currently seek an abortion during the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy. A heartbeat can be detected in an embryo as early as six weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they’re pregnant.

Georgia lawmakers and GOP-led legislatures in several other states have pushed anti-abortion measures in hopes of getting a case before the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The push comes amid rising optimism among conservatives that the restrictions might prevail in the reconfigured Supreme Court that includes President Donald Trump’s appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Andrea Young, the executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in an interview Friday that the group would challenge the fetal heartbeat abortion ban in court if it’s signed into law.

Young called the legislation “clearly unconstitutional” and said that it “flies in the face of 50 years of legal precedent.”

A large 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.

A smaller contingent of anti-abortion advocates held signs and urged lawmakers to pass the bill.

Debate took place among a heavy police presence. Over two dozen Georgia State Patrol cars flanked the Capitol building and several troopers stood watch inside.

GOP lawmakers in Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and Ohio are pursuing similar legislation, while Republican governors in Mississippi and Kentucky have recently signed heartbeat abortion bans.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant on Thursday signed a heartbeat abortion ban, despite a federal judge’s ruling last year that struck down a less-restrictive law limiting abortions there.

Kentucky’s law was temporarily blocked by a federal judge shortly after Republican Gov. Matt Bevin signed it on March 14, in response to a challenge by the ACLU.

A state judge found Iowa’s heartbeat abortion ban to be unconstitutional in January.

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.

If signed, the law would take effect January 1, 2020.