Atlanta officials are seeking ways to improve access to reproductive health care for the city’s most marginalized, six months after Georgia Republicans passed an unconstitutional six-week abortion ban.
The Atlanta City Council approved a resolution last week to create a Reproductive Justice Commission designed to mitigate the effects of the state’s near-total ban, which outlaws abortion care six weeks into pregnancy, before many know they’re pregnant. Georgia is one of several states with Republican-majority legislatures that passed a near-total abortion ban this year.
The Georgia law was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in October.
The Atlanta commission will research policy and recommend ways to “increase awareness around access to reproductive care as well as public and private resources.” It will focus on how to improve health outcomes “related to reproductive, maternal and infant health, and abortion access in Atlanta.”
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Council member Amir Farokhi, who introduced the Reproductive Justice Commission resolution, said Atlanta’s charter does not allow the commission to “get involved with public health or social service work,” since that is the county’s purview. Instead, the commission can examine zoning and potential improvements to transit routes and locations for reproductive health-care facilities. The commission, Farokhi said, could also make sure city workers have access to reproductive health care.
Although the Atlanta Reproductive Justice Commission may point out opportunities for better funding of reproductive health-care services, there will be no public funds allocated to the commission, Farokhi said.
Kenyetta Chinwe, a project coordinator for the Atlanta-based reproductive justice group SisterSong, said to better serve the people most affected by abortion restrictions, the commission will have to tackle ways to make health care more accessible.
“People who are marginalized and disenfranchised from society are already feeling the effects of access to health care in general and reproductive health care,” Chinwe said. “Georgia has a high maternal mortality rate, and that disproportionately affects women and trans and nonbinary people of color in the state, so any time you implement something that is going to restrict health care it’s going to impact the groups already affected.”
Atlanta is a majority Black city. Four percent of the population is Asian, and 4.6 percent are Latinx, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2015, Gallup found Atlanta had the 19th highest LGBTQ population among major metropolitan areas, at 4.2 percent of the population. Twenty-two percent of people in Atlanta live in poverty, compared to 12.3 percent across the United States.
High rates of maternal death for Black women in Georgia are at a crisis level, and reproductive justice activists say abortion restrictions and other barriers to health care only exacerbate the problem. The maternal mortality rate for Black women in Georgia is 66.6 deaths per 100,000 live births, compared to 43.2 for white women. Georgia has the highest maternal mortality rate in the United States. Research shows that states with more abortion restrictions have worse health outcomes for parents and children, and that racism can play a motivating role in these restrictions, according to a 2018 Center for American Progress report.
Atlanta is the latest city to push back against Republican-backed near-total bans on abortion. City councils in Toledo, Cleveland, and Columbus have passed resolutions opposing Ohio’s near-total ban. Meanwhile, local officials in states like New Mexico and Texas have passed anti-choice resolutions that reproductive rights advocates say could confuse those seeking abortion care.
The Atlanta commission is supposed to ensure marginalized groups have a say in the recommendation process. The commission, which will meet for three years, will have seven members. Two will be appointed by the mayor, one by the district health director of the Fulton County Board of Health, one by the council president, and the rest by council members from districts across Atlanta. None of these appointments had been made by the time Rewire.News spoke to Atlanta officials.
“It’s important that those appointees are knowledgeable about reproductive justice and health-care issues but also demographically representative of the populations most affected. A lot of this is up to politics. People will appoint who they want to appoint and we’ll see how this plays out,” Farokhi told Rewire.News. “But my sense is that at least the members of council who care about this issue are likely to choose someone under the guidelines in the resolution. We’ll be very mindful that the commission is appropriately diverse [and has] representatives of everyone who is affected by this issue.”
Advocacy groups, including SisterSong, approached Farokhi after he introduced a resolution in May opposing the state’s near-total abortion ban. SisterSong is part of the Amplify campaign, a project of six Georgia-based reproductive justice organizations to advocate for the protection and expansion of abortion access.
“We will do our best to advocate and make sure there are community members on the commission as well as people who have the best interest at heart for the most marginalized in the city,” said Chinwe, SisterSong’s project coordinator for Amplify Georgia.
Beyond the blocked near-total abortion ban, Georgia has a long list of abortion restrictions. Patients are required to receive counseling that aims to discourage them from having an abortion and wait 24 hours before receiving an abortion; an abortion must be performed before 20 weeks post-fertilization; there is a forced parental notification requirement; and health plans under the state exchange for the Affordable Care Act—also known as Obamacare—can only cover abortions in the most severe health cases. Abortion is only covered in insurance policies for public workers when the life of the pregnant person is in danger.
Farokhi said the commission’s goal of increasing awareness of reproductive health-care options is particularly important in the South, where abortion clinics have closed due in part to medically unnecessary anti-choice laws designed to shutter facilities.
“Often times, because the legislative steps taken by [the] Republican legislature have been fairly draconian and being near a major city, there’s either confusion or absence of knowledge that there are reproductive health-care resources available in the state,” he said. “So we have to make sure that one, people know that abortion is legal and that two, you have access to it in Georgia in a number of different manners.”
He said it was important for Atlanta to lead on this issue as the capital of the state, the state’s most populous city, and “the economic and cultural hub of the Southeast.”
“I think there is symbolic importance of Atlanta placing a flag in the sand on the side of access to health care and to women’s bodily autonomy and bodily autonomy generally regardless of gender,” Farokhi said.