A controversial law that would effectively ban abortion in Georgia was heavily criticized during a March 19 legislative town hall held at Dunwoody City Hall.

State Sen. Sally Harrell, left, and state Rep. Mike Wilensky talk to constituents at a March 19 town hall at Dunwoody City Hall. (Dyana Bagby)

State Sen. Sally Harrell (D-Atlanta) and state Rep. Mike Wilensky (D-Dunwoody), whose districts include Dunwoody, hosted the town hall where many of the approximate 20 attendees questioned House Bill 481, the so-called “heartbeat bill.” Harrell and Wilensky oppose the bill, which is being battled mostly along party lines.

The bill would ban most abortions once a doctor can detect an embryo’s heartbeat in the womb, typically after about six weeks. The state’s current law allows abortions up to 20 weeks.

“Doctors are afraid of being criminalized if they miss a heartbeat … and there more than 70 counties in Georgia with no OB/GYN,” Harrell said. “This law basically outlaws abortion in Georgia.”

Wilensky said the bill is unconstitutional and if it became law would immediately be challenged in court.

A Senate vote on HB 481 is expected on Friday, March 22, Harrell said. The bill narrowly passed in the House earlier this month during an emotional day at the Gold Dome that included Democrats turning their backs on the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Ed Seltzer, when he introduced the legislation.

Before the vote, several lawmakers made passionate pleas to oppose the measure, including state Rep. Deborah Silcox (R-Sandy Springs) who tearfully said she was voting against the bill, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Harrell noted many in the medical community oppose the restrictive bill because it could criminalize doctors while also hurting chances for rural communities to attract OB/GYNs where there are currently none.

The “unborn child” as described in HB 481 is also able to be considered a tax write off as a dependent, Wilensky explained. But nobody has determined how much that could cost the state, he said.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.