ATLANTA - Doctors would be required to offer ultrasound examinations to women seeking an abortion under legislation approved by the Senate Wednesday.
The bill, which passed 36-17 primarily along party lines, was a weaker version of legislation introduced into the House in January. The original bill would have required women to have an ultrasound done before they could receive an abortion.
The legislation expands upon the Woman's Right to Know Act passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly two years ago.
The 2005 law requires that women seeking an abortion wait at least 24 hours before having the procedure. During that waiting period, doctors must inform their patients of the probable age of the fetus and the medical risks involved in having an abortion or carrying a child until birth.
During Wednesday's debate, Democrats charged that the bill is another thinly veiled attempt by anti-abortion Republicans to intrude into a decision that should be left up to women and their doctors.
"The effort is to shut down, limit and control this procedure so that it's increasingly rare," said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta. "I'm in wholehearted support of that goal. But ... we have become a regular mill that turns out bills to limit women's choices."
Orrock suggested that a better way to reduce the number of abortions in Georgia would be to make contraceptives more available and educate young people in their use.
Rep. James Mills, R-Gainesville, who introduced the bill in the House, said it simply attempts to ensure that women considering an abortion are fully informed about the procedure, just as patients deciding whether to undergo any form of medical treatment should know their options.
"I feel like this is going to save lives and give women the ability to make a more informed decision," said Mills, who was on the Senate floor Wednesday watching the debate.
The provision in the bill requiring doctors to perform ultrasound exams on all women seeking abortions was removed as the bill made its way through the House.
As passed by the Senate, doctors who have ultrasound equipment in their offices must offer the exams. If they don't have the equipment, they must provide the patient a list of locations where ultrasounds are available free of charge.
Women would be given the choice of both whether to undergo the exam and, if they choose to have an ultrasound, whether to view images of their unborn child.
The bill now returns to the House to either accept or reject minor changes made by the Senate.