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"Fetal heartbeat" abortion ban approved by Georgia lawmakers

The Georgia House gave final approval Friday to a "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban outlawing almost all abortions in the state -- bucking intense opposition from abortion rights groups, citizens and doctors. 

A heartbeat can be detected in an embryo as early as six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant. Women in Georgia can currently seek an abortion during the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy. 

The ultimate goal is to get a case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.     

The bill, House Bill 481, now goes to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who supports it. In a statement Friday, he thanked the lawmakers "for their leadership" and applauded "their undeniable courage."

"Georgia values life," he said. "We stand up for the innocent and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. The legislature's bold action reaffirms our priorities and who we are as a state."

Others, however, have opposed the bill. A group of women dressed as characters from "The Handmaid's Tale," which depicts a dystopian future where women are controlled by the government and forced to breed, protested the bill at the Georgia Capitol. The activists, in red cloaks and white bonnets, have been an almost daily presence ever since the House passed the measure earlier this month.

Activists in red cloaks and white bonnets have been an almost daily presence ever since the House passed the measure earlier this month.  WGCL-TV

Two influential groups, the Medical Association of Georgia and the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians, sent letters to lawmakers opposing the legislation. And the ACLU of Georgia said they would challenge the bill, which they called "unconstitutional."

"The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear," Sean Young with the ACLU of Georgia said, CBS affiliate WGCL-TV reported. "A woman has a constitutional right to an abortion before the point of viability, and there is not a single scientist or even politician who will assert that a six-week-old embryo can survive outside of a uterus."

The Georgia bill makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest — but only when the woman files a police report first — and to save the life of the mother. It also allows for abortions when a fetus is determined to be not compatible with life due to serious medical issues. If signed and not blocked in court, the law would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

GOP lawmakers in Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina and Ohio are pursuing similar legislation, while Republican governors in Mississippi and Kentucky have recently signed heartbeat abortion bans.

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