New Laws Restrict Abortion, Outlaw Assisted Suicide
Published: May 10, 2012
ATLANTA—Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed into state law two bills that promote the sanctity of life: House Bill 954, which prohibits most abortions performed 20 weeks after fertilization, and HB 1114, which outlaws assisted suicide.
The signing took place May 1 following the passage of both bills and after a final vote on HB 954 that took place just about half an hour before the session’s close on March 29.
In its original form, HB 954 would have prohibited all abortions 20 weeks after fertilization, which is 22 weeks gestation, when the unborn child is capable of feeling pain.
Mary Boyert, director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Ministry, said, “As stated in the bill, the unborn child is capable of feeling pain at 20 weeks fertilization. There is some controversy on this fact, but we feel the evidence is there.”
The state Senate initially passed the bill with an amendment that weakened its life-affirming status that would have allowed abortion for an anomaly “incompatible with life.” The House disagreed with the Senate version, and a back-and-forth process began.
With the growing threat of losing the entire bill, the House and Senate sponsors negotiated, trying to find a way to pass the bill. Boyert worked closely with legislators and many others in the halls who were supporting the bill.
A press conference was called the evening of March 29 to announce that a compromise had been reached. The final version of the bill contained a provision allowing abortion when the unborn child has “a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal anomaly that is incompatible with sustaining life after birth.”
Gov. Nathan Deal signed the Fetal Pain (House Bill 954) and Assisted Suicide (House Bill 1114) bills on May 1. Supporters and sponsors of House Bill 954 gathered for a photo following the signing. They included (front row, l-r) Sybil Lash of Silent No More, Rep. Donna Sheldon of Dacula, Rep. Doug McKillip of Athens, Mary McKillip, Nancy Stith of Georgia Right to Life; (second row, l-r) Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, Mike Griffin of Georgia Right to Life, Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth; (third row, l-r) Frank Mulcahy, executive director of the Georgia Catholic Conference, Pat Chivers, communications director for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Karen LaBarr and Dan Becker of Georgia Right to Life; and (back row, center) Steve Bowman of Georgia Right to Life. (Photo by Michael Alexander)
In addition, as the bill stated, this diagnosis “must be a medical judgment that would be made by a reasonably prudent physician, knowledgeable about the case and the treatment possibilities with respect to the medical conditions involved.” The compromise allowed the Senate version to prevail, but the exception is much more clearly defined.
While the Respect Life Ministry states it cannot endorse this exception because it does not protect all children after 20 weeks, it acknowledged that passage of HB 954 will immediately save many lives by prohibiting all “elective” abortions after 20 weeks, as well as those for conditions such as Down Syndrome, as well as for rape or incest.
The “life of the mother” exception is now truly for the life of the mother only, and not the permissive “health” exception in our current law, wrote Boyert in an email. She added that the bill should also cut down on abortions performed on women coming from other states where the laws are more restrictive.
HB 954 was sent to the governor’s office on April 5 and signed on May 1. Boyert said the church would continue to work for legal protection of all unborn children from the moment of conception.
“While the results were not totally what we wanted, we can be pleased that Georgia is moving forward in protecting life,” wrote Boyert. “Those who support abortion were working feverishly the entire time, trying to stop HB 954, with some even making false claims about features of the bill. Many of the legislators had moments of deep personal anguish, with passions running high on all sides.”
The final version of HB 1114 also passed through both chambers and was signed by Gov. Deal on May 1. This bill will prohibit assisted suicide, that is, the act of physically helping or physically providing the means for a person to take his or her own life. The bill includes exceptions for the administration of palliative care. The new law replaces a law whose weaknesses became apparent as a result of a recent decision of the Georgia Supreme Court.
“We were very supportive of this bill and were involved in its process from the beginning. There were some tense moments near the end, when there was a last-minute attempt to kill the bill. However, the House and Senate both agreed on a final version, which will truly prohibit assisted suicide in Georgia,” Boyert said.
“Our heroic champions in the House and Senate told us they could feel the support of those praying for them, and this helped to keep them going, even when they became discouraged,” she added.