Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Passage Of ‘Right To Know’ Bill Called Historic Step

By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published March 10, 2005

Catholic pro-life leaders around the Archdiocese of Atlanta applauded the passage on March 4 by the Georgia General Assembly of legislation that guarantees that all women planning abortions will be provided with comprehensive information concerning abortion and alternatives. The legislation also includes a required 24-hour waiting period before the procedure.

The law requires that women coming in to a doctor’s office or abortion clinic be offered a booklet on fetal development, adoption and other relevant information. Considered a historic step forward in the Georgia pro-life movement, the law is the most significant pro-life legislation yet to pass in the state.

The House Bill 197, called the Woman’s Right to Know Bill, will ensure that everyone from the youngest girls in crisis pregnancies to those who’ve made up their minds without researching all the facts will get complete information, developed by the Department of Human Resources, in order to make an informed decision on whether or not to end an unborn human life.

Archbishop Wilton B. Gregory commented on the significance of the legislation. “This is a positive step to lessen the evil of abortion by requiring that a woman contemplating abortion be given the time and information that may help her decide against the abortion. The bill supports the dignity of the human person—women, particularly young women, as well as the unborn,” he said. “We are willing to continue our efforts for as long as it takes to secure the safety of all the unborn.”

The Senate swiftly passed the bill in about an hour with bipartisan support and a vote of 41 to 10, after it passed by the large margin of 139-35 in the House of Representatives. Gov. Sonny Perdue plans to sign it into law.

Mary Boyert, director of the Pro-Life Office of the archdiocese and president and executive director of Georgia Right to Life from 1980-99, believes that this is the most important pro-life legislation to pass that directly affects abortion rates since Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure in 1973. Georgia has also passed the Partial Birth Abortion Act in 1997, which affected a much smaller number of abortions, and a parental notification law in 1998.

The Right to Know Bill had been introduced every year since 1990 in the House of Representative but had never made it out of committee, being blocked by former House leadership. Georgia will be the 23rd state to adopt this type of law. According to Georgia Right to Life, Georgia is one of only a few states where the abortion rate has been increasing, with 34,545 being performed in 2003, up from 31,680 in 2000.

“It’s so exciting,” Boyert said. “The legislature has been so determined to prevent this from coming to the floor, and once it was allowed to happen look what happened. For me, it is going to empower women to make sure that no matter where a woman is in Georgia, she is going to get this information she needs.”

Bill sponsor Sen. Renee Unterman said the bill shows that people care about providing good health care for the mother and unborn child and that it has had bipartisan support for many years. “If a girl is 16 and scared to death, you don’t think of the options available but what’s the quick fix. But if you sit down and counsel her, perhaps she might want to go ahead and have the baby. (The bill) shows that Georgians do care about the health of the mother and the welfare of the baby,” she said. “I am pro-life, and I do believe an unborn life has value and that’s pretty mainstream. Now finally it’s able to become a law. We all know that abortion is legal and probably will stay legal, but that doesn’t mean women should be give inadequate health care and information.”

The new bill will ensure that the physician, referring physician or other qualified agent, before the waiting period, will inform the woman about risks associated with the procedure and her condition, probable gestational age of the unborn child, medical assistance that may be available, medical risks associated with carrying the child to term, and child support liability for the father. Each woman will also be told she has the right to review information available in print through the Department of Human Resources on fetal development, alternatives to abortion such as adoption, the methods of abortion and fetal pain.

The bill also requires that all abortion clinics be licensed and inspected “so this makes them provide that (same) standard of care,” Sen. Unterman said.

Prior to this legislation, the Georgia law on abortion made no provision for any type of informed consent, as the Georgia Law on Consent for Medical Treatment specifically exempted abortion. Boyert reports that there is no evidence to date that abortion providers include any of the information required by the Woman’s Right to Know Bill other than health risks.

In the past “perhaps they’d get this information, perhaps they wouldn’t. This is going to give women that information they so much need on the risks and complications and the opportunity to know all the other information as well. It’s going to make a big difference, and studies show it can reduce the number of abortions,” Boyert said, after watching the bill pass at the Capitol. “As long as abortion remains legal, we want to make sure that all protections are there until all laws are overturned.”

Pat Chivers, lobbyist for Georgia Right to Life and pro-life leader at St. Benedict Church, Duluth, commented further on the need for standard procedures, as some girls come away not even knowing the name of the doctor. Now the provider will be required to keep records for three years. With the consent forms “sometimes there’s one page, sometimes there are three pages. It’s just bizarre to think abortion providers are the ones who are going to decide what information women are given. Now it will be standard information,” Chivers continued.

The law is modeled after the Pennsylvania law that stood up to legal challenge in the Supreme Court, Chivers said. And every law counts, as South Carolina has enacted seven pro-life laws since 1990 (including one banning physician-assisted suicide), which have resulted in a 50 percent decline in the abortion rate. She’s particularly excited that all the information in the DHR booklet will also be available on a DHR Web site. “Looking at information on development of a child, they may never come into an abortion clinic. They may choose life just from having the information accessible.”

The lobbyist also believes it’s very important to have the bill provide information on child support, as many women who’ve had abortions have told GRTL that the father of their child had told them they would pay for an abortion but not child support. For opponents who say it’s an unnecessary barrier, she responds that the abortion “is still going to be offered to her in an abortion facility. They’re still going to want her to have an abortion. Our hope is they (will) be away from the clinic for 24 hours, and they can step back and reflect. Hopefully they’ll talk to a pastor or friends and ask for help. Some women go ahead with abortions when they think there is nobody to help.”

Boyert noted that the bill also strengthens the parental notification law to ensure that the parent or guardian of a minor is notified, as before the minor could have another stand-in adult acting on a parent’s behalf.

“This is pretty loose and vague and gives the opportunity for abuses. There was no requirement that a clinic check anything. A girl could come in with a note, and they’d have to take that,” or she could even bring in the father of her child. And regarding extreme cases, those who are victims of rape or incest can go to any judicial court in the state to get an exemption.

Boyert reflected on how she first heard a debate on informed consent at a city council meeting in Ohio in 1977, and she worked with former Georgia politician Joe Burton when he introduced this bill in the Georgia legislature in 1980. She thanked Catholics of the archdiocese for the grassroots support for the bill, necessary for its passage. “Some people should be very proud of this. A lot of people worked very hard on this,” she said, advising them to rest up but then get back to work. “It’s a very big, important first step, but there’s a lot more to do.”

Another bill to create pro-life license plates reading “Choose Life” and “Adopt a Child” also passed in the Senate March 4 and now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.