The first bill prefiled for the 2023 legislative session takes aim at one of the hottest political topics in Georgia, a law that bans abortions at around six weeks of pregnancy.
House Bill 1 (HB 1) would require the state to pay for many of the costs of having and caring for a child for mothers who would like to have had an abortion but were prohibited from doing so by the Georgia law that prohibits the procedure after fetal cardiac activity can be detected.
Democratic state Rep. Dar’Shun Kendrick of Lithonia filed the proposal last week, gaining the coveted “HB 1” designation. The bill is officially titled The Georgia Pro-Birth Accountability Act.
Georgia’s abortion ban dates back to 2019, when the Republican-led General Assembly approved – and GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed – a law that bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The law, alternatively known as the Heartbeat Bill or The LIFE Act, was blocked from taking immediate effect by federal courts.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the landmark abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade last summer opened the door for the Georgia ban to take effect. Pro-choice groups challenged the law in the state courts, and the matter is currently before the Georgia Supreme Court.
Last week, the high court said the law could remain in effect while the case is pending.
House Bill 1 is based on the assumption that the abortion ban will remain in effect. The proposal requires the state to cover a wide range of expenses for mothers who otherwise would have had abortions if not for the ban.
Those expenses include medical, legal, and psychological expenses related to the pregnancy and postpartum period. The bill also requires the state to provide financial and food assistance to the woman as well as her child until the child is 18. If the mother is disabled due to the pregnancy, or if the child is born with a disability, the state would also cover those costs.
The legislation would require the state to pay child support to an unmarried woman if the father cannot or will not pay child support. It also would require the state to fund an IRS 529 savings trust that would help pay for the child’s higher education.
Women would be able to qualify for the program by filing an affidavit with the state’s Department of Human Services stating that they would have had an abortion if not for the Georgia ban on abortions.
Kendrick said she filed the bill to make a point, although she is aware it has little chance of success in the state House next year.
“If we want to say we are a pro-life state, then we need to put our money where our mouth is, that means childcare, that means the mother’s expenses. That means helping raise the child from birth to age 18 and not just caring about the nine months that they’re in the womb,” Kendrick said. “We’ll see where the priorities lie, because if we do have a surplus, if we continue to have one, there’s no reason that we can’t fund this.”
Kendrick said she requested a fiscal analysis of how much the proposal would cost and will make that information public when she receives it.
“This is essentially a bill to see who is going to stand up on those principles and … who is, as I suspect, really just trying to control women’s reproductive rights.”
Republicans, including Kemp, have argued the legislature has taken steps to create a pro-life culture in the state, such as passing measures that make it easier for Georgians to adopt and expanding postpartum Medicaid for new mothers for up to a year after delivery.
“[We] are committed to continuing Georgia’s reputation of being a state that protects life at all stages,” Kemp said in May when he signed a law that allows nonprofits and religious institutions to set up free maternity homes for pregnant women and new mothers.
Republican Rep. Ed Setzler of Acworth, who sponsored the 2019 abortion law, criticized Kendrick’s bill. (Setzler was recently elected to the state Senate and will begin his term in January after 17 years in the state House.)
“Upon cursory review, it’s obvious that Representative Kendrick is putting forth a cynical, non-serious bill candidly trivializing the value of human life,” said Setzler.
The state legislature is set to begin the 2023 session Jan. 9.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.