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"Fetal Pain" Bill Rejected By Georgia Court, Considered in Texas

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published
Credit: Flickr/Governor Rick Perry

Last week, the Superior Court of Fulton County temporarily suspended an abortion ban in Georgia that would have made pre-viability abortions illegal. The law would have criminalized most abortions starting at twenty weeks of pregnancy.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Georgia challenged the ban on behalf of three obstetrician-gynecologists who have patients in need of such medical care. According to the ACLU, the Georgia abortion ban offered very few and narrow exceptions for the life and health of the mother.

“This law places women in harm’s way by depriving them of the right to make their own serious medical decisions,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. “Politicians should not place ideology over a woman’s health.”

Very few abortions occur past five months, but the ACLU argued that there are a variety of reasons a woman would end a pregnancy past that point, including a threat to the woman’s health, the fetus has been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, the pregnancy has failed, or it is determined that a miscarriage is inevitable.

The Georgia abortion ban was set to take effect on January 1. The suspension of the ban could open the door for legal challenges against other states that have passed or are considering similar legislation, including Texas.

When the 83rd Texas Legislature convenes in January, access to abortion will be among the many issues that will be addressed by state lawmakers.

Specifically, some legislators will seek to implement further limitations on patients and doctors, including putting restrictions on rural access, preventing health care providers affiliated with abortion clinics from participating in the state’s Medicaid program, and a ban on abortion after twenty weeks.

The twenty week abortion bans have been called “fetal pain” bills by advocates. The name comes from the conclusion of some researchers that fetuses begin to feel pain around the twentieth week of development. Though medical experts and scientists dispute this claim, it is certainly a name that can have an emotional impact.

Earlier this month, Texas Governor Rick Perry said he is prepared to support a “fetal pain” bill that passes through the Legislature. During a speech at the Source for Women, a pregnancy crisis center in Houston, he said his goal “is to make abortion at any stage a thing of the past.”

Anti-abortion advocates saw a number of victories during the 82nd Texas Legislature in 2011, including the passage of a law that requires physicians to perform a sonogram 24 hours before a woman undergoes the controversial procedure.

While Republicans no longer have a supermajority in the Legislature, they still have a solid enough majority to pass additional abortion restrictions. If a "fetal pain" bill is passed, Texas will be the tenth state to implement such a law.

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