What You Should Know About Georgia's 'Fetal Heartbeat' Anti-Abortion Bill

Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign a bill giving Georgia one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

Last week, Georgia state legislators passed another “fetal heartbeat” bill that would severely limit millions of women’s access to abortion across the state.

The bill, which would ban abortion before many women are even aware of their pregnancy, will go into law if Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signs it in the coming months, as he’s indicated he will do.

Here’s what you need to know about why abortion rights groups are hellbent on stopping him.

It would be one of the country’s most extreme abortion laws.

The proposed law would ban abortion as soon as a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, which usually happens at around six weeks into a pregnancy. That’s before most women even know they’re pregnant.

Kemp’s signature would override current Georgia law, which allows abortion up until 20 weeks. If he signs it, Georgia will become one of the most restrictive states in the country for women seeking an abortion.

Abortion rights groups have come out hard against the legislation.

“This is an all-out assault on the reproductive health and safety of Georgia women,” said Laura Simmons, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Georgia, in a statement when the legislature passed the bill.

“This cruel, unconstitutional bill is part of an extreme GOP agenda to strip freedoms from women and could not be further from the values that most Georgians hold,” she continued, pointing to recent polling that found 7 out of 10 Georgians believe abortion should be legal and that the government should not prevent a woman from obtaining one.

It’s not rooted in reality.

The bill’s author, Republican Rep. Ed Setzler, said in a Fox News appearance this week that his legislation “recognizes something that’s pretty common sense: that the child with a human heartbeat living inside their mother is worthy of full legal protections.”

But critics argue that its passage would violate the legal protections women gained with 1973′s Roe v. Wade decision, which prevents states from putting an undue burden on women seeking an abortion.

Opponents of so-called heartbeat bills also point out that Setzler’s thinking is flawed because it implies the fetus would be able to survive on its own outside the womb.

Picking the detection of a heartbeat as a firm cutoff date is “by all accounts an arbitrary standard that bans abortion long before the point of fetal viability,” Planned Parenthood of the Heartland spokeswoman Becca Lee said last year when the Iowa Legislature passed a similar bill.

Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion demonstrators displaying their signs in the lobby of the Georgia State Capitol on March 22.
Abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion demonstrators displaying their signs in the lobby of the Georgia State Capitol on March 22.
Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

The governor is expected to sign it.

Kemp expressed his support for the bill as it moved through the Georgia General Assembly, proudly calling it the “toughest abortion bill in the country” and vowing to fight back as inevitable legal challenges come forward

“I have no ill will for people who oppose this, and I understand it,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But this is about protecting life, and we’re willing to fight for it.”

It’s unclear when Kemp is expected to sign the bill, but opponents are continuing to put pressure on him by promising economic consequences.

Actress Alyssa Milano is leading the charge in Hollywood and has rallied many in the film industry to threaten a boycott on film shoots in Georgia, one of the most popular states for film productions because of its tax incentives.

The Writers Guild of America, which represents many screenwriters in addition to the HuffPost staff, released a statement saying that if Kemp signs the law, “it is entirely possible that many of those in our industry will either want to leave the state or decide not to bring productions there. Such is the potential cost of a blatant attack on every woman’s right to control her own body.”

It’s part of a larger trend.

Fetal heartbeat bills have been popping up all around the country in Republican-controlled states. Governors in Mississippi and Kentucky both recently signed similar bills, and heartbeat legislation in Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas is expected to pass this year.

“Anti-abortion politicians continue to introduce and pass six-week abortion bans that are clearly unconstitutional and have been struck down by courts,” Katherine Ragsdale, interim president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, told HuffPost. “There is nowhere in the U.S. where anti-abortion politicians are not already attacking women’s access to abortion care.”

Kemp has until May 12 to sign the bill.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the results of a poll on Georgia residents’ views on abortion. It found 7 out of 10, not 7 out of 20, believe abortion should be legal.

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