ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia would provide state-funded grants to "pregnancy resource centers" that offer medical care, counseling and other services to pregnant women while discouraging abortion, under legislation that easily passed the state House on Friday.
The state Senate approved the measure on party lines last month. Senators must agree to some minor changes before the proposal can head to Gov. Nathan Deal's desk.
To be eligible, facilities cannot encourage or discuss abortions as an option or refer women to clinics that perform abortions, except when the mother's life is threatened.
Other states, including Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, have similar programs benefiting pregnancy centers.
The bill's sponsor, Republican state Sen. Renee Unterman of Buford, has said she wanted to provide a "positive" response to videos released this summer by abortion opponents showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing procedures for obtaining tissue from aborted fetuses for research.
A Texas grand jury later cleared the organization of wrongdoing, instead indicting two activists for their actions while making the undercover videos.
Democrats opposing the bill argued the centers use deceptive advertising to bring pregnant women in, and then refuse to discuss or discourage abortion regardless of a woman's opinion. They also argued that state money for sex education programs and parenting classes or counseling programs is a more successful way to decrease abortions.
"That's how you support the women of Georgia," Rep. Stacey Evans, D-Smyrna, said. "Not this bill."
Deal, a Republican, has not publicly discussed the bill but has supported legislation in recent years limiting late-term abortions. He also ordered a review of all abortion facilities in the state following release of the Planned Parenthood videos. State health officials concluded no facilities were violating state law, which requires that fetal remains be buried or cremated.
Rep. Sharon Cooper, a Marietta Republican who carried the bill in the House, cited those Republican-led changes aimed at limiting abortion as she encouraged members to vote for the bill.
"When our party has been a party pushing for decreased access to abortion facilities and has so stressed the need not to have abortion, I think we have a moral responsibility to say: 'If you make the choice, if you choose life and you need help, we'll be there to help you,'" Cooper said.
State records show about 27,500 abortions were performed in Georgia in 2013, the latest year available. An official with the anti-abortion group Georgia Life Alliance told House members this week that about 70 facilities in Georgia could qualify for the grant.
The Senate's version of a budget for the financial year starting July 1 includes $2 million for the pregnancy center program. House and Senate members are expected to begin negotiations on a final budget proposal this weekend.