ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia Senate committee listened to emotional testimony Thursday over a proposal that would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The committee did not take a vote, and it was unclear when they might.
Women in Georgia can currently seek an abortion during the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy. A fetal heartbeat is generally detectable at around six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant — especially women who aren't trying to conceive.
Abortion opponents across the country are hopeful the U.S. Supreme Court — with new Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — will either reverse Roe v. Wade, or uphold specific state laws that could undermine the court's 1973 ruling establishing the right of women to abort a fetus that can't survive outside the womb.
Similar "heartbeat" legislation passed the GOP-controlled Ohio Senate on Wednesday and was approved by the Tennessee House last week. Several other states including Mississippi, Florida and South Carolina are also considering similar legislation.
The Georgia bill makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest, but only when the woman files a police report first, and to save the life of the mother. It also allows for abortions when a fetus is determined to be not compatible with life due to serious medical issues.
Some changes have been made since House passage, including to allow a pregnant woman to pursue child support from the father for direct medical and pregnancy expenses.
The Senate committee room was packed, mostly by people against the bill. A crowd outside the doors frequently cheered as pro-abortion advocates and medical professionals testified against it.
Republican Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth, the bill's author, said that the government's paramount duty under the state constitution is to protect "the fundamental right to life of our citizens, particularly those that are most defenseless among us."
Jody Duffy, director of Post Abortion Treatment and Healing, a Christian nonprofit, testified in favor of the bill and spoke about her own abortion after being raped.
"The pain and the grief was so profound that all I could do was think about that horrific day on that table and that abortion," Duffy said. "The trauma of that rape was just expounded by the trauma of that abortion."
Several obstetrician-gynecologists spoke against the bill, saying that it is riddled with inaccuracies and would worsen health care for women in Georgia, a state that already has the worst maternal mortality rate in the country.
Dr. Melissa Kottke, an OB-GYN from Atlanta, testified that the legislation was "built on a foundation of misleading and false statements and ... enormous amounts of scientific inaccuracies."
John Walraven, a lobbyist representing Georgia Reproductive Endocrinologists, took issue with the very idea that the standard contemplated in the bill was actually a "human heartbeat."
"Six weeks from fertilization, a human heart has not formed. What has not formed, cannot beat," Walraven said.
Setzler disputed that testimony.
Women protested on the steps of Georgia's Capitol while dressed as characters from "The Handmaid's Tale," which depicts a dystopian future where women are controlled by the government and forced to breed — an almost daily occurrence since the House passed the measure.
Democratic lawmakers have also pushed back with legislation of their own, though the proposals are largely symbolic and stand practically no chance of passing this late in the session with no Republican support.
Democratic Rep. Dar'shun Kendrick from Lithonia said she's drafting a "Testicular Bill of Rights" that would ban vasectomies, make it an aggravated assault for men to have sex without a condom and require them to get permission from their sex partner before obtaining erectile dysfunction medication.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has come out in favor of the anti-abortion proposal.
Restrictive abortion laws in several states have been ruled unconstitutional by the courts.
In January, a state judge in Iowa struck down a "heartbeat" law there after finding it to be unconstitutional.