With every step towards proactive reproductive rights, some legislation tend to take a step back towards a pre-Roe v. Wade era. Wednesday, a Georgia House Committee approved the advancement of the Heartbeat Bill, where women cannot perform an abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected.
The underlying issue, however, is that a fetal heartbeat can already be detected by medical professionals as early as six weeks before many women can realize that they are pregnant. With that instance, with the format of ‘heartbeat laws,’ it automatically deprives women of their choices, potential to making subversive actions.
At the moment, pregnant women in Georgia have up to 5 months or 6 weeks into their pregnancy to form decision whether or not to push through with birth. In contrast to the proposed House Bill 481, called Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act, would prohibit abortions after that point, which would dramatically restrict abortions in Georgia.
“No abortion is authorized or shall be performed if the unborn child has been determined to have a human heartbeat,” the bill states unless the pregnancy risks the life or poses substantial and irreversible physical harm to the pregnant woman. Moreover, women can also have an abortion in the instances of rape and incest as long as a police report has been made.
Pro-life advocates and activists for abortion tensed following court proceedings Wednesday as Georgia could vote on the bill as early as March 7th, Wednesday. The 8th, Thursday marks a Georgia legislative deadline by which a bill must generally pass one chamber or the other.
The House Health and Human Services Committee approved the anti-abortion measure on a party-line vote of 17 to 14. Thirteen Republican men and four Republican women voted for it. Seven Democratic men and seven Democratic women voted against.
The approved House Bill 481 would then proceed to a vote from the full House, then the Senate, and after that Brian Porter Kemp, the 83rd and incumbent governor of the US
Gov. Kemp, on the other hand, campaigned for the “toughest abortion laws in the country.” Kemp’s campaign website says he supports “a ‘Heartbeat Bill’ that outlaws abortions after six weeks.”
With new Justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, abortion opponents across the country are hopeful that they will either reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a nationwide right to abortion or uphold specific state laws, which Georgia is trying to push through.
Gov. Kemp expresses that he is one of few that is vocally supportive of heart bill laws. But this isn’t the first time such laws were introduced to legislation.
Kim Reynolds, Iowa Governor, became the first to sign a similar heartbeat bill into law in May 2018. However, in January 2019, a state judge declared the law unconstitutional ultimately blocking it from taking effect.
Still, other conservative states continue to attempt to pass similarly outdated abortion legislation. Kentucky introduced a heartbeat bill in January, several more states, including Missouri, Florida, Tennessee, Ohio, Mississippi, and Texas have proposed bills, too.
The chairman of the House committee approving HB 481, Rep. Sharon Cooper, introduced an amendment that passed that also makes an exception in the case of a “medically futile” pregnancy – cases in which a fetus is deemed not compatible with life.
“We know life begins at conception. I think that’s worthy of full legal protection,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Ed Setzler. “Certainly we can come together and recognize if there’s a human heartbeat, that child’s worthy of protection.”
But, activists argue that with the current heartbeat bills, women are usually made aware of their pregnancy well after a heartbeat is detected. The bill outrightly restricts women of their personal choice.
They also argue that this leads to reproductive and overall health issues, where women may try to induce self-abortions, or access them through under the table illegal transactions.
Moreover, Dr. Melissa Kottke, who is on the advisory board of Georgia’s OB-GYN Society, voiced worries the bill would deter obstetricians from practicing in a state that has a shortage of OB-GYNs.
“It’s extremely dangerous for lawmakers to presume that they’re better equipped than women and their health care providers to judge what is appropriate medical care,” Kottke said.