Governor Brian Kemp recently made Georgia the fourth state to pass a “Heartbeat Bill”. Georgia joined Ohio, Kentucky and Mississippi in passing restrictive bills banning abortions into law. Georgian legislators passed the “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act” also known as a “heartbeat bill”, which criminalizes and prohibits abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as five to six weeks into pregnancy. The current gestational limit women in Georgia have to get an abortion is 20 weeks. This bill also includes an exception for rape, incest (both only with the accompaniment of a police report), situations where the mother’s health is at risk, and if a pregnancy is deemed “medically futile”). Such a law adds to other anti-abortion laws by Georgia such as women being required to wait 24 hours between requesting and obtaining an abortion, and minors being required to notify their parents before receiving an abortion. This law is set to take effect January 1st, 2020.

This law and ones found in other state’s legislation are a direct attack on women’s reproductive rights, with opponents labeling this a “forced pregnancy” bill. The specific wording, targeting a heartbeat of a fetus, strictly prohibits women from having an abortion before many even know they are pregnant, essentially banning abortions entirely. The criminalization of abortions for women in Georgia and the mentioned states will not lower the need nor attempted abortions, but instead will create numerous health difficulties for women, resulting in additional health complications in a state with a devastatingly high maternal mortality rate.

One glaring issue with this bill has been its socially given name, a “heartbeat bill”. This is because the legislation calls for the prohibition of an abortion in the presence of a heartbeat and the associated time of six weeks. However, medical professionals will note that at six weeks what appears to be a heartbeat is not the case, instead it is simple vibration of developing tissue that is only present due to the mother. This vibration is called embryonic cardiac activity, which leads the unfamiliar reader or listener to believe that this occurrence is in fact the presence of a heartbeat. With the removal of this essential clause in restricting abortions, the viability and impact of this bill are reduced, and a later gestational week must be provided for permissible abortions. To the dismay of anti-abortion advocates, if this change was to be made, this would allow women to realize they were pregnant (at or around six weeks of pregnancy) and then legally get an abortion within the mandated time period, should they wish to. This specific clause with the faulty justification is an intentional attempt to restrict abortions to the fullest extent.

While this law will undoubtably be challenged, the ultimate goal of anti-abortion advocates is for such a case to be enforced in the state and should it be blocked by a federal judge, face appeals by the state and then make its way to the now right-leaning Supreme Court only to then be ruled valid. Should this occur, Roe v. Wade would be threatened by appeals, reducing the ruling’s legitimacy and constitutional power. The historic Supreme Court ruling protects a woman’s right to an abortion up until fetal viability or around 25 weeks. Laws like this one passed by Georgia are meant to eradicate protections and implement aggressive restrictions. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights have vowed to challenge the legislation well before it goes into effect in January 2020.

*Interactive map and extended list of states that recently introduced restrictive bills.*

Engagement Resources:

  • Planned Parenthood : Reproductive rights advocacy group that provided affordable and accessible health services to women across the US.
  • National Abortion Federation : Advocacy group which respects women’s ability to make informed decisions about her reproductive health.
  • Spark Reproductive Justice Now: A reproductive justice organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, advocating for policies that protect and expand access to sexual health and resources.
  • ACLU of Georgia : A national organization working to defend civil liberties across the United States.
  • Center for Reproductive Rights : Legal group ensuring the protection of reproductive rights for every woman around the world.

Photo by Maria Oswalt

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