By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law two pieces of legislation on Tuesday to restrict late-term abortions and outlaw assisted suicide in the state.
The first law banned most abortions after 20 weeks' pregnancy, making Georgia the eighth U.S. state to outlaw most late-term abortions based on controversial research that a fetus can feel pain by that stage of development.
Georgia already prohibits most abortions starting in the third trimester.
The second law signed by Deal made it a felony to help people take their own lives. The Georgia Supreme Court in February struck down as unconstitutional a previous law that outlawed the advertising of assisted-suicide services. The court ruled the old law was a violation of the right to free speech.
The abortion measure passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in late March included exceptions to save the life of the mother and if the fetus has extreme defects that make survival unlikely.
"This legislation provides humane protection to innocents capable of feeling pain, while making an important exception for in the case of medically-futile pregnancies," Deal, a Republican, said in a statement.
Georgia Right to Life, which opposes abortion, has called the new legislation "a step in the right direction," but expressed disappointment at the exemption for "medically futile" pregnancies in which the fetus is likely to die after birth.
Abortion opponents said the exception left the door open for a doctor to recommend abortion of fetuses that are less than completely healthy.
Planned Parenthood, which provides women's health services and is the nation's largest abortion provider, said the bill would limit women's access to healthcare.
The organization said in a statement that the bill "calls into question every woman who makes a deeply personal, private medical decision."
Georgia joins Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, and North Carolina in banning most or all abortions after 20 weeks. Arizona bans most abortions after 18 weeks.
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortions in 1973 but allowed states to ban the procedure after the time when the fetus could potentially survive outside the womb, except where a woman's health was at risk.
The assisted suicide ban was welcomed by Georgia Right to Life President Dan Becker, who said "stopping the immoral and barbaric practice of killing in the name of compassion is the right thing to do."
(Additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by Greg McCune and Peter Cooney)