Georgia abortion clinics could be shut down under a bill that passed a legislative committee Thursday.
The Senate Rules Committee also approved a second bill that puts doctors who perform abortions in greater jeopardy of being sued.
Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, introduced Senate Bill 209 March 3, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks. But as the Senate Rules Committee met to consider it this afternoon a new version was handed out that says abortions could be performed only in hospitals licensed to do so.
The switch in content surprised abortion rights advocates, who complained the process was deceptive.
“To put it in a nutshell abortions would be legal in Georgia, you just couldn’t get one,” said Janelle Yamarick, the community services director at Feminist Women’s Health Center of DeKalb County.
According to providers, nearly all abortions take place in Georgia’s 14 clinics and doctors offices, and no one knew how many hospitals in Georgia offered abortions on demand.
Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, a nurse by trade, said in the meeting that many hospitals are reticent to provide abortions.
Loudermilk said requiring the procedure to take place in hospitals would give women better access to emergency care in case something goes wrong.
Abortion providers, though, argue abortion is one of the safest procedures on the books.
“I do not know of any abortion deaths in Georgia in the last five years,” said Kay Scott, president of Planned Parenthood of the Southeast.
Scott said the switch in bills late Thursday afternoon left Planned Parenthood little time to bring experts to testify before the committee when it reconvenes Friday morning.
Committee Chairman Don Balfour, R-Snellville called for more time to think it over and discuss it again. The committee will meet Friday at 10 a.m. in room 450 of the Capitol.
Loudermilk agreed with Balfour that it would be best to reconsider it Friday
Loudermilk said after the meeting the changes in the bill were not an attempt to sneak them in. They occurred overnight as they considered previous testimony on the bill and worked in the fevered pitch of the clock ticking on this year’s session.
The bill faces a challenge in reaching the Senate floor by Wednesday, the 30th day of the 40-day session. Bills must typically pass from one chamber to the other by then to have a chance to become law this year.
The bill will have to be voted on twice in the Rules Committee because of the unusual route it traveled. Bills typically are assigned to other committees for discussion, such as Health and Human Services, then are sent to Rules which schedules them for debate.
However, Rules can also operate as a regular committee that considers legislation, according to Balfour. Rules will have to discuss it as the considering committee and vote to approve the bill or not. If the committee votes in favor of the bill Friday, it would still have to vote again next week to send it to the Senate floor for debate.
Loudermilk also brought up — and the Rules Committee discussed and passed — Senate Bill 210, which says that any doctor who performs an abortion that has not followed a series of state stipulated actions, such as notifying parents of a minor getting an abortion or performing an ultrasound for the women, can be sued for wrongful death.
Deadline drama over abortion legislation is also not unusual. Last year on Crossover Day, the Senate, after three hours of debate, approved a bill that makes it a crime to abort a fetus based on its race or gender.
On the final day of the 2010 session, meanwhile, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, prevented a vote on an abortion bill that supporters designed as a challenge to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade.