How does Alabama's near-total abortion ban bill compare to Georgia's 'fetal heartbeat' law?

Nate Chute
Montgomery Advertiser

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – In 2019, more than a dozen states have either passed or attempted to pass stricter abortion legislation. Alabama's Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would be the most restrictive in the nation. 

Georgia's Gov. Brian Kemp has already signed a bill that would make performing an abortion illegal once a heartbeat is detected. That new law is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Two other states – Ohio and Mississippi – have passed similar legislation. The bills are expected to face litigation.

Here are similarities and differences between the Georgia law and the proposed Alabama law: 

When can you get an abortion?

Current state law in both states outlaws abortion after 20 weeks unless the woman's health is at risk. Georgia's newly signed law would change the time period to six weeks of pregnancy, a time period in which many critics say many women aren't yet aware of their pregnancy.

Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signs legislation banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected in Atlanta on May 7, 2019.

Alabama lawmakers in the House and Senate have sent a bill to Gov. Kay Ivey's desk that would ban nearly all abortions in the state at any stage of the pregnancy unless the mother’s physical or mental health is in jeopardy.

In Alabama:Alabama Senate approves near-total ban on abortion; sends bill to the governor

In Georgia:Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signs fetal heartbeat bill, one of most restrictive abortion laws in nation

What about in cases of rape or incest?

The law Kemp signed in May does include an exception in cases of rape and incest. As the law is written, it requires that the pregnancy is at 20 weeks or less and an official police report must be filed alleging the rape and/or incest.

The same is currently true for Alabama but the state's House passed a bill without an exception for rape and incest. The Senate weighed an amendment from Democrats asking for an exemption in cases of rape and incest, which failed to pass. The Senate passed the bill without exemptions and sent it to the governor. 

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If abortions are a crime, what is the penalty? Who is liable?

Currently, breaking abortion law in Georgia can be punished with imprisonment "for not less than one nor more than 10 years." The newly signed bill gives no indication as to who would be charged with penalties and what, if any, those penalties would be.

Bianca Cameron-Schwiesow, a protester of Alabama's near-total abortion ban bill, is dressed as a handmaid while waiting outside of the Alabama statehouse after HB 314, passed the state Senate in Montgomery, Alabama, on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

Some have speculated that since the bill recognizes unborn children as "natural persons," that women who choose abortion or miscarry or the medical professionals who help them, would face murder charges, but the term has been used routinely in the previous criminal code, which the measure does not repeal.

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Alabama's bill would punish a doctor or abortion provider who performs a procedure with a Class A felony – punishable by life or 10 to 99 years in prison. Attempting to perform an abortion would be a Class C felony, punishable by one to 10 years in prison. The woman seeking an abortion would not face charges under the bill.

Alabama Rep. Terri Collins, a Republican from Decatur who sponsored the bill, says the purpose of the bill is to challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. 

"The heart of this bill is to confront a decision that was made by the courts in 1973 that said the baby in the womb is not a person," Collins said. "This bill addresses that one issue. Is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our law says it is. I believe our people say it is. And I believe technology shows it is."

Nate Chute is a producer with the USA Today Network. Follow him on Twitter: @nchute

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