ATLANTA — As a Republican lawmaker seeks to ban most women from getting abortions 20 weeks after fertilization, a Democratic lawmaker protested the move Tuesday by introducing a bill that would drastically limit vasectomies.
Each bill faces hurdles to passage, though they illustrate the stark divide over abortion in Georgia's General Assembly. Republican Rep. Doug McKillip of Athens has written legislation that would effectively outlaw abortion 20 weeks after an egg is fertilized, the point where the lawmaker said fetuses can feel pain. He would make exceptions for pregnancies threatening the life or health of the mother, but not for reasons involving mental health.
After the 20-week mark, doctors would be required to end a pregnancy in a manner most likely to help the fetus survive. About a half-dozen states have enacted so-called "fetal pain" bills, including one being challenged in federal court in Idaho.
Doctors' groups and other experts testified during a committee hearing that establishing a 20-week rule could force prospective parents to make a decision on ending pregnancies before having all the information available from genetic tests that can reveal whether a fetus has severe physical problems.
"People could be making decisions on information that is not definitive," said Dan Wiesman, a certified genetic counselor at Emory Healthcare.
The other legislation would outlaw vasectomies except in cases where a man's life or health was in danger, though the sponsor of the tongue-in-cheek bill acknowledged she didn't know if that medically existed.
"Women's reproductive rights are always debated," said Democratic Rep. Yasmin Neal. "No one ever talks about the male side of the issue. We just want them to know how it feels just this once. ... It's about fairness and showing how preposterous the abortion bill is."
Abortion in Georgia is legal during the first two trimesters of pregnancy. During the last three months, doctors can only perform abortions to protect the life or health of the mother.
Dr. Anne Patterson, who testified on behalf of the Georgia Obstetrics and Gynecological Society, said she was unaware of any scientific studies showing that fetuses can feel pain before week 24 of a pregnancy. She also questioned whether the proposed cutoff could rush a woman's decision on whether to get an abortion, or simply drive women to other states with more lenient laws.
McKillip's bill is similar to legislation that failed last year. He said his bill would give doctors and parents enough time.
"They can get all those tests done in time," he said. "They just don't like the line we've drawn."
McKillip has support from House Speaker David Ralston, who told reporters that he would support the measure. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal refused to comment on the proposal, saying the legislation had not yet reached his desk.
Other recently filed legislation also wades into sexual politics. Republican Sen. Josh McKoon filed a bill last week that would prevent religious organizations from being forced to provide health insurance plans to their employees that cover contraception.