Opinion: Threats to Roe from Georgia, other red states require congressional response

September 28, 2021 10:20 pm

A federal court put Georgia’s strict new anti-abortion law on hold Monday. But our guest columnists say what’s happening with abortion restrictions in Texas and other red states provides a glimpse into Georgia’s future. (File 2020)

Recently, Texans functionally lost their constitutional right to an abortion. Senate Bill 8 prohibits abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, making it the most regressive reproductive rights law to take effect in modern American history. The law shows blatant disregard for Supreme Court precedents like Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the decades-old pillars of the constitutional right to an abortion, and it indicates an alarming turn towards a future without the right to an abortion.

Georgia is no stranger to abortion restrictions. The state requires a 24-hour waiting period, forbids private health care plans sold on the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange from covering abortion outside of medical emergencies. Georgia even bans anyone other than a physician from physically handing the patient their medication for abortion by pill. And Georgia passed a six-week abortion ban of its own years before Texas: 2019’s infamous H.B. 481.

However, by allowing Texas’s S.B. 8 to take effect, the U.S. Supreme Court signaled that it intends to overturn Roe next year. It is set to consider Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center, the case challenging a new 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi in December. If that happens, Georgia’s own six-week ban will almost certainly go into effect shortly after.

Even with Georgia’s H.B. 481 out of the headlines, that saga continues. After the court temporarily blocked the law in 2019, many people lost sight of it, comforted by the knowledge that abortion is still legal in Georgia but not realizing that the fight wasn’t over. In fact, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals just heard the state’s appeal in that case, announcing Monday it will hold off ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court rules in a case stemming from a similar Mississippi law. No matter when it is, that’s unlikely to be the end of the legal saga: whichever party loses at the Appellate Court will surely ask the Supreme Court to review the case. What’s happening in Texas right now is heartbreaking, all the more so because it is a glimpse into Georgia’s future.

These six-week abortion bans contradict reproductive health as well as our constitutional rights. A pregnancy is deemed to start from the date of one’s most recent period, making four of the six weeks part of the individual’s normal menstrual cycle. This is why many people don’t yet know they’re pregnant at six weeks. For those lucky few who do discover their pregnancy so early, bans like S.B. 8 and H.B. 481 give them only a week or two to see a doctor make a decision, make an appointment, and have an abortion, not to mention gathering the funds and making practical arrangements like transportation or child care.

Abortion restrictions do not prevent abortions, they only make them more difficult to obtain. Some people will be forced to carry pregnancies they don’t want. Others will seek illegal abortions. Thankfully, the advent of abortion by pill means that illegal abortions are much safer medically than they were in the 20th century—but no one should have to break the law to control their own bodies and futures. Many will seek abortion in states where it is still legal, but this path will not be available to those without the time and money for travel and lodging. Our nation’s systemic inequalities mean that Black people and other people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and those struggling to make ends meet are the least likely to have the resources to travel for legal abortion and will have significantly fewer options for dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. As is often the case, the most marginalized groups will suffer the most harm, imposed by politicians who know almost nothing about their lives and struggles.

While states base their abortion bans on their supposed regard for human life, that often belies the reality. Georgia has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the country. Black women are at even higher risk and die at twice the rate of white women in the state. Our children aren’t doing much better: Georgia ranks 38th in the nation for family and child wellbeing. Looking at these numbers in combination with the state’s refusal to teach comprehensive sexual education in schools or to make contraception easier to access, one can’t help but question whether these abortion bans have more to do with control than with life.

While Texas may be providing a glimpse into Georgia’s future, that future is not fixed. In fact, there is one obvious solution that can protect the rights of Georgians, Texans, and all Americans: Congress must act. The House just passed the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would prohibit states from passing medically unnecessary abortion restrictions. Now the Senate must end the filibuster so that they too can vote for the bill. While that may seem drastic, so is banning almost all abortions. If you believe that each of us knows our needs and circumstances best, if you believe that our communities do best when we’re all able to make the decisions that are best for ourselves and our families, and if you believe that abortion should be safe, accessible, and free from punishment, then you must call on Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act.

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Nneka Ewulonu
Nneka Ewulonu

Nneka Ewulonu, JD, is a policy fellow with If/When/How, a national reproductive justice fellowship program, at the Georgia organization SPARK Reproductive Justice NOW.

Akayla Galloway
Akayla Galloway

Akayla Galloway, JD, is a policy fellow with If/When/How, a national reproductive justice fellowship program, at the Georgia organization SisterLove.