Anti-Abortion Fetal Heartbeat Bill Passes in Georgia

As Republicans maintain hold of the majority of state legislatures, lawmakers within the state of Georgia have passed a new bill which seeks to defy the Supreme Court’s federal ruling on Roe V. Wade and restrict most abortion procedures beyond the early weeks of pregnancy.

House Bill 481, otherwise titled The Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, passed the GOP-controlled legislature with a slim 92 vote majority, just one vote more than what’s required to 180-member branch. It is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp, an “unapologetically pro-life” Republican. By the decree of their small and limited government, the GOP has ensured doctors are prohibited from conducting these abortion procedures if there’s any indication the fetus has a heartbeat — which occurs six weeks into conception before women can be aware of their pregnancy.

“This bill recognizes the fundamental life of the child in the womb is worthy of legal protection and balances that basic right to life with the very difficult situations women find themselves in pregnancies,” stated Rep. Ed Setzler, the politician who introduced the bill. “We know life begins at conception. I think that’s worthy of full legal protection, but certainly, we can come together and recognize if there’s a human heartbeat, that child’s worthy of protection.”

This statement, however, is a somewhat flawed argument that’s being contested by both the pro-choice opposition and the medical community, arguing more time is required to accurately differentiate heartbeats from conflicting false detections which arise from tissue development.

According to The Valdosta Times, two influential groups in the state - from the Medical Association of Georgia (MAG) to the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) - have sent letters to lawmakers opposing the legislation. Dr. Rutledge Forney, the president of the MAG, took opposition to the criminal punishment of physicians who perform the procedure and enabling patients to sue abortion doctors on this basis.

“It’s a challenge to recruit and retain physicians in rural areas of Georgia and if you add one more concern — particularly being a criminal for doing something you have been trained to do — that is going to be one more disincentive to come to Georgia,” Forney, a practicing dermatologist, wrote to lawmakers. “It’s not a position about abortion. It’s all about criminalizing medical procedures. Our policy is a physician can refuse to perform an abortion but if it’s legal, the physician can do an abortion. We don’t want to tell physicians what to do. We just don’t want to criminalize actions.”

In fairness, the bill isn’t a complete unilateral ban on all procedures. It does make specific exceptions to medical emergencies which threaten the mother’s life, when a fetus is deemed “medically futile” to the point it cannot survive beyond birth and in cases of both rape and incest upon the filing of a police report. These cases all extend beyond the current 20-week timeframe established under Roe V. Wade. The targets of this bill include mothers who simply don’t want to carry offspring to term, which presents challenges based on body rights, labor laws, and doctors willing to ensure these rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, upon viewing the bill as overly repressive, published a statement vowing to take Georgia to court if signed into law. “If Gov. Kemp signs this abortion ban bill into law, the ACLU has one message: we will see you in court,” said Andrea Young, the state’s executive director. “Georgia has one of the worst maternal death rates in the nation. Black women in Georgia have a maternal death rate of more than three times the unacceptably high rate for white women. This bill further erodes the health and well-being of Georgia’s women and reveals a callous disregard for their well-established Constitutional rights.”

This is ironic considering the bill somewhat acknowledges these as legitimate. In addition to Setzler’s inclusion of the “unborn” into the state population, the bill also allows for parents to claim their fetus as “dependents” on their income taxes. This grants financial support to both mothers and fathers for the inconvenience the state is imposing in both pregnancy and delivery expenses.

The state acknowledges the unborn is quite the impediment on their resources both financial and biological, choosing to subsidize these unwanted pregnancies as a bankrolled concession. Talk about a government so big it’s investing taxpayer money into the vagina.

This “fetal heartbeat” bill merely follow the nationwide trend of conservatives favoring executive overreach when it comes to women and the handling of their own potential offspring — a 63% increase in restrictions this year alone — which is likely to face heavy resistance moving forward if the conservative-leaning Supreme Court has to once again decide the constitutionality of abortion rights, destroying the landmark case decided in 1973.

These efforts seemingly gain no traction either federally or judicially. As reported by The New York Times, similar fetal heartbeat bills have been notoriously stopped within the states of Kentucky, Iowa, North Dakota, and several other states. The major contention in these cases involves the government overreaching into a belief that unviable fetuses, unable to survive outside the womb, necessitate women carry it to term against their will.

Under the current precedent set by Roe V. Wade, viability is defined at around 24 weeks, leaving room for viability judgments at the discretion of qualified medical professionals. “For 50 years the Supreme Court has said that banning abortions before the point of viability is unconstitutional,” Young continued. “Every judge that has heard a challenge to such abortion bans has struck them down.”

Opponents of these bills claim the intent is to get these cases as high as the Supreme Court for a potential reversal, which will test the claims of the newly appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a supposed believer in precedent. “I hate that we have to get to the point where we are at the will of the courts,” said Rep. Erica Thomas, a Georgia state Democratic who swore to protest outside the governor's office despite her pregnancy. “I wish we would be at the will of the people.”

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