Georgia lawmakers eye abortion, other social fights for 2023

Published: Jan. 6, 2023 at 5:31 PM EST
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ATLANTA (AP) — Abortion, sex education and transgender care for youths had mixed success on Georgia agenda last year, and while lawmakers are getting another chance to tackle those issues in the session that starts Monday, it’s unclear how far they’ll go.

Republican leaders haven’t signaled a strong appetite for such measures in what has become a politically competitive state. Gov. Brian Kemp endorsed some causes last year, like banning transgender boys and girls from playing on the school sports teams matching their gender identity, during the heat of a GOP primary fight where Kemp was trying to avoid being outflanked.

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There’s also a narrowed Republican majority in the state House, where the party will hold 101 of 180 seats after two special elections are complete. Any bill needs 91 votes to pass the chamber. And even some Senate Republicans, usually the cockpit of social conservative legislation in Georgia, are signaling a low interest in such fights.

The Georgia Supreme Court in November reinstated the state’s ban on abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy. The high court left the ban in effect while it considers an appeal of a lower court ruing that overturned the law.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney had ruled the state’s abortion ban was invalid because when it was signed into law in 2019, U.S. Supreme Court precedent under Roe. v. Wade and another ruling had allowed abortion well past six weeks. Lawmakers could extinguish the appeal by re-passing the law, but appear content for now to await the high court’s decision.

But action on abortion could still be coming, focused on abortion pills. A bill that failed in the closing moments of the session last year would have required a woman to get an in-person exam from a Georgia physician before the doctor could prescribe her abortion pills. It’s part of a nationwide push by anti-abortion groups to keep physicians from sending out abortion pills by mail after telemedicine consultations.

Getting that bill passed is the top goal of anti-abortion forces in Georgia this year. Urgency has only gone up after Tuesday, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized a rule that makes it easier for pharmacies to dispense the pills in-person and online.

“The abortion industry is shifting a complex, emotional medical decision into a mail-delivery service and removing the doctor from the equation,” the Georgia Life Alliance said in a statement.

Supporters of abortion rights want lawmakers to keep their hands off. “The abortion pill is a safe and effective way to expand abortion access,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia said this week.

Transgender children are also likely to be topics of legislation, though a 2021 Georgia bill that made it a felony to provide certain surgeries or drugs went nowhere. Lawmakers in Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona and Tennessee have passed laws in the last two years banning some treatments and surgeries for transgender minors, although the Alabama and Arkansas laws are blocked by courts. Officials in Texas and Florida acted without laws.

Supporters of these laws have said allowing children to receive this kind of treatment amounts to child abuse, while opponents say the restrictions run roughshod over the rights of parents and children, criminalize medical care, further marginalize transgender children and is a discriminatory violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Also possible is renewed fighting over sex education and what teachers can say about gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom. Georgia’s parents can opt their children out of sex education, a right underscored in last year’s parents’ bill of rights. But some parent groups want to make sex education an opt-in subject.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s largest school district — Gwinnett County — is considering a new sex education curriculum using the state’s current emphasis on abstaining from sex, while teaching more about consent, contraceptives and gender and sexual identity.