published Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Bill to limit abortions in Georgia stalls

  • photo
    Senate Rules Committee chairman Don Balfour said after a committee meeting that he decided to table a Senate bill because of concerns about changes to the bill that effectively would shut down abortion clinics in the state.
    Photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA—A push in the Georgia Legislature to ban abortions after 20 weeks appeared to stall Friday for this session.

Senate Rules Committee chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville, said after a committee meeting that he decided to table a Senate bill because of concerns about changes to the bill that effectively would shut down abortion clinics in the state.

“We were moving too fast on an idea that we need more time to think about and consider,” Balfour said.

State Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, last week introduced a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. He introduced a new version Thursday that also said abortions could be performed only in hospitals licensed to do them.

“I’m encouraged by some of the testimony we had on both sides,” Loudermilk said after Friday’s hearing. “This will give us the summer, the interim between sessions, to look at it.”

Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, sponsored a bill in the House that also would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. He said discussions with physicians and the anti-abortion leaders showed the issue likely needs more study.

“This is legislation that affects a lot of people’s personal lives and we have to vet it with all due diligence,” Peake said.

About 32,000 of the roughly 36,000 abortions that are performed in Georgia each year are performed in clinics and private doctors’ offices, said Earl Rogers with the Georgia Hospital Association. Shifting those to hospitals would present significant challenges for the state’s hospitals and could compromise hospital patients’ privacy, he said.

Abortion rights activists said they were surprised at the changes in the Senate bill introduced Thursday and scrambled to find experts to testify before the Rules Committee on Friday.

“Abortions would be legal in Georgia, but they would not be accessible” if the new version of the Senate bill were to pass, said Mary Beth Pierucci with Planned Parenthood Southeast.

She said the bill is unconstitutional and “a blatant attempt to prevent women from receiving constitutionally protected health care.” Lawmakers’ time would be better spent taking measures to educate young women to help prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place, she said.

Balfour said testimony from hospital groups and conversations he had with lawyers about the constitutionality of the bill influenced his decision to table it.

Pierucci said after the hearing that she felt the bill got a fair hearing and she was glad Balfour chose to table it.

Mike Griffin with Georgia Right to Life said he’s disappointed the Senate bill stalled because it “would have saved lives,” but he’s optimistic about another bill that did make it through the Senate Rules Committee Thursday.

That bill says doctors who perform abortions without following a series of steps outlined by the state can be sued for wrongful death. That bill will likely reach the full Senate floor next week.

That bill would have a chilling effect on doctors who perform abortions, Pierucci said, adding that she plans to remain vigilant because she “anticipates and expects” that some provisions from the bill that was tabled could be added to the bill that is likely to move forward this session.

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