Abortion bill set for rules committee vote today in state Senate

mlee@macon.comMarch 10, 2011 

ATLANTA -- The cluster of state troopers outside a state Senate hearing room turned out to be unnecessary Wednesday. The groups of passionate activists often seen at abortion bill events did not appear for the unusual hearing by the Senate Rules Committee on a new bill that would shorten the time frame for legal abortions.

Senate Bill 209 would ban most abortions after 20 weeks, a cut from the current time limit of the second trimester, 24 weeks.

Bill sponsor Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, said the 20-week mark is key because that’s when a fetus can start to feel pain.

Gwinnett County anesthesiologist Dr. Jim Froehlich testified that data and clinical examples prove fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks.

But Dr. Jeffrey Korotkin, an Atlanta obstetrician specializing in medically difficult pregnancies, countered that a reflex reaction to stimuli in a fetus does not equal pain.

The bill states that anesthesia is routinely given to 20-week and older fetuses in prenatal surgery, as part of the proof that they can feel pain.

Korotkin said he is not aware of any case of a fetus being given anesthesia.

Both doctors referenced scientific studies in reputable journals in an effort to prove their points.

Froehlich admitted it’s “not something you can easily measure,” but he stands by his interpretation of the data.

Loudermilk’s bill offers exceptions for pregnancies when the mother’s life is in danger or she’s at serious risk of debilitating injury. It also would except pregnancies where the life of one twin fetus is threatened by another.

In 2008, there were 1,540 late-term abortions in Georgia, according to anti-abortion activists, of roughly 38,000 total pregnancy terminations. But it’s not clear how many of those late-term abortions would be illegal under this bill. The statistics don’t specify if an abortion is done for medical or non-medical reasons.

Under the bill, a woman or her baby’s father could sue a doctor for terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks. And medical professionals found to have performed such an abortion would be turned over to their licensing board for unprofessional conduct.

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is carrying a nearly identical bill in the House, but it hasn’t yet had a hearing date.

A similar 20-week provision of a Utah law was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in 1996. Nebraska passed a law similar to Loudermilk’s last year. It’s not yet been tested in court.

The Senate bill was filed March 3 and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, the Senate president, assigned it to the Rules Committee for hearings.

Committee meetings are frequently called with only a day or so notice. Rules Chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville, promises a vote Thursday.

Then the bill would reappear in Rules for a chance to be assigned to the floor for a Senate vote.

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