State Sen. Jennifer Jordan, D-Atlanta, delivers the minority report in opposition to HB 481, the anti-abortion "heartbeat" bill. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Jen Jordan’s dissent to HB 481, the ‘heartbeat’ bill

Late Friday, the state Senate approved what could become one of  the strictest abortion laws in the country on a party-line, 34-to-18 vote.

This after more than four hours of debate.

House Bill 481 would outlaw abortions once a doctor detects a heartbeat in the womb — which is usually at about six weeks into a pregnancy and before most women know they are pregnant. Current Georgia law allows abortions to be performed until 20 weeks.

Gov. Brian Kemp expressed his thanks for the Senate approval. He has endorsed the measure, which still must receive House approval for changes made in the Senate.

We are entirely willing to feature an example from the winning side, but the dissent from state Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, struck us as one of the most powerful addresses of the afternoon. Watch here:

The text:

“I am here to speak for myself and for all the other women in this chamber. You know, we didn’t seek this fight.

“I didn’t run for office to fight the culture wars around choice. Our state currently has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in this country, yet abortion is safe and legal and this uneasy truce that we've had on this issue in recent years should have held.

“But our governor, who claimed to want to move Georgia forward, is pushing this cruel, punitive, and regressive bill that will only hold us back.

“I don’t doubt the conviction of some in this chamber. However, a deeply held conviction does not allow one to adopt a view counter to scientific and legal fact.

“Let's talk facts. Currently Georgia’s abortion law outlaws abortion after 20 weeks gestational age – this despite the fact that a baby born at 20 weeks cannot survive outside of a woman’s uterus.

“And yes I said uterus, not womb. Periviability, also referred to as the limit of viability, is defined as the stage of fetal maturity that ensures a reasonable chance of extrauterine survival. With active intervention, most infants born at 26 weeks and above, at this point in time, have a high likelihood of survival, and virtually none below 22 weeks will survive.

“All of this is consistent with the stories that we have heard today. So this is the current state of the law. No abortions over 20 weeks. So how does this bill change current law? It will now effectively ban all abortions – before an embryo or fetus is viable outside of a uterus and before a woman or girl knows that she is pregnant. 

“We keep talking about six-weeks pregnant. You know what that means? That means that maybe the woman is about one to two weeks late after an expected menstrual period.

“And, yes, I am talking about stuff I don’t want to talk about in this chamber, but let me tell you something. If you’re going to get into the most private areas where women are, then you’re going to have to listen to it.

“This has been the legal line in the sand since Roe v. Wade and [Planned Parenthood v. Casey] and every single decision to come out of the United States Supreme Court over the last 45 years. Decisions that sought to balance the fundamental rights of women with those of the state in protecting potential lives – once that potential life reaches the point of medical viability.

“Throughout this process I have been floored by the scientific inaccuracies peddled by the radical interests pushing this bill. And I'm going to say it: this whole idea -- I’ve heard the same thing over and over and over, and I was like, man, that’s interesting -- much of what’s been said today is part of this whole packet that was put out by National Right to Life about what to say and how to frame your message.

“I could go line by line and pick out exactly what some of the speakers were saying. The willingness to completely disregard the physicians in this state. The physicians in this state. And the complete lack of respect for and trust in women, mothers. Mothers.

“First, let’s start with the science. You are putting into law that the state of Georgia now legally recognizes all fertilized eggs, zygotes, embryos as natural persons in this state entitled to the rights and benefits of any other person. Who knows what a zygote is? Counter to all medical experts, the law also attempts to establish that a zygote, an embryo, a fertilized egg at 5.5 weeks has a beating heart. This is simply not true.

“At the earliest stages of pregnancy, certain embryonic cardiac activity can be detected with a trans-vaginal ultrasound. I don't think any of the men that spoke today have ever had a transvaginal ultrasound. I have. And it is not pleasant. 

“Every physician has said that the fetal cardiac activity present early in pregnancies is not a beating heart – and no matter how many times you say it, no matter what you call this bill -- it does not make it so.

“Even in these precarious times where people think they can just repeat stuff even when they know that it’s inaccurate. And even if this was nothing more than political pandering, you could not have exceptions to this abortion ban based on who supplied the egg and who supplied the sperm to create the embryo. You all know that.

“And cruelest of all, to demand that a victim of incest file a police report before being able to terminate a pregnancy at its earliest stages is horrifying. Or that of a victim of rape. Each of you sits here in judgment of a situation that you could never comprehend, and dictate what a woman can and cannot do with her body, with her life.

