Georgia Senate Passes Watered Down ‘Fetal Pain’ Bill

Women protest against anti-abortion bills in Georgia. (Source: AP)

State legislators across the country have been debating several bills to limit women’s access to abortion, from cutting off funding to putting more barriers in their way. Lawmakers in Georgia have been considering one of those bills — a measure that would prevent women from receiving abortions 20 weeks after fertilization — and the Senate passed an amended version of the legislation. A bipartisan group of senators agreed to an amended version of the controversial GOP-backed House Bill 954. The amended bill passed on a 36-19 vote, though it’s unclear whether Republicans in the state House will accept the changes.

The original legislation, sponsored by Republican Rep. Doug McKillip, would have effectively outlawed abortion 20 weeks, the point where the lawmaker said fetuses can feel pain — a concept that has been widely disputed by many doctors. Although exceptions were allowed in cases where a pregnancy threatened the life or health of the women, no exemption would be granted in cases of rape or incest. The law, once enacted, would have “cut by about six weeks the time women in Georgia may have an elective abortion.”

At the last minute, members of the Senate adopted a key change that “would allow women to get an abortion even after the five-month mark if a doctor determined a fetus has a fatal congenital or chromosomal defect.” Under current Georgia law, women are permitted to get abortions for any reason during the first six months of a pregnancy. Abortions are also legal during the last three months of pregnancy, but “only to protect a woman’s life or her physical or mental health.” Opponents of the 20 week ban argue that most late-term abortions are sought out by parents “who learn their unborn child will not survive outside the womb.”

“I think we need to give doctors and their patients that opportunity,” said Republican Sen. John Bulloch. He added that lawmakers should “not punish a pregnant woman.”

The passage of HB 954 would make Georgia the seventh state to ban abortions after 20 weeks:

Six states — Nebraska, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Alabama — have similar “fetal pain” restrictions; a seventh, North Carolina, restricts abortion at 20 weeks. Passing the bill now throws Georgia into a stormy debate in this national election year over abortion limits. Most notably, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law this month a controversial bill requiring Virginia women to undergo an ultrasound procedure prior to having an abortion, although he backed off a mandate to require a trans-vaginal ultrasound.

The bill now heads back to the House, where the proposal could fail if an agreement is not reached by Thursday, when the General Assembly adjourns for the year.

To see more about the anti-abortion bills legislators in Georgia and several other states have been debating, check out our interactive map HERE.

— Fatima Najiy