'Prenatal murder' bill sparks anger in Georgia

'Prenatal murder' bill sparks anger in Georgia

March 15th, 2011 by Emily Bregel in News

Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, follows debate from House floor during the legislative session at the Capitol in Atlanta

A bill that appears to criminalize miscarriage, introduced in the Georgia General Assembly by a Marietta legislator, has riled national women's advocates.

House Bill 1, introduced by Rep. Bobby Franklin, R-Marietta, criminalizes all forms of abortion as "prenatal murder" and also could classify a miscarriage as a felony if the mother could not prove there was no "human involvement."

"The language is so broad it implies that women who have a miscarriage will have to demonstrate it as such to avoid" being charged with a felony, said Leola Reis, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Georgia. "Not only is that preposterous, but it could lead to more government intrusion into our medical lives."

Nearly one-fifth of known pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the Mayo Clinic, and many more occur before a woman even knows she's pregnant. Miscarriage typically occurs because the fetus is developing abnormally.

Franklin did not return calls seeking comment.

He has introduced the bill each year since 2002, but this year it has gone viral. Franklin's legislative assistant said blogs and social media have prompted an outcry even from callers outside the country.

"We've clearly received hundreds of calls on it," said Leigh Goff. "You can tell when something new has gone out, or it's been tweeted or some group has picked up on it. So many of the calls are not from Georgia. There have been international calls."

The bill has little chance of ever making it out of committee, according to Marshall Guest, press secretary for Speaker of the House David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. But nevertheless, advocates for women are outraged.

The bill has shown up in postings on websites ranging from the Huffington Post to Jezebel to Mother Jones.

"There's a new bill on the block that may have reached the apex [I hope] of woman-hating craziness," wrote Jen Phillips on Mother Jones.

Blogger Anna North cites some of the bill's "most insane provisions" on her blog for Jezebel, a website for women, and calls it an example of "legislative theater."

The legislation would hold a woman responsible for the health of her fetus, defined to include every stage of pregnancy from the moment of conception.

Reis said the language also appears to criminalize birth control that prevents implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine lining, including the birth control pill and an intrauterine device, or IUD.

The bill does not have the full backing of Georgia Right to Life, a group focused on protecting fetuses.

"We feel like there are other ways to accomplish the same goals, which is protection of the unborn," said Suzanne Ward of Georgia Right to Life.

The group is striving to give a fetus legal status as a person but aims to do that through a constitutional amendment defining "personhood" as beginning at the moment of conception.

Though Ward said the group supports the premise of Franklin's bill, "I think there's some language that may need to be changed" regarding miscarriage, she said.

Franklin has been a member of the House since 1996. His biography on the Georgia House of Representatives website states he has been called "the conscience of the Republican Caucus because he believes that civil government should return to its biblically and constitutionally defined role."

Contact staff writer Emily Bregel at ebregel@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6467.