Georgia Governor Brian Kemp will sign the state's "fetal heartbeat bill" today

By Kate Smith

/ CBS News

Ga. governor to sign "heartbeat" abortion bill

On Tuesday morning Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp plans to sign the state's controversial "Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act", a piece of legislation that would ban all abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected.

That usually happens about five to six weeks into a pregnancy — before most women know that they're pregnant — leading abortion rights advocates to call the bill a de facto ban on abortion in the state.

The law is poised to become one of the most restrictive pieces of anti-abortion access laws in the country. The American Civil Liberties Union has vowed to file a complaint against the legislation long before January 2020, when the policy change is scheduled to be implemented. The bill includes an exception for rape, incest, and situations when the mother's health is at risk.

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So-called "heartbeat bills" like Georgia's have become a popular tool among states looking to reduce abortion access. At least 15 states have introduced similar legislation this year and the governors of Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have signed theirs into law. None of those laws have been successfully enacted, according to the reproductive health research organization the Guttmacher Institute.

Experts say those laws aim to serve a broader purpose: providing legal fodder to begin the long legal battle necessary to overturn, or at least undermine, Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that protects a woman's right to an abortion up until fetal viability, which is typically around 24 to 25 weeks.

Emboldened by the addition of conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the nation's highest court, states have introduced and passed more anti-abortion access legislation than ever before, said Elizabeth Nash, a senior state issues manager at Guttmacher.

"The surge in attempts to ban abortion in the earliest stages of pregnancy underscores that the end goal of anti-abortion politicians and activists is to ban all abortion — at any point during pregnancy and for any reason," Nash said in an email to CBS News Monday.

This year alone, state lawmakers have introduced more than 250 bills restricting abortion access, according to a study conducted by Planned Parenthood and Guttmacher last month. And six-week abortion bans, like Georgia's, are up by 62 percent, according to the study.

Many of those restrictions have been blocked by federal judges, the first step in a long legal battle to get the legislation in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, said Nash. States can then appeal the decision, and if they're denied again they can submit another appeal to the Supreme Court, which can choose whether or not they want to take the case, according to Nash. For conservative lawmakers interested in overturning or eroding abortion access, this appellate path is the only way to substantively chip away at Roe v. Wade, which is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

"This legislative session could turn out to be the most harmful for women's health in decades," said Dr. Leana Wen, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in an email to CBS News on Tuesday. "It's no coincidence: with Trump in the White House and Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, anti-women's health politicians are pushing an extreme agenda to take away all access to safe, legal abortion."

Georgia's bill has been the target of intense scrutiny by Hollywood. A petition started by Alyssa Milano last month, who at the time was in Atlanta shooting for the Netflix show "Insatiable," was signed by more than 100 celebrities, including Amy Schumer, Alec Baldwin and Judd Apatow. Milano wrote that if the bill passed, "we cannot in good conscience continue to recommend our industry remain in Georgia."

The letter also noted that if members were to boycott filming in Georgia, "the cost would be most deeply felt by the residents of Georgia — including those who directly work in the film and television industry, and those who benefit from the many millions of dollars it pours into the local economy."

At an event in March, Kemp said the entertainment industry employs 200,000 Georgians and generated more than $60 billion of economic activity for the state.

Prior to Tuesday's legislation, Georgia politicians have already passed a host of anti-abortion access laws, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Women in Georgia are required to wait 24 hours between requesting and obtaining an abortion in the state and minors are required to notify their parents.

First published on May 6, 2019 / 6:46 PM

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