GEORGIA has become the latest US state to introduce the nation's most extreme abortion ban – barring terminations after as early as six weeks.
Under the controversial new law, it is illegal to carry out an abortion if a doctor is able to detect a fetal heartbeat.
This can be as early as six weeks and before many women know they are pregnant.
Harsh penalties will be imposed for women who do abort their pregnancies, including life imprisonment and even the death penalty.
Currently, women in Georgia can receive an abortion up to their 20th week of pregnancy.
Similar laws apply to England, Wales and Scotland where abortion is legal up until 24 weeks.
Georgia Republican governor Brian Kemp, who signed the legislation into law on Tuesday, said he approved the bill "to ensure that all Georgians have the opportunity to live, grow, learn and prosper in our great state."
The signing caps weeks of tension and protests at the state Capitol and begins what could be a lengthy and costly legal battle over the law.
We will not back down. We will always continue to fight for life.
"We will not back down," Kemp said. "We will always continue to fight for life."
Anti-abortion activists and lawmakers across the country have been energised by the new conservative majority on the US Supreme Court that includes President Donald Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
They are pushing abortion bans in an attack on the high court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalised abortion nationwide until a foetus is developed enough to live outside a woman's uterus.
Staci Fox, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said she had one message for Kemp: "We will see you, sir, in court."
At a news conference on the Capitol steps, she said the new law criminalises doctors for providing lifesaving care.
The organisation vowed to campaign to unseat lawmakers who supported it, saying they would "be held accountable for playing politics with women's health."
The legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, Sean Young, has said the group will challenge the measure in court.
He told The Associated Press: "Under 50 years of Supreme Court precedent, this abortion ban is clearly unconstitutional."
"Every federal court that has heard a challenge to a similar ban has ruled that it's unconstitutional."
If it's not blocked in court, the new ban would take effect January 1 of 2020, with exceptions for cases of rape and incest, or if the mother's life is at risk.
It also would allow for abortions when a foetus is determined not to be viable because of serious medical issues.
In addition, the bill includes provisions for alimony, child support and even income tax deductions for foetuses, declaring that "the full value of a child begins at the point when a detectable human heartbeat exists."
Republican Rep. Ed Setzler called the bill a "common sense" measure that seeks to "balance the difficult circumstances women find themselves in with the basic right to life of a child."
But Democratic Senator Jen Jordan said "there's nothing balanced about it: It's an all-out abortion ban."
Jordan said she is particularly worried that the new law will push obstetricians away from practicing in Georgia, worsening health care outcomes for women in a state that already has one of the nation's worst maternal mortality rates.
She said: "They're making policy choices that are going to end up causing women to die, and they're preventable deaths."
Georgia has at least 11 abortion providers, according to the National Abortion Federation, a group that advocates for access to abortion.
Some abortion providers have already faced negative effects from the bill, according to Wula Dawson, director of development and communications for the Feminist Women's Health Center, an abortion clinic in Georgia.
Dawson said anti-abortion protesters outside their clinic have become "bolder and more aggressive" toward patients.
In the first few months of 2019, "heartbeat" abortion bans have been signed into law in four states: Mississippi, Kentucky, Ohio, and now Georgia.
Lawmakers in other states including Tennessee, Missouri, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia, are considering similar proposals.
A bill that recently passed the Alabama House would outlaw abortions at any stage of pregnancy, with a few narrow exceptions.
Kentucky's law was immediately challenged by the ACLU after it was signed in March, and a federal judge temporarily blocked it.
Earlier versions of the law passed in North Dakota and Iowa have also been struck down in court.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights, about 33,000 abortions were provided in Georgia in 2014.
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