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Senators pass abortion-related bills

ATLANTA - The Senate approved three Republican-backed bills Thursday directly or indirectly related to abortions in Georgia.

The measures, which passed back to back after less than two hours of debate, all tinker around the edges of the abortion controversy without directly confronting its legality.

Lawmakers in South Dakota passed legislation last week outlawing abortion except to save the life of the mother, a frontal assault on the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion on demand.

Of the three Georgia bills, the one that generated the most discussion Thursday is least related to abortion.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, is based on a law passed by Congress following the nationally publicized murder of California's Laci Peterson. It declares unborn children of women who are victims of criminal violence additional victims of that crime.

A suspect accused of causing the death of an unborn child by attacking or murdering its mother could be charged with voluntary manslaughter.

"I don't know anyone, even people who are pro-choice, who wouldn't say when you kill a pregnant woman, you've committed double homicide,'' said Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville.

Georgia's current feticide law requires that the unborn child must be "quick'' - generally defined as around 20 weeks old - before charges could be filed. The Senate bill would apply to unborn children at any stage of development.

The second measure would allow pharmacists to opt out of filling prescriptions for drugs designed to end pregnancies if they object on moral or religious grounds. They would have to file a written statement to take advantage of the offer.

While the bill didn't stir any vocal opposition, senators defeated an amendment that would have extended the provision to sexual performance enhancement drugs like Viagra.

Sen. Steen Miles, D-Decatur, said the drugs have caused heart attacks in some men and that pharmacists should have the right to object not just to certain drugs for women but to drugs that are for men.

"What is good for the goose is certainly good for the gander,'' she said.

The third bill would require abortion providers to have ultrasound equipment in their offices and take sonograms of any woman seeking an abortion.

Sen. Nancy Schaefer, R-Turnerville, the bill's sponsor, cited research showing that 75 percent of women planning abortions who view their unborn child through a sonogram decide to give birth.

"This sonogram bill will save lives,'' she said.

The bill specifies that women could choose not to look at the sonograms.

All three bills passed with solid support from Republicans and rural white Democrats, with 15 to 17 "no'' votes from black and Atlanta-area Democrats.

While not raising strenuous arguments against the bills, some Democrats complained that Republicans - in light of recent budget cuts - seem more anxious to help unborn children than to support education and health care.

"I don't have any problem protecting an unborn fetus,'' said Sen. Regina Thomas, D-Savannah. "But I am concerned about the lack of care Georgia has for born children.''