Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (right) with state Rep. Trey Rhodes. (Photo: John Disney/ALM) Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (right) with state Rep. Trey Rhodes. (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

The impassioned debate over the abortion ban the Georgia General Assembly passed this year pulled the curtain off one inarguable fact that disturbed both sides: Georgia leads the country in maternal mortality.

Opponents of House Bill 481 outlawing abortion upon sound of an embryonic pulse said such a law would only increase the death rate. Women left without access to safe, legal abortions would be forced either into unsafe efforts to end pregnancy or to continue at their own peril, if they have complications or health risks that don’t fall into the narrow exception for medical emergencies. Opponents also argued that the ban’s criminal and civil penalties for doctors acting within the standard of care for their jobs would discourage physicians from practicing in a state that already has a shortage.

The Medical Association of Georgia opposed the ban, saying it “could undermine efforts to recruit and retain OB-GYN” doctors.

The Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society called the bill “an affront to the medical expertise of the physician and places regulation squarely between the physician and the patient.”

“Georgia has made enormous investments in maternal mortality prevention and OB/GYN resident education,” the group said. “HB 481 reduces Georgia’s return on these investments.”

After some initial reluctance, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, used his influence to help pass the abortion ban that Gov. Brian Kemp supported. This week, Ralston showed lingering concerns.

“Georgia simply cannot continue to have one of the nation’s worst rates of maternal mortality,” Ralston said in a news release Monday.

The speaker announced members of a new House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality.

“This is an issue which impacts all Georgians and demands a fact-based approach to problem-solving,” Ralston said. “I look forward to the study committee’s findings and recommendations which will be considered in the 2020 legislative session.”

The committee will be co-chaired by Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, and Rep. Mark Newton, R-Augusta, Ralston said. Cooper chairs the House Health & Human Services Committee and is a medical administrator and registered nurse. Newton is the House Majority Caucus chief deputy whip and a physician specializing in emergency medicine.

The other House members appointed to the study committee are:

  • Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula
  • Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus
  • Rep. Deborah Silcox, R-Sandy Springs
  • Rep. Valencia Stovall, D-Forest Park
  • Rep. Darlene Taylor, R-Thomasville

The Speaker also appointed the following citizen members to the Georgia Maternal Mortality Review Committee:

  • Dr. Jane Ellis, medical director, Emory Regional Perinatal Center
  • Dr. Chad Ray, associate professor, Medical College of Georgia