Women’s Reproductive Rights Drastically Reduced With New Abortion Laws in Georgia and Alabama

Darya Foroohar, ‘20

May 2019

On Tuesday, May 7th, anti-abortion activists looked with glee upon the passing of HB 481, one of the most comprehensive abortion bans in the country. The law criminalizes abortions after six weeks, the earliest time when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, hence its nickname as the “heartbeat ban.” Georgia’s previous legislation punished doctors who performed illegal abortions on women, but under this new law, women will also be punished due to new language detailing “self-determination” as criminal abortion. In addition, the law also breaks with previous legislation because it considers a fetus a person, therefore allowing doctors and pregnant people who perform abortions to be charged with murder. If found guilty, they could face up to ten years in prison. 

Many people have expressed anger over this bill, seeing it as another way to control women’s bodies instead of provide them with safe reproductive healthcare. One major complaint is that at six weeks, many women do not know themselves that they are pregnant. This is because the average period comes every four weeks. Six weeks are not enough time for a pregnant person to realize that what they thought was a missed period is actually a pregnancy. In addition, many periods can be irregular and come later or earlier than is traditional, making it even more difficult to determine whether or not a pregnancy has taken place. Opponents of the bill have already staged protests because of this, saying it’s unfair to prosecute people for not having enough time to find out if they are pregnant. Outrage has also been expressed at the fact that a six-week old fetus is considered a living human being with full protection under the law, especially when many already-born people do not receive the care and protection they deserve and are discriminated against because of their race, gender, religion, or sexuality.  

However, others in Georgia are upset that the bill is not doing enough for the rights of zygotes, such as the Georgia Right to Life Foundation. They would like to remove the clause in HB tk that allows for later abortions in the case of rape, incest, disabilities in the baby, and medical emergency, saying that “a child should not be punished for the sins of its father.” While the group spreads its message as being pro-life, they do not take into account the fact that a baby produced in the conditions mentioned in the exception clause can ruin– or even end– the life of the mother.

Now, it seems that the GRTL is looking in admiration at the Alabama Senate, which just passed a new abortion law, HB314, banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest (but not if the mother or baby could die during or after the pregnancy), and banned abortion as soon as it is medically detectable. Called the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, the law compares abortion to other crimes against humanity such as the Holocaust and Stalin’s gulags. To give reason for this, State Senator Clyde Chambliss (R) expressed the sentiment that fetuses deserve the same protection under the law no matter how they were conceived, but advised young girls who were victims of rape or incest to “go get help,” neglecting to specify what Alabama would actually do to improve the situations of these young women. 

To retaliate, democrats in the Senate questioned why the law (then the bill) would regulate the bodies of women without helping them through the potential trauma of their situations. They also attempted to introduce amendments to the bill that would require its proponents to pay any resulting legal fees from challenges, that would make getting a vasectomy, like getting an abortion, a class A felony, and also to increase Medicaid to help the low-income women anticipated to be the ones hit very hard from this law. All of these failed, calling into question whether the Alabama Senate really cares about preventing abortions and unwanted pregnancies or just restricting women’s right to choose if they want a baby. The was signed into law by governor Kay Ivey (R), but the ACLU and Planned Parenthood are already planning to go to court to attempt to change it.

Alabama’s law differs from Georgia’s in its lack of protections for cases of rape or incest, but also in the fact that it states that “a woman who receives an abortion will not be held criminally culpable or civilly liable for receiving the abortion.” This can be used to provide greater protection to women if they are found to have had an abortion past the legal date without prosecuting them. In addition, Alabama’s law does not address miscarriage. Still, both of these bans are very similar in that they ban abortion as soon as possible without acknowledging that the pregnant person may not know that they are pregnant yet. Other abortion legislation has recently been passed in Ohio, Missouri, and Louisiana in the wake of these two laws.

Interestingly, neither law focuses on expanding birth control, which is a major factor in preventing unwanted pregnancies. As abortions are cheaper than many forms of birth control, many women choose to have one instead of spending more for protection. Thus, many people of low-income are especially at risk due to these bans, and because of their situation, they may not have the funds to raise a child. The GRTL says itself that the majority of abortions performed are due to the mother simply not wanting to have a child, yet in its complaints of the Georgia abortion law it did not raise a need for more effective, cheaper birth control to make sure women do not needlessly perform abortions. As of right now, both bans only focus on abortion, leaving out sex education, expansive birth control, and what men can do to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

The issue of expensive, inaccessible birth control is one that has existed for decades and is another chapter in the long history of reproductive rights struggles, but what pro-choice activists are most worried about right now is the possibility that the bans could be used to overturn Roe v. Wade. With activists outraged, it is not long before the legislation is taken to the courts, and if it reaches the Supreme Court, the justices have an opportunity to overturn the landmark case and make abortion illegal nationally. Some doubt the ability of the Court to overturn such a momentous decision, but on Monday, the conservatives in the Court (now a majority) rallied to overturn a verdict on the ability of individuals to sue a state from another state’s court, a decision upheld for around 40 years. While many activists, both pro- and anti-choice, doubt that the same could be done to Roe, many look with worried eyes at the Court and wonder about the future of women’s rights in America.