This week The Daily Tribune News is running a special, four-part series taking a look at the biggest issues and legislative matters in the wake of the 2019 General Assembly session. Featuring …
This week The Daily Tribune News is running a special, four-part series taking a look at the biggest issues and legislative matters in the wake of the 2019 General Assembly session. Featuring insights and commentary from three local representatives, this series touches upon the hottest issues — resolved, and unresolved — from underneath the Gold Dome. Tuesday's installment focuses on the controversial "heartbeat bill," while Wednesday's installment focuses on changes coming to Georgia's voting system. Thursday's installment focuses on taxation, while Friday's installment puts a spotlight on some of the less publicized legislation passed and endorsed by local lawmakers.
In a legislative session teeming with controversial issues, few bills drew as much heated debate as House Bill 481. While officially titled the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, the piece of legislation is more famously known as the “heartbeat bill."
Under HB 481, essentially all abortions within the state — with exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or ones declared “medically futile” or "emergency situations" by physicians — that take place after a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected would be prohibited.
The bill, which cleared a final House vote 92-78 on March 29, awaits Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature.
Lawmakers were met by a deluge of pro-choice demonstrators on the final day the General Assembly convened. District 14 State Rep. Mitchell Scoggins (R- Cartersville) recounted the scene under the Gold Dome on Sine Die.
“The last day of session, a bunch of protestors and some Hollywood stars were there, and they had fake funerals for all of us that voted for the heartbeat bill out on the Capitol lawn parking lot that day,” he recalled at Monday morning’s Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce gathering. “So we thought that was pretty interesting.”
Scoggins was joined by two other lawmakers representing portions of Bartow County at Monday morning’s panel discussion — District 15 State Rep. Matthew Gambill (R-Cartersville) and District 16 State Rep. Trey Kelley (R-Cedartown.)
“As science gets better, you cannot refute the fact that science says that as early as six weeks, you can detect a beating heart inside a child in the womb,” Kelley said. “That didn’t exist 45 years ago when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade … now the opponents of the measure have to man up and say either one, you don’t believe science, or two, that you’re OK with taking the life of an infant in the womb once it has a heartbeat — that’s the point that’s getting missed by Hollywood.”
A bevy of celebrities — running the gamut from Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn and Ben Stiller to Alyssa Milano, Amy Schumer and Sarah Silverman — have threatened a boycott of Georgia if the LIFE Act becomes law. Meanwhile, the Writers Guild Of America issued a press release denouncing the bill as “a draconian anti-choice measure” that would make the entire state “an inhospitable place for those in the film and television industry to work.”
Kelley, who also serves as the House majority whip, responded to those criticisms.
“When we see these Hollywood protestors come to our state, that’s not all-encompassing of the film industry that exists in our state. The Hollywood studios don’t want us making movies in Georgia — they want movies being made in Hollywood, so they can pull out of their $20 million mansions, be five minutes to the studio, sell it, and then have us come watch it,” he said. “They don’t like the fact that Georgia has a better tax climate, better affordability for housing and is just a better overall state to do business that movies want to locate here. That’s why productions locate here, because we have transferrable tax credits … California, with their tax and spend policies, can’t afford the opportunities that we offer the film industry, and they don’t like it, so they try to attack us every way they can.”
Continuing, he said he doubts the boycott efforts will have much impact on Georgia’s film industry, which the State’s Department of Economic Development said had a total statewide economic impact of $9.5 billion in the 2017 fiscal year alone.
“Georgia is a conservative state, there has been no one who has shied away from that fact,” Kelley said. “It’s the same conservative values that allow us to be one of the lowest taxed-states in the country that have allowed us to govern in a fiscally conservative way where we do have a budget that is fiscally responsible that allows us to give targeted tax credits that benefit industry and draw people to our state.”
Nor did Kelley say he believes the bill will result in any other major industries or companies backing out of Georgia.
“We’ve heard these empty threats numerous times, but if someone were to leave, there will be somebody here to take their place,” he said. “What we know now about science is the fact that a heart can start beating as early as six weeks, and the fact is we are committed to protecting that unborn child in the womb.”
As written, HB 481 declares that “the State of Georgia, applying reasoned judgment to the full body of modern medical science, recognizes the benefits of providing full legal recognition to an unborn child above the minimum requirements of federal law,” adding “it shall be the policy of the State of Georgia to recognize unborn children as natural persons.”
It’s a sharp contrast to the prevailing attitudes on abortion on the West Coast, noted Scoggins.
“The Senate in California passed a bill last week Friday that allows colleges and state universities to pass out the abortion pill to students who may become pregnant and want to abort,” he said. “That is unbelievable to me, I cannot believe a state would do that.”
The repercussions of HB 481 becoming law could have a sweeping impact on Georgia’s legal and health care systems. Among other provisions, the bill makes several changes concerning abortion as a civil matter in Georgia, as well as outlining new procedures for physicians to follow during the course of an abortion.
HB 481 stipulates that “any woman upon whom an abortion is performed in violation of this code section” has the ability to “recover in a civil action from the person who engaged in such violation all damages available to her under Georgia law for any torts.” Furthermore, the bill states “in conducting an abortion, if the child is capable of sustained life, medical aid then available shall be rendered.”
Elsewhere in the bill language, the text declares “health records shall be available to the district attorney of the judicial circuit in which the act of abortion occurs, or the woman upon whom an abortion is performed resides.”
Other components of the bill would alter the State’s laws pertaining to homicide — “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 … is present,” the text reads — and even taxation, as the bill reclassifies any unborn child within the State with a detectable heartbeat as “a dependent minor.”
Alimony and child support would also be impacted by the law.
“The maximum amount of support which the court may impose on the father of an unborn child under this code section shall be the amount of direct medical and pregnancy-related expenses of the mother of the unborn child,” the bill language reads. “After birth, the provisions of this code shall apply in full.”
Several other states have passed similar “heartbeat bills,” including Arkansas, Iowa and North Dakota. However, in all three states the respective bills were later struck down as unconstitutional. The United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the laws from being enforced in Arkansas and North Dakota in 2015; an Iowa judge declared that state’s law to be a violation of its own constitution earlier this year.
Whereas those laws ended up being struck down by the courts, Kelley said he expects Georgia’s bill to fare much better in the face of any potential legal challenges.
“They may have been struck originally because we do see the court sometimes take a cautious approach, and we will see them initially strike them down,” he said. “We’ve seen a changing of the courts since Roe V. Wade was decided in the ‘70s. I mean, this isn’t 1973 anymore. We know that science is on our side with this argument.”
And the State, he said, is willing to take the battle all the way to Washington.
“In terms of the constitutionality, we believe that if this gets up to the Supreme Court, the way that this law is structured in terms of recognizing that the child has certain personhood characteristics in the womb, that it is prime to survive a challenge at the Supreme Court,” he said. “And I think Georgia is ready to defend that, if necessary.”