Georgia House Passes Anti-Abortion ‘Heartbeat’ Bill

A group of Democrats initially stood with their backs turned to state Rep. Ed Setzler as he introduced an anti-abortion bill Thursday. The Georgia House passed the legislation, which bans abortion once a heartbeat has been detected in a fetus. The bill now moves to the state Senate.

Emma Hurt / WABE

The Georgia House passed a strong anti-abortion bill Thursday night, after more than an hour of emotional debate on both sides.

HB 481 bans abortion once a heartbeat has been detected in a fetus, which is about six weeks. Abortion-rights advocates consider it an effective ban on the procedure, as some women do not even know they’re pregnant at that point.

Its sponsor, Republican Rep. Ed Setzler argued the bill is about protecting life and favoring adoption. Setzler himself was adopted.

“We recognize the preciousness of human life, and what HB 481 is it seeks to recognize that the child in the womb — that is living and distinct from their mother — has a right of life that is worthy of protection,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a partisan issue that a child in a womb has a right to full protection.”

Among the voices in opposition, Democratic Rep. Beth Moore evoked religion to make a point about a woman’s choice.

“God was intentional when he gave women the power and the privilege of childbearing. Not men, not governments. If you trust God, then you must trust women, and you must vote no on HB 481.”

Rep. Deborah Silcox was one of the few Republicans who voted against it. She spoke through tears about the thousands of constituents she has heard from who oppose the bill.

“And so I rise to vote against this bill. And I rise for my constituents and for those people because I was sent here by them, to vote for them. I just pray, Lord, that your will be done, and I pray, Father, for the great state of Georgia.”

Democratic Rep. Bee Nguyen referenced an amendment made to the bill in committee the day before that creates an exception for victims of rape and incest only after a police report is filed. She argued that’s still an unreasonable hurdle for those victims.

“When we talk about human life and protecting innocent children, why are we not talking about protecting the lives of women and girls? Who protects these victims of rape and incest?”

Rep. Erica Thomas, who is pregnant and due in August, also spoke regarding her decision to have her baby.

“But that decision was my husband and I’s decision to make. And no one in this chamber had the right to make that choice for me and my family.”

A vocal anti-abortion advocate, Gov. Brian Kemp urged the House to pass the measure.

In a statement, he said, “This is a powerful moment in Georgia. It’s bigger than politics and partisanship. Let’s champion life today and ensure that all Georgians — including the unborn — have the chance to live, grow, and prosper.”

After the debate, House Speaker David Ralston confirmed Kemp wanted the House to take up the measure.

“It was a tough issue on both sides, and I respect that. But there was no excuse for the rules being violated.” A group of Democrats had initially stood with their backs turned to Setzler as he introduced the bill and sat back down after Ralston addressed it.

Rep. Renitta Shannon was removed from the floor after continuing to speak past the time limit allotted by the speaker and after her mic was turned off.

She met dozens of abortion-rights supporters in the rotunda after the vote, calling the handful of members who excused themselves from voting on the bill “cowards.”

Susan Morel was one of the supporters. A student from metro Atlanta, she came to oppose the bill.

“I feel like this has disillusioned a lot of us. People have been here since 8 in the morning,” she said. “I’m incredibly passionate about everybody’s humanity being recognized. And my issue with this bill is that it absolutely does the exact opposite of that. Women’s integrity is being erased.”

Staci Fox, CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast,  said voters are watching the measure and the lawmakers who support it very closely.

“I think if our elected officials don’t understand that voting against women isn’t a litmus test in  the ballot box, then they are not paying attention,” she said. “We are absolutely paying attention, and we are coming for their seats.”

The bill now moves to the state Senate.