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Georgia House passes ban on ‘fetal heartbeat’ abortions

Pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion demonstrators displayed their signs in the lobby of the Georgia State Capitol building during the 35th legislative day at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Friday, March 22, 2019.
Pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion demonstrators displayed their signs in the lobby of the Georgia State Capitol building during the 35th legislative day at the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta, Friday, March 22, 2019.(Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Georgia state legislators passed one of the nation’s most divisive abortion bans on Friday, which would prohibit the termination of a pregnancy after a fetal heatbeat is detected — as early as six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant.

The vote came shortly after Republican Representative Ed Setzler, who sponsored the legislation, called it an effort to establish full legal protections for fetuses and said it was an attempt to outlaw abortion, ‘‘in the highest courts of the land.’’

Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, is expected to sign the bill into law, and he released a statement praising its passage.

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The bill attracted national attention and prompted fierce protests from abortion rights advocates as Setzler called for Republicans to pass the measure so that Kemp can ‘‘recruit the best legal team in the nation’’ to gut Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide.

The legislation narrowly made it through the House on Friday, receiving 92 votes, just one more than the necessary to pass. Seventy-eight representatives opposed the measure. The Georgia Senate passed the bill earlier this month in a party-line vote.

Setzler said ‘‘common-sense Georgians’’ prevailed.

‘‘This bill recognizes the fundamental life of the child in the womb is worthy of legal protection,’’ he said.

Activists have rallied at the state house to protest the legislation, chanting ‘‘shame’’ and ‘‘dissent’’ while clad in the red cloaks and white bonnets of characters from ‘‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’’ a book and TV series that depicts a dystopian future where women are enslaved to rear children. The protestors have been an almost daily presence, along with heavy security.

On the other side, some antiabortion advocates have said the bill isn’t strict enough. Georgia Right To Life executive director Zemmie Fleck sent a letter to the group’s supporters Tuesday asking them to urge lawmakers to oppose the measure, arguing that the bill’s exceptions for medical emergencies, rape, and incest, when reported to police, are discriminatory toward the unborn.

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‘‘Georgia Right to Life was hopeful,’’ Fleck wrote. ‘‘We are saddened that the bill discriminates against classes of innocent human beings.’’

The day before the vote, US Representative Lucy McBath, Democrat of Georgia, who was part of the historic wave of Democratic women elected to Congress in 2018, called on state leaders to oppose the bill.

Other prominent advocates — from Stacey Abrams, a rising star on the left who unsuccessfully ran for Georgia governor in 2018, to Hollywood activists like Alyssa Milano — took to social media throughout the week, asking legislators to reject the restrictions in Georgia.

They both signed a letter opposing the bill, joining the labor organizer Aij-en Poo, executives from Coca-Cola and Amazon and 90 other Georgia business leaders who said the measure would ‘‘take the state in the wrong direction.’’

After the vote, more cries of ‘‘shame’’ echoed through the chamber.

‘‘This is an all-out assault on the reproductive health and safety of Georgia women,’’ said Laura Simmons, the Georgia state director for the pro-abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice. ‘‘This cruel, unconstitutional bill is part of an extreme GOP agenda to strip freedoms from women and could not be further from the values that most Georgians hold.’’

Georgia is one of at least 11 states to introduce so-called heartbeat bills this year.