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Lawmakers cautious toward pro-life amendment

By Dave Williams

dave.williams@graypub.com

ATLANTA - Members of a House subcommittee Monday expressed strong reservations about proposed anti-abortion legislation that even some pro-life groups oppose as overly broad.

What is being billed by supporters as the Human Life Amendment would incorporate into the state constitution a provision declaring that every human being has a "paramount right to life" from the moment of conception.

It would govern a whole gamut of right-to-life issues, from abortion to decisions on disconnecting terminally ill patients from life support.

"It's a mandate to protect innocent human life," Rep. Martin Scott (R-Rossville) the resolution's chief sponsor, told members of the subcommittee during the first of two planned hearings. "Life clearly does begin with fertilization, and I believe it's time to put this into Georgia's Constitution."

If the amendment clears the legislature and then is ratified by voters, it would be virtually certain to face a legal challenge as a violation of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion.

Scott said that's fine with him because, based on his extensive travels across the state promoting the measure, that's what most Georgians want.

He cited a statewide poll conducted in 2006 showing that 57 percent of respondents favored overturning Roe v. Wade.

Scott said 50 million unborn babies have been aborted in the United States since that ruling.

"For 35 years, our culture in America has been permeated with the culture of death," he said. "This is an issue we need to deal with."

Scott presented a new version of the legislation to the subcommittee on Monday, with several provisions aimed at addressing concerns that have surfaced about the amendment's broad scope.

Under those changes, the measure could not be used to prevent the state from carrying out the death penalty. It also could not prohibit individuals from using contraceptives or dictating living wills in case they ever become incapacitated.

But several members of the subcommittee raised a host of other concerns that have led some anti-abortion groups to oppose the amendment, including the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta.

Among the questions lawmakers brought up were whether the amendment would allow wrongful-death lawsuits against doctors who perform abortions, whether it would prohibit victims of rape or incest from getting an abortion, or whether it would allow doctors to perform an abortion to save the mother's life.

David Gibbs, a lawyer from Florida who is helping Scott push for the amendment, said the General Assembly could address such concerns by passing separate laws governing those situations.

"I am confident in the Georgia legislature to deal with these issues as they come up," said Gibbs.

But House Majority Whip Barry Fleming (R-Harlem) said that avenue wouldn't be open to lawmakers if the amendment passes.

"What we do in the legislature will be superseded by what's in here because it will be part of the constitution," he said.

Scott expressed confidence that House Speaker Glenn Richardson (R-Hiram) will allow his legislation a fair hearing, despite having run afoul of the speaker this month.

Scott is among several House Republicans stripped of committee leadership positions by Richardson for voting against his wishes in a recent State Transportation Board election.

Clelia Davis, Richardson's spokeswoman, said the speaker is willing to work toward changes in the amendment that would preserve its objectives without the unintended consequences.