States debate life and death laws

shutterstock 316112756 Maryland state capital building, Annapolis. Via Shutterstock.

Legislators in Maryland are considering a bill to legalize physician assisted suicide. At the same time, Georgia lawmakers have advanced a bill that would ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. The two measures are the latest in a rolling series of state-level laws on life issues across the country.

In Georgia, the fetal heartbeat bill advanced through the House Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday by a vote of 17 to 14. All Republican members of the committee voted for the bill, and all Democrat members of the committee voted against. Legislative deadlines mean that a vote on the bill must take place by the end of Thursday, March 7.


The bill includes exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest--which would be demonstrated by a police report filed by the woman--as well as for pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother or are deemed to be "medically futile."


Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) had promised abortion restrictions during his campaign, and his website states that he is supportive of legislation that would prohibit abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.


Georgia's General Assembly has a Republican majority in both houses. If the bill were to be voted on, it is likely that it would pass, and be signed into law by Gov. Kemp.


However, even if passed, it is unlikely the law would go into effect. In other states that have considered similar laws, legal challenges have prevented legislation from going into effect.


In Tennessee, the state's Catholic bishops recently issued a statement saying that they were opposed to the Tennessee legislature passing a "Heartbeat Bill" as it would result in a costly legal challenge that the state would lose.


In order for the "heartbeat bills" to be found constitutional, the Supreme Court would have to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that found a woman had a constitutional right to have an abortion.


Meanwhile, three states further north, Maryland lawmakers are in the midst of passing the "End of Life Option Act," which would permit those with terminal illnesses to end their own lives with medication from a doctor.


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The "End of Life Option Act" would require that adults seeking to die be deemed "mentally capable," in severe pain and have a prognosis of less than six months life expectancy, before they can be prescribed life-ending drugs.


The bill has previously been proposed several times, but it did not receive approval from two House committees--the Health and Government Operations Committee and the Judiciary Committee--until this year.


The "End of Life Option Act" has 68 co-sponsors--three short of the number required to assure passage of the legislation. The bill's lead sponsor, Del. Shane Pendergrass (D-Howard County) told a local Fox station before the vote that she was "never confident [about the result] until the vote is taken."


The bill, which received preliminary approval by the House of Delegates on March 6, passed a full vote of the House on Thursday by a margin of 74-66.

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While the majority of the bill's co-sponsors were Democrats, the measure did not have unanimous party support.


Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore County), voiced her opposition to the bill, saying that it was "not up to us to say when your life should end" and that she did not think the state should assist with suicide.


The bill will now be considered by the state Senate.


Assisted suicide currently is legal in six states and the District of Columbia.


The separate bills in Maryland and Georgia are the latest in a wider national trend of increased and opposed life legislation in 2019.


In January, New York passed a sweeping abortion law which codified a right to an abortion, and removed abortion from the state's criminal code. Vermont passed a similar law in February. Efforts to pass similar legislation failed in Virginia, but are continuing in Rhode Island.


In Tennessee, a bill that would ban abortion after the detection of a heartbeat passed in the state's House of Representatives on Thursday. Ohio lawmakers reintroduced the "heartbeat bill" in February after it was vetoed by Gov. John Kasich (R) in 2018.


This story has been updated.

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