Ga. Senate Committee Advances 'Fetal Pain' Bill

March 21, 2012 — A Georgia Senate committee on Monday approved a bill (HB 954) that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, when supporters of the measure claim that a fetus can start to feel pain, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Doug McKillip (R), would reduce the time frame for legal abortion in Georgia by six weeks. The measure would impose felony charges on doctors convicted of violating its provisions, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison (Torres, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/19).

Under current law, abortion care in the last three months of pregnancy is permitted to protect the life or health of the woman. McKillip's bill does not include an exception to protect a woman's mental health, which is allowed under current law. The bill also would not allow exceptions for cases of incest (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/1).

Opponents of the bill said it would legislate doctors' decisions, force women to carry pregnancies to term when it is known that the fetus would be delivered stillborn and make it risky for doctors to handle complicated pregnancies.

The bill drew testimony from both sides. Physician Anne Patterson, a maternal and fetal medicine specialist, testified that medical experts do not believe a fetus can feel pain until about 28 weeks. However, another physician, Kathleen Raviele, said that fetuses have "a reasonable chance of survival outside the womb" after 20 weeks.

Lynn Hogue, an emeritus law professor at Georgia State University, said the Supreme Court has repeatedly found that "viability means the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb" and that the bill would not meet that standard (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 3/19).