(CN) – A bill that bars abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected is one step closer to becoming law in Georgia after a panel of Republican lawmakers in the state House voted in favor of the measure.
The Peach State’s House Health and Human Services Committee advanced legislation Wednesday that aims to ban most abortions once a doctor can detect a fetus’ heartbeat, which happens as early as six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.
Under current state law, women in Georgia can have an abortion any time before 21 weeks of pregnancy.
If the bill becomes law, the state would recognize the presence of a heartbeat as the point of fetal viability. After a fetus is deemed viable, a woman would not be able to have an abortion unless her life depends on it.
The 17-14 vote in favor of the bill after an emotional hearing Wednesday showed a split along party lines on the issue of abortion. Thirteen Republican men and four Republican women voted to advance the bill, defeating the votes of all Democrats on the committee.
“The State of Georgia, applying reasoned judgment to the full body of modern medical science, recognizes the benefits of providing early infants in the womb with full legal recognition as members of the human community, above the minimum requirements of federal law,” according to the bill introduced by Representative Ed Setzler, R-Acworth.
Sponsors of the bill claim the Uniform Determination of Death Act of 1981, a model state law, affirms that a consistent human heartbeat is the core determining factor in establishing the legal presence of human life.
The full House will most likely have to approve the measure Thursday – which marks the legislative deadline for most bills to pass between chambers – for it to be approved by the Senate this session.
Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said last week he backed the bill.
An identical law in Iowa was struck down as unconstitutional in January by a state judge.
As with most recent measures aimed at legislating women’s reproductive rights, there are nuances included in the Georgia bill’s language.
“Reasonable medical judgment” would be a valid reason to have an abortion if a pregnancy termination would undoubtedly save the woman’s life or if she is at serious risk of irreversible physical impairment.
No life-saving abortion would be allowed after 12 weeks of pregnancy unless the abortion is performed in a licensed hospital or ambulatory surgical center, or in a health facility licensed as an abortion facility by the Georgia Department of Community Health.
According to the bill, an abortion of a fetus with a detectable heartbeat would also not be allowed if it is driven by the diagnosis of a “mental or emotional condition” suffered by the pregnant woman or if she intends to commit suicide as a result of her legal requirement to birth a child.
“This bill is unconstitutional under decades of Supreme Court precedents,” Sean Young, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, told Courthouse News.
Young said the bill is designed to punish women for their reproductive choices, especially women in low-income communities “who already face tremendous obstacles when it comes to accessing reproductive health care.”
According to Young, many women do not even know they are pregnant at six weeks, which is the time a fetal heartbeat is usually first detected.
“This is really about the government intervening and telling doctors how to do their jobs and treat their patients,” he said. “Government bureaucrats have no business telling women and couples how to start a family, based on someone else’s interpretation of scripture.”
Under the bill, a fetus with a beating heart would qualify for state income tax deductions and be considered part of the state population.