May 2, 2012 — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on Tuesday signed into law legislation (HB 954) that prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except to save a woman's life or if the fetus has severe defects that make survival unlikely, Reuters/Chicago Tribune reports (Beasley, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 5/1). The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2013 (Torres, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/1).
The state currently prohibits abortion in the third trimester (Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 5/1). Proponents of the new law wanted the limit lowered to 20 weeks because they claim fetuses can feel pain at that point, a notion that is disputed by medical experts. The law makes Georgia the eighth state to ban abortion later in pregnancy based on the "fetal pain" claim.
Doctors who violate the law's requirements could face felony charges and up to 10 years in prison, although the legislation protects doctors from civil suits (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/1).
The General Assembly passed the bill at the very end of the legislative session after reaching a compromise on language regarding when "medically futile" pregnancies would be exempt from the 20-week ban. A Senate-approved version had exempted pregnancies in which the fetus had congenital or chromosomal defects, but the final version defines medically futile as severe and "irremediable" anomalies that are "incompatible with sustaining life after birth" (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/2).
Georgia Right to Life expressed disappointment that the exception was included but said the bill is "a step in the right direction" (Reuters/Chicago Tribune, 5/1).
Leola Reis, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said, "Women should not be forced to adhere to legislative directives that are based on unsound medical science" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 5/1).