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Battles lines being drawn in abortion fight

With Murphy gone, all bets are off


In the battle over abortion rights, Sonny Perdue's victory last fall didn't mean half as much as Tom Murphy's defeat. For almost 30 years, Murphy, as Georgia's House speaker, kept off the floor any bills that would have restricted a woman's right to choose.

Thanks to Murphy, Georgia has been an anomaly among Southern states. But now that he's been evicted, the plight of abortion rights fall to the next speaker, Rep. Terry Coleman. As speaker, Coleman is an unknown quantity; abortion-related bills that never saw the light of day under Murphy likely could be debated on the floor of the General Assembly, and, at most, could change forever the abortion landscape in Georgia.

Lawmakers like Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, are more than happy to oblige. Franklin is the author of the session's most inflammatory anti-abortion bill, one that would require that pregnant mothers obtain "death warrants" from a judge before having an abortion. Franklin's HB 1 doesn't stand a chance of passing, but a number of other abortion limits do.

Georgia legislators and lobbyists need only look at what's worked in other states before crafting their own bills. The South is full of examples, most of which are likely to pass muster in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, says Emory Law School professor David Garrow, who has written extensively about the Roe decision.

Here's a look at the bills likely to come up:

Informed consent and waiting periods

Rep. Len Walker, R-Loganville, already pre-filed a so-called "woman's right to know" bill. In states such as Arkansas, it's not enough for a counselor to explain the abortion procedure to a patient -- as is acceptable in Georgia. In Arkansas, at least 24 hours before the operation, a physician or physician's agent must go through a list of state-prescribed steps including telling the woman that the child's father must pay child support if she carries the pregnancy to term and that she can view state-provided materials that include pictures or drawings of the fetus at different stages of pregnancy.

In Arkansas, informed consent also involves a 24-hour waiting period. Walker's bill does the same and includes many of Arkansas' restrictions.

The rhetoric behind such bills suggests abortion clinics hoodwink women into abortions, don't tell them much about the procedure or any possible emotional impact. Truth is, clinics in Georgia must follow state Department of Human Resources guidelines that govern every surgical procedure performed in any type of clinic.

Critics say "informed consent" laws place additional financial and emotional burdens on pregnant women, especially those who have to travel long distances to a clinic, because they must spend an additional night on hotel accommodations and miss more work.

Still, of all the anti-abortion bills that will likely come before the Legislature this year, the informed consent bill has one of the best chances of passing. And it will likely withstand a federal court challenge, Garrow reasons.

"Unfortunately, given what's happened with [a similar] case in the 7th Circuit, and given that the composition of the 11th Circuit is significantly worse than the 7th, it would be almost certain that a 24-hour waiting period bill would be upheld," Garrow says.

Parental consent

This is self-explanatory. Currently Georgia requires parental notification for minors. Tennessee, however, stipulates that a minor must obtain the consent of at least one parent, except in the case of incest, before an abortion is performed. Its passage in other states makes introduction of a similar measure in Georgia a good bet.

Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers [TRAP]

Garrow points out that in South Carolina, abortion clinics are forced to deal with a mountain of regulations that clearly cross the line of relevancy, including rules that dictate the size of the air conditioning ducts inside the facilities. The idea is to make daily operations more complicated and expensive, thereby decreasing the likelihood a clinic will stay in business.

Booth notes that Georgia abortion clinics, until now, have escaped such onerous regulations.

Pre-abortion court hearings

Although Franklin's pre-filed "death warrant" bill won't go anywhere in the Legislature, it still worries abortion rights groups. It's being called a Trojan Horse measure. They believe Franklin's legislation allows abortion foes to change the focus of the debate and gives them the opportunity to point to more mainstream bills, such as Walker's "a woman's right to know," and spin those as "moderate" legislation.

Whether you're for abortion rights or against them, don't go placing bets on any one bill. And if anything does pass, it won't take too long for it to wind up in court. The question is, which court -- state or federal? Garrow guesses reproductive rights lawyers might get a more friendly listen from the Georgia Supreme Court "given the privacy jurisprudence we have from this court.

"Ideally, you could have two separate suits filed, one in federal, one in state, that purported to have nothing to do with one another, and then you have two bites of the apple to knock it off the table."

No matter what happens at the state level, with Republicans now in control of the presidency and both houses of Congress, there are likely to be new federal regulations.

A ban on so-called partial-birth abortions -- an extremely rare procedure in which the fetus is partially delivered before it is killed -- is likely to pass during this Congress. Also on the probably-will-pass list is a law that would make a criminal out of anyone who helps a minor cross state lines for an abortion without first following her home state's parental consent laws. (Georgia already bans partial-birth abortions except to protect the life and health of the mother.)

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