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Myth Busted: Georgia Heartbeat Bill Would Not Imprison Women For Miscarriages

The law contains reasonable exceptions for rape, incest, stillbirths, and medical emergencies.

Rumors have been going around that Georgia’s new fetal heartbeat law contains a number of onerous provisions. Opponents of the law claim that it would allow authorities to lock up women who have miscarriages or cross state lines to get abortions. If that sounds stupid enough to raise red flags with you, you aren’t alone. Rather than taking the internet’s word for it, I decided to go straight to the source to find the truth.

The text of HB 481, the “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act,” is readily available and the full bill runs less than 10 pages. With much of the text struck through from previous versions, it’s a quick read so I encourage others to read the bill as well. Quotations in this article are taken from the Georgia General Assembly website’s current version of the bill as of May 11, 2019. Here’s what the law actually says.

 The core provision of the law is the statement, “ Unless otherwise provided by law, any natural person, including an unborn child with a detectable human heartbeat, shall be included in population based [sic] determinations.” This means that unborn children with a detectable heartbeat are considered to be people for legal purposes. For example, the law specifically states that “any unborn child with a detectable human heartbeat… shall qualify as a dependent minor” for purposes of filing a Georgia income tax return.

The law also defines what an abortion is and is not. The new law defines abortion as the “act of using, prescribing, or administering any instrument, substance, device, or other means with the purpose to terminate a pregnancy with knowledge that termination will, with reasonable likelihood, cause the death of an unborn child.”

Further, the law provides two exceptions that it says will not be considered to be an abortion. These are “removing a dead unborn child caused by spontaneous abortion” and “removing an ectopic pregnancy.”

The law defines “spontaneous abortion” as “the naturally occurring death of an unborn child, including a miscarriage or stillbirth.” This definition puts lie to the claim that women could be prosecuted for a miscarriage.

The law is not a total abortion ban as it does provide limited exceptions that allow an abortion to take place after a heartbeat has been detected. These include cases of “rape or incest in which an official police report has been filed alleging the offense” and the “probable gestational age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or less” or when a “physician determines, in reasonable medical judgment, that the pregnancy is medically futile.”

The law defines “medically futile” to mean “in reasonable medical judgment, an unborn child has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal anomaly that is incompatible with sustaining life after birth.” Note that abortions performed when the pregnancy is deemed to be medically futile are not subject to the 20-week limitation.

The law further stipulates that “if the child is capable of sustained life, medical aid then available shall be rendered” and requires that abortions “performed after the first trimester” take place “in a licensed hospital, in a licensed ambulatory surgical center, or in a health facility licensed as an abortion facility by the Department of Community Health” and be performed by a licensed physician. If abortions are performed in violation of these requirements, the woman is entitled to collect civil damages, but this excludes the accidental results of treatment or if a “woman sought an abortion because she reasonably believed that an abortion was the only way to prevent a medical emergency.”

“Medical emergency” is defined as “a condition in which an abortion is necessary in order to prevent the death of the pregnant woman or the substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.” This exception does specifically exclude mental and emotional conditions as well as the threat that the “that the pregnant woman will purposefully engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death or in substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function.”

Penalties under the law are focused on abortionists, not mothers. The bill states, “In addition to any criminal or civil penalties provided by law, failure by any physician to conform to any requirement of this Code section constitutes unprofessional conduct for purposes of… to medical licensing sanctions.”

The law does amend the Georgia code to stipulate, “For the homicide of an unborn child, the right to recover for the full value of the life of such child shall begin at the point at which a detectable human heartbeat.” This does open the question of whether an abortion can be considered homicide when the law goes into effect next year. The law does not specifically address this question, but the implication considering a child to be a person is that it would.

While the new law does not specify penalties for the “homicide of an unborn child,” previous Georgia law already declared “feticide” and “voluntary manslaughter of an unborn child” to be a felony with a penalty of between one and 20 years. As previously written, the law excluded abortions, people providing medical treatment, and “any woman with respect to her unborn child” from prosecution. The State of Georgia would obviously have no jurisdiction in abortionist that take place in other states.

The outlandish claims being propagated by the pro-abortion crowd are easily debunked by reading the law’s text. The law contains reasonable exceptions for rape, incest, stillbirths, and medical emergencies. The law specifically protects women in the case of miscarriage and when their life is deemed to be in danger. Finally, the law does not create a criminal penalty for either abortionists or women who seek abortions. Instead, the focus is on preventing physicians from performing elective abortions under the threat of losing their medical licenses and facing civil penalties.

This myth is busted.

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