A controversial bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected passed a Georgia House committee on Wednesday.
A fetal heartbeat can be found as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant.
House Bill 481, called Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act, would prohibit abortions after that point, which would dramatically restrict abortions in Georgia, where women are now allowed to undergo the procedure up to their 20th week of pregnancy.
"No abortion is authorized or shall be performed if the unborn child has been determined to have a human heartbeat," the bill states, unless the pregnancy risks the life or poses substantial and irreversible physical harm to the pregnant woman.
Other states have introduced similar bills
The Georgia fetal heartbeat bill is one of many that has been introduced in state legislatures across the country, including Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Arkansas, Minnesota and Tennessee. No state has been able to put a heartbeat bill into lasting practice.
They typically get stuck in committees, vetoed by governors and nullified in courts. In January, an Iowa judge struck down that state's fetal heartbeat bill, declaring it unconstitutional.
The US Supreme Court has previously declined to weigh in after lower courts blocked bills in North Dakota and Arkansas.
Georgia governor supports bill
After passing the committee, HB 481 can head to the House floor for debate and come up for a vote Thursday. If the bill passes the House, it would then head to the state Senate, which also has a Republican majority, next week.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp who calls himself "unapologetically pro-life" has stated on his campaign website: "I support a 'Heartbeat Bill' that outlaws abortions after six weeks."
The bill's author, state Rep. Ed Setzler, a Republican, called his bill "medically sound and legally sound" during his remarks to the House committee Wednesday.
"Life in the womb is sacred and worthy of full legal protections," he said. "When there is a beating heart, that's a human being worthy of protection."
The bill states that "unborn children shall be worthy of recognition as natural persons under the laws of this State" which would qualify them for state income tax deductions and "state population based determinations."
"What I can tell you about these abortion bans across the country, they're not to protect the life of the mother nor life of the embryo," said Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon, a Democrat.
"We're deeply concerned about the effects of Republicans playing politics with women's lives."