Commentary Abortion

Abortion Care Is Still Legal in Georgia

Jill Heaviside & Oriaku Njoku

It's important that those who are pregnant and choosing abortion services both in Georgia and across the country know that abortion is still legal in every state.

Last Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans into law. While much attention has been paid to the disastrous effects this will have on Georgians’ health, it’s important to note that this law is not set to go into effect until January 2020—and that is if it ever goes into effect, as courts have enjoined or struck down every other similar measure. For now, know that this law will not disrupt ongoing abortion services.

Many of the initial stories and conversations regarding this bill implied that abortion is now illegal in Georgia. As reproductive justice advocates working on the ground here in Georgia, we’ve seen firsthand that promoting this narrative is dangerous because it could stop people from seeking care. It’s important that those who are pregnant and choosing abortion services both in Georgia and across the country know that abortion is still legal in every state and there are resources available to help plan for and finance abortion care.

This bill is bigger than Georgia. It is part of the anti-abortion movement’s coordinated strategy to eliminate abortion, criminalize pregnancy, and exert control over the reproductive autonomy of people nationwide. This year, at least 15 states have introduced measures like Georgia’s that ban abortion once electrical activity in a fetal pole is detected—which can occur as early as six weeks of pregnancy, or two weeks after a missed period, well before most people learn they are pregnant. They intentionally picked this metric as a way to ban abortion as early as possible during pregnancy, circumvent federal precedent that cautions courts and legislatures from setting viability at a specific week in pregnancy, and serve as a foil to make other restrictions seem more reasonable.

We know that abortion bans have nothing to do with improving the health of pregnant people or their families. If our legislators were serious about improving health outcomes, they would put resources toward improving Georgia’s abysmal maternal mortality rate and its disproportionate impact on Black women and women of color, work toward expanding Medicaid, or make necessary improvements to our foster care system.

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Instead, they are prioritizing legislation that acts a method of state-sanctioned control over the lives, bodies, and freedom of many of our most marginalized communities—women, and especially Black women and women of color; queer, trans, and nonbinary folks; immigrants; and families striving to make ends meet.

Banning abortion before most people know they are pregnant essentially bans all abortion. The bill’s sponsor has pointed to its exceptions—which were not included in the original bill but were added later—to claim it adequately takes into account the liberty and privacy of the pregnant person. Under this law, exceptions for rape and incest are only made if the survivor has filed a police report—which is insufficient when we know 80 percent of sexual assaults go unreported. A narrow exception for the life and health of the pregnant person exists but leaves out conditions relating to mental and emotional health and may force providers to weigh whether their patient’s condition is severe enough to meet this narrow exception against potential legal liability. It’s clear that this law is dangerous and goes beyond other early bans by seeking to establish full legal personhood rights for fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos, and fetuses.

But it’s imperative that we’re clear: abortion is still legal in Georgia.

Yes, this law’s effects could be disastrous, but reports that focus on the bill’s dramatic potential effects can spiral out, causing unnecessary fear and deterring people from seeking care while also pulling attention from the immediate needs of the people in Georgia.

When you’re working in reproductive justice, any abortion restriction will feel like a setback, but we are not deterred. We and our partners in the Reproductive Health Rights and Justice Coalition are strong, organized, and have a plan. In addition to organizations with a national presence—such as the ACLU of Georgia, NARAL Pro-Choice Georgia, and Planned Parenthood Advocates Southeast—there are many amazing Black-, WOC-, and QTPOC-led organizations that are leading the fight for reproductive and bodily autonomy in Georgia. The good folks at Access Reproductive Care (ARC) – Southeast, Feminist Women’s Health Center, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF) Georgia Chapter, SisterLove, Inc. SisterSong, SPARK Reproductive Justice Now!, Inc., URGE: Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity, and Women Engaged have been and will continue to advocate for the advancement of reproductive freedom for all Georgians.

At the start of this legislative session, we knew what we were up against. Kemp—who is under investigation for illegal, systemic voter suppression—campaigned on a promise to make Georgia one of the most anti-abortion states in the nation. Many members of our state legislature campaigned on similar promises.

But that didn’t stop us. We attended every hearing, debate, and vote. We coordinated with doctors, nurses, lawyers, public health professionals, clergy, parents, and people who have had abortions to provide expert testimony during committee hearings. We rallied, trained hundreds of residents to lobby their representatives, and continued to show up. In response, we were met with legislators who dodged us in the hallways and lied about being at their desks, who made last-minute changes to hearing times and locations, subjected us to threats of unlawful arrest, and organized the largest police presence that any of us have ever seen at the Capitol.

In the days since the bill was signed people across the country have asked what they should do next. The best thing you can do is listen to and take the lead from the advocates on the ground.

Calls for boycotts and strikes might grab headlines, but they will do little to sway the minds of the legislators who championed this bill and instead will cause significant harm to Georgia workers and families. Instead, support the organizers, lawyers, and abortion providers and funders doing this work. If you’re in Georgia, come to our community town hall to learn more. If you’re based elsewhere—donate to the grassroots organizations who keep fighting, amplify our efforts on social media, and call on others in your networks to do the same.

History has shown that those with means and privilege will always be able to access the care they need. But access to health care is a human right and should not be dependent on who you are or the family you were born into.

Abortion is still legal in Georgia, and we intend to keep it that way.

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