ATLANTA — Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia's "heartbeat" bill Tuesday, which will outlaw abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy -- around the time backers say a fetal heartbeat is detectable.
The law takes effect January 1, 2020 – plenty of time for a legal challenge that critics say is a sure thing. A court could put the law on hold even longer. The measure is a law long sought by Georgia’s pro-life community.
Before he signed it, Gov. Kemp called it a law that makes a declaration: "A declaration that all life has value, that all life matters and that all life is worthy of protection."
And it’s part of a nationwide effort. Georgia is one of six states that have passed heartbeat bills. But the measures have been blocked in North Dakota and Iowa, with lawsuits pending in Mississippi, Ohio and Kentucky. At least 6 other states are considering similar measures, while Alabama is debating a bill that would criminalize almost all abortions.
"I think the people of Georgia – once the shrill attacks of the opponents sort of fade in the background-- the common sense of Georgians will kick in and recognize House Bill 481 is a commonsense measure we can all be proud of," said the bill sponsor, state Rep. Ed Setzler (R-Austell).
Opponents of the bill lobbied unsuccessfully for weeks to quash the heartbeat bill. They say it will cost taxpayers to fight it in court. They also say it will drive obstetricians and gynecologists out of the state – even those who merely talk to patients about abortion options.
"It really is, in effect, an abortion ban," said Laura Simmons of NARAL ProChoice Georgia. "And it really criminalizes the practice of providing abortions, so you’re creating liabilities for doctors that’s sometimes just too much for them to face."
Backers of the heartbeat bill acknowledge that physicians lobbied against it. But they don’t expect an exodus of OB-GYNs.
"I cannot tell you how many OB-GYNs have come to me and said, 'thank you, thank you, thank you for this,'" Setzler told reporters Tuesday after the bill signing.
Opponents are confident they can at least stall the heartbeat law in court. They also acknowledge that the US Supreme Court is more friendly to pro-life bills like this one than it has been in nearly 50 years.
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