At six months pregnant, my husband and I said goodbye to San Francisco and headed to Georgia—the place we both considered home. I wanted a lot for my future daughter: for her to know her Mamaw, Papaw, and Grandma; to see Georgia’s forests when the tulip poplars bloom orange around her due date in March; to grow up in an environment that wasn’t readily attainable in the Bay Area.
I didn’t realize that two years into her life, being in Georgia meant she would grow up in a state that legislates her personal health-care choices.
The bill signed into law by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) this month outlaws abortion after a “heartbeat” is detectable, usually around six weeks. The language of the law is inaccurate, though, since what’s detected at six weeks is more like electrical activity among cells than a cardiac system.
HB 481 provides this definition for clarification: “‘Detectable human heartbeat’ means embryonic or fetal cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the heart within the gestational sac.”
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The muddled language of the law is especially problematic because, starting January 1, 2020, these words demarcate when an abortion is state-sanctioned and when an abortion is child homicide from the womb. As a woman with irregular periods, my cycle would fail horribly at giving fair warning of pregnancy. I could easily and unknowingly pass into six weeks of gestation. At that point, my options are either forced pregnancy or even potential felony charges.
The “heartbeat” law was never about accuracy, clarity, or fairness for a fetus. HB 481 is one strand in a web of extreme legislation intended to be fought at the state level court system, and eventually brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. Gov. Kemp is playing the long game to challenge Roe v. Wade, and he makes no secret about it. He writes on his campaign website, “As we advance pro-life legislation, battle in the courtroom, and wait on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, our state must double down on the application of pro-life laws that currently exist.”
If we moved here for more opportunity for our daughter, then why stay in a place where she has less freedom and decision-making over her body one day? I considered how we could leave. My husband works in tech, and I work remotely, so maybe our family could make it work somewhere else.
Then Angela Mayfield lit Twitter afire in a thread that confronted the privilege embedded in the advice for women to “just leave Georgia.” “I’m staying because there are thousands upon thousands of women in Georgia who have no choice but to stay in a place where their lives are threatened on the whims of white men, who do not understand the biology of our bodies, much less the reality of existing in them,” Mayfield wrote.
Across Georgia’s red clay landscape, many women are uncertain and angry about the future of their bodily autonomy.
“I am disheartened that I live in a state that is continuously infringing on my right to vote and women’s personal reproductive choices,” said Audraine Jackson, a communications expert based in Atlanta, in an interview with Rewire.News.
Beyond the law’s unconstitutionality, Jackson expressed concern over the health risks for women, particularly Black women, as Georgia leads the nation in the most maternal deaths during childbirth.
Georgia legislators “should be addressing the high mortality rate of women bearing children,” Jackson said. “If our legislature wanted to save lives, they would care about any and all health risks to women as they pertain to abortion and childbirth. I was a pre-teen when Roe v. Wade was debated. As I matured, I heard nightmare stories of back-alley abortions that killed women.”
Athens-raised Kirsten Palladino is horrified that this backward legislation will soon define the space she calls home. “Georgia is full of love, kindness and beauty,” Palladino said. “It’s also brimming with patriarchal bullshit, white supremacy, and small-minded people making fear-based decisions about what other people can do with their own bodies.”
Cindy Borden Mercer, whose family roots reach back five generations in Georgia soil, felt a visceral reaction to the law’s passing in her home state. “I immediately felt sick to my stomach and angry,” she said. “I desperately wanted to talk to my mom, who died in May 2017.” Borden Mercer recalled her mother taking the necessary steps to get an abortion in 1970, three years before the Roe v. Wade decision, by flying from Alabama to New York. Nearly 50 years later, Alabama’s staunch anti-choice policies have come full circle as the state just passed a law that outlaws abortion at any time.
But Georgia women also give many different reasons for why they’ll stay. Palladino has school-aged kids she’s not going to uproot. Borden Mercer says Georgia is simply her home, for better or worse. And Jackson reckons that leaving an entire support system behind isn’t a viable answer.
“Women should not have to uproot their lives to maintain basic human freedoms, one of which is to make decisions about what we should do with our own bodies,” Jackson said
But these women also share a common response to existing under the “heartbeat” law: fighting it. They, like many Georgians, are grieving the potential loss of their rights, but they aren’t suffering silently.
“I’m not giving up hope,” Palladino said. “I’ll fight this with everything that I can.”
“I will promote and support candidates who speak out against the ‘heartbeat’ bill in their platforms, and I will use my own platforms to speak up and out, reminding Georgia residents that their vote is important to save the lives of women and to retain our right to personal reproductive choices,” Jackson said.
Since posting her Twitter thread, Mayfield officially announced that she’s running for the Georgia House seat in District 67 that’s currently occupied by Micah Gravley, a Republican who co-sponsored HB 481.
After some riling from Southern women I admire, I realized that fleeing is not an option. My daughter will not learn to make room for the men that invade her space and the laws that invade her body. She’ll learn to put some of that stereotypical Southern stubbornness to good use, dig her heels into Georgia ground and not abide the obvious attacks on her rights. Many of the potentially pregnant and our supporters aren’t going anywhere. And we won’t back down until the general assembly looks more like the Georgians it represents.