On Wednesday, Georgia’s House Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill banning abortion once a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected at around six weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman is even aware she’s pregnant. Current laws in the state allow people with uteri to terminate pregnancies up until 20 weeks of gestation.
The legislation still has to be voted on by the House, as per the AP, a narrow turnaround considering today (March 7) marks the deadline for most bills to pass at least one of the state’s legislative chambers. Within the committee itself, the bill passed along party lines, with 17 Republicans (including 13 men) voting for the legislation and 14 Democrats voting against it.
Rep. Ed Setzler, who penned the bill, said, “We know life begins at conception. I think that’s worthy of full legal protection. Certainly we can come together and recognize if there’s a human heartbeat, that child’s worthy of protection.”
Again—most women are not aware that they are pregnant at six weeks. If a woman’s menstrual cycle is irregular (at least 30 percent of women don’t have regular periods), it’s very likely she will not know she is pregnant until after the heartbeat is detectable, making abortion virtually outlawed for Georgian women if Setzler’s “heartbeat bill” passes. Also, the “heartbeat” qualifier is a strange marker considering that “fetal viability” (when the fetus can survive outside the uterus) isn’t until 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The bill does allow exceptions for victims of rape and incest if they’ve filed a police report (more than 75 percent of rapes go unreported) or if the woman’s life is at risk. Rep. Sharon Cooper introduced an amendment also permitting abortion for “medically futile” pregnancies (when it is unlikely the fetus will survive after birth).
Even with these exceptions, the legislation would take control of reproductive health away from many people with uteri and pose a huge safety risk for individuals who may seek illegal abortions. Dr. Melissa Kottke, who serves on the advisory board of Georgia’s OB-GYN Society, expressed her concerns that this will drive OB-GYNs away from the state, which is already suffering from a lack of obstetricians.
“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,” she told the AP.
Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp promised during his campaign to sign the “toughest abortion laws in the country”—let’s hope it won’t come to that.