On Friday, the Georgia House approved a bill that would give millions of state dollars to pregnancy centers that discourage women from having an abortion.
The bill, which establishes a grant program that could give up to $2 million in state funding to what advocates term “positive alternative” pregnancy resource centers, passed 105-52 after a nearly hour-long heated debate.
House Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, told fellow Republicans the bill would give assistance to women who might otherwise choose an abortion.
“Our party has been a party pushing for decreased access to abortion facilities and has so stressed the need not to have abortions," she said. "I think we have a moral responsibility to say if you make this choice, if you choose life and you need help, we’ll be there to help you.”
The bill’s author, Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, has said there are about 70 centers statewide that currently provide women with services that encourage childbirth.
Under the measure, centers that qualify to receive the grant money would be prohibited from performing abortions and promoting or acting as a referral agency for abortion, unless a woman’s attending physician determines the pregnancy puts her life at risk. Pregnancies as a result of rape and incest are not included.
Critics argue the bill amounts to a politically motivated effort to prop up organizations that lure in uninsured and indigent women with the promise of free health care and pregnancy services, only to pressure them into giving birth. They also charge the centers lack professional medical oversight.
Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, said crisis pregnancy centers often mask the fact that they can’t provide any abortion services.
“And they often act without regard for the health consequences their actions have on women in a time of need,” she said.
The bill also drew some criticism from Republicans, too, who argue state dollars could affect ministry services provided at some clinics.
Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, said while he would vote in favor of the bill on the basis that it might "save one life someday somewhere," he had concerns.
"If the dollars we're investing to save lives undermines the ministry values of these organizations, I don't know if we've been a success," Setzler said. "We need to watch this like a hawk because the ministry focus of crisis pregnancy centers is more important than any simple provision of services."
The bill now heads back to the Georgia Senate so lawmakers can hammer out a final version of the bill.