ATLANTA — The Georgia House of Representatives has approved HB 481, better known as the “Heartbeat Bill.”
The controversial bill outlaws most abortions as soon as a doctor can detect a heartbeat in a fetus.
Doctors say a heartbeat is typically detected when a fetus reaches six weeks' gestation.
Current Georgia law allows abortions up to 20 weeks.
Opponents of the bill gathered outside the House chamber Friday, waiting on word one way or the other over the bill’s passage.
When the bill passed, protesters could be heard inside the chamber yelling "Shame!".
Ahead of Friday’s vote, more than 40 Hollywood celebrities signed a letter sent to Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, saying they will push TV and film production companies to abandon Georgia if the bill is signed into law.
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Republican state Rep. Ed Setzler, of Acworth, who sponsored the bill, said the passage of the bill was one step closer to recognizing unborn babies as Georgia citizens.
“The importance of this cannot be overstated,” Setzler said. “All along, this is a very important substantive issue where we’re carefully balancing the very difficult circumstances women find themselves in with the basic right to life of a child. That’s what this is.”
Following the vote, vocal Democratic members got into a slight confrontation with Georgia State Patrol troopers who had asked them to disperse after speaking out against the bill and declaring what they’ll do next.
“Women and families will show up and we will pack the Capitol to hold them accountable before any governor believes he has the right to stop women from accessing care in the moments where they most need their doctors,” said state Rep. Park Cannon, of Atlanta.
Democrats contend that many women aren’t even aware they are pregnant at six weeks.
State Rep. Erica Thomas, of Austell, focused her anger squarely at Kemp.
"You don't vote your heart, what you feel in your heart. You vote for the people, because on your tag you are a representative of the people and today it is 'shame on us,' because we did not vote on the people represented. We voted for what we wanted and I'm done with these people and I feel like we have to do something to make a change," Thomas said.
Kemp is expected to sign the legislation. He vowed during his 2018 campaign to sign the strictest abortion laws in the country.
“Georgia values life. We stand up for the innocent and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. The legislature’s bold action reaffirms our priorities and who we are as a state. I thank these lawmakers for their leadership and applaud their undeniable courage," Kemp said in a statement Friday. “Our efforts to protect life do not end here. We must work to ease the adoption process, find loving homes for those in our foster care system, and protect the aging and vulnerable. Together, we will ensure that all Georgians are safe and have the opportunity to live, grow, learn, and prosper.”
Georgia is poised to become the third state in as many weeks to pass similar legislation. A federal judge blocked Kentucky’s version of the law hours after it was signed by that state’s governor.
“In passing the abortion ban, Republicans have shown that they can’t be trusted to make decisions on behalf of Georgia women, Georgia’s health care system, or Georgia’s economy,” said Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “We can’t afford to let them continue to take our state backwards. The Blue Challengers Initiative is our first step to replace these lawmakers with strong Democrats who will fight for our values.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has already said it will file a lawsuit if the measure wins final passage.
“Georgia has one of the worst maternal death rates in the nation. Black women in Georgia have a maternal death rate of more than three times the unacceptably high rate for white women,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “This bill further erodes the health and well-being of Georgia’s women and reveals a callous disregard for their well-established Constitutional rights.”
Kemp has until May 12 to sign the bill into law.
Georgia is one of 18 states across the country voting on abortion laws this year. Those other states include: Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
Cox Media Group