“But this bill takes it much, much further. For the first time, this state will make Georgia women criminals for seeking basic reproductive care. This bill subjects both the doctor and the woman to prosecution and imprisonment for up to 10 years.

“Any woman who suffers a miscarriage could be subject to scrutiny regarding whether or not she intentionally acted to cause that miscarriage.

“She would be at risk of a criminal indictment for virtually any perceived self-destructive behavior during pregnancy which could cause miscarriage, to wit: Smoking, drinking, using drugs, using legal medications; driving while under the influence, or any other dangerous or reckless conduct.

“And taken to its extreme, prohibitions during pregnancy could also include the failure to act, such as the failure to secure adequate prenatal medical care. Any issue of whether a woman who has participated in this risky behavior intended to cause her subsequent miscarriage -- as a lawyer, I can tell you -- would be a jury question. 

“In other words, a pregnant woman who suffers a miscarriage could be subjected to criminal investigation, indictment, prosecution long before a jury is asked to determine whether she intentionally did anything to cause the loss.

“And if you think everything I just said was exaggeration or hyperbole, I read it directly from a Georgia court case where the implications of prosecuting women for seeking abortions was laid out in no uncertain terms.

“Today, Senate Republicans ignore precedent, medical experts, women, and the OB-GYNs of this state. The very physicians whose whole job is to deliver healthy babies and keep women healthy. If you want more healthy women and babies, if you want to care for women and babies, if you value life truly—you would listen to the people who dedicate their lives -- this is what they do.

“But instead of that, not only are they ignored, but they have been threatened and told to stand down or face cuts to -- let me be clear, because we heard it in the beginning -- cuts to maternal health funding, family planning funding, rural birth centers. All the things that we said we were funding? Yeah, there have been threats.

“Yes, voters have a right to know the lengths to which members of this body will go to for politics. And let me be clear, that is what a woman has the ‘right to know.’

“This is cowardice. Let me tell you how it feels to be a woman and a mother of a daughter – whose reproductive health this body now claims as its own.

“My husband and I were talking about this bill the other night and he told me that he didn’t want me to share anything personal because no one was entitled to that information. And I have always fiercely guarded my privacy.

“But the deepest, darkest times of my life have occurred in the presence of and with my physician. You see, I have been pregnant 10 times. I have seen what many of you in here have called a heartbeat 10 times. 

“But I have only given birth twice. I have lost seven pregnancies in varying points of time before 20 weeks. And one after five months. Her name was Juliette. I have laid on the cold examination table while a doctor desperately looked for a ‘heartbeat.’ I have been escorted out the back door of my physician’s office so as not to upset the other pregnant women in the waiting area, my grief on full display and uncontainable.

“I have been on my knees time after time in prayer to my God about my losses. I have loved each and every single one of those potential lives, and my husband and I have grieved each passing. 

“But no matter my faith, my beliefs, my losses – I have never, ever strayed from the basic principle that each woman must be able to make her decisions, in consultation with her God and her family.

“It is not for the government or the men of this chamber to insert itself in the most personal, private, and wrenching decisions that women make every single day.

“And that’s not some smiley, happy statement that has been focus-grouped. That is the reality of our lives. God chose women alone to be the fiduciaries of life. Not government, not this body. My experience wasn’t about abortion. But it is what’s at stake here. 

“It’s about the fundamental right to privacy of women. 

“Matters such as a woman’s ability to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy involve the most intimate and personal decisions a person can make. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. 

“The mother who carries a child to term is subject to anxieties, physical constraints, to pain that only she must bear.

“And someone came up and said who speaks for the unborn? Who represents the unborn? I will tell you: Their mothers do.

“What gives this body the right to substitute its judgment for that of the entire medical community in this state? What gives this body the right to substitute its choices for those of the women who will no doubt bear the scars, the consequences, and who will face death, and now, likely, prison? “Who gives this body the right to substitute its will – to override the Constitution of the United States?

“Each of us took to an oath, to protect, to uphold the Constitution, to heed the established constitutional law. This oath should mean something. Because without the rule of law, we have nothing.

“And let me be clear, if you shirk the most basic duties you have to protect the fundamental rights of women today, then no doubt the women of this state will reclaim their rights -- after they have claimed your seats. 

“I yield the well.”

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.
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