The Georgia State Capitol building is seen in Atlanta Feb. 2, 2019. The Georgia House of Representatives March 29 passed H.B. 481, the "Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act." (CNS photo/Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

Georgia house passes fetal heartbeat bill; legal challenges to follow

Originally Appeared in : 9908-4/11/19

WASHINGTON (CNS)--Georgia has just added itself to the list of states that aim to protect unborn life once a fetal heartbeat is detected.


The Georgia House of Representatives March 29 passed H.B. 481, entitled the “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act.” The House, which has remained under Republican control since 2010, got the bill through on a 92-78 vote.


The bill is now bound for the desk of Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who has repeatedly expressed his dedication to the bill and the pro-life cause generally, relating in a tweet the same day of passage that “Georgia values life ...The legislature’s bold action reaffirms our priorities and who we are as a state.”


The bill, as the name suggests, prohibits abortions past the point that a fetal heartbeat is detectable in the womb, which in most cases occurs around six weeks of pregnancy.
A notable exception includes when a pregnancy is “medically futile,” which is when “an unborn child has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal anomaly that is incompatible with sustaining life after birth.” Ostensibly then, genetic conditions such as Down syndrome where an unborn child can still survive outside the womb are not legitimate grounds for abortions under the bill.


Other special cases where abortions would be permitted are when “the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest in which an official police report has been filed” alleging such an occurrence, and when “(a) physician determines, in reasonable medical judgment, that a medical emergency exists.”


“Medical emergency,” for the purposes of the bill, is defined as “a condition in which an abortion is necessary in order to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or the ... irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”


That clause makes the bill significantly more airtight than abortion laws that sanction the procedure for the sake of a woman’s “life or health,” the most recent example of the latter being New York’s Reproductive Health Act. The New York law is deemed by many legal experts to be one of the most permissive abortion laws in history because the “health” exception can be stretched to endorse an abortion at almost any point during a pregnancy.


As with other states that have passed or considered heartbeat bills, like Kentucky and Iowa, organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union are bracing to take the fight to court should the Georgia bill receive the governor’s signature.


In a statement, the ACLU of Georgia advanced the view that these kinds of bans are blatantly unconstitutional, saying “A woman’s constitutional right to legal abortion has been settled law for nearly 50 years. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly in support of women and their right to make these decisions.”


Tom McClusky, president of March for Life Action, explained to CNS that a track record of precedent isn’t always indicative of a good decision, pointing to segregation-era cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson -- upholding separate but equal public facilities -- as examples. “Just because there’s bad precedent doesn’t mean there can’t be good future precedent,” he said.

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