UGA student: Abortion ruling threatens our futures. We won’t go back

Protesters hold their signs during an abortion rights rally led by members of RiseUp4AbortionRights.org at CNN Center in Atlanta on Sunday, July 3, 2022. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Protesters hold their signs during an abortion rights rally led by members of RiseUp4AbortionRights.org at CNN Center in Atlanta on Sunday, July 3, 2022. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Katy Gates is a second-year student at the University of Georgia studying public relations and political science. She has been politically active since she was in high school, working for several Democratic campaigns and organizations. She has been involved with movements devoted to education equity and reproductive freedom.

In this piece, Gates outlines the threat to young women from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade.

By Katy Gates

When the final ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson broke, my heart sank. I, like so many others, had been anxiously checking Twitter every day, waiting to find out if the 49-year precedent set by Roe would stand or fall. I knew it was coming. I had read the leaked draft decision in its entirety and participated in the ensuing protests in my college town, waving homemade signs and chanting with the crowd.

I’m not naive. I didn’t believe that any number of protests would change the mind of a staunchly conservative court. I tried to mentally prepare myself for the inevitable, but I still found myself numb with shock.

I’m nearly 19 years old, and, like many others in my generation, I’ve been politically active for several years now. Years of working in a volatile political environment and living through the presidency of Donald Trump in our formative years have taught us to expect the unexpected and that almost everything is subject to change.

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Katy Gates

Credit: Courtesy photo

Katy Gates

Credit: Courtesy photo

Combined ShapeCaption
Katy Gates

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

But, by nature of being young, I trusted that a 49-year-old high court ruling was settled law. Roe v. Wade was a page in my U.S. history textbook, a highly significant page, but a page, nonetheless. I mistakenly believed that my right to an abortion was as concrete and as infallible as my right to vote.

I was wrong and I am scared.

While the right to an abortion before 20 weeks now stands in Georgia, it’s unlikely to remain. Republican officials have moved swiftly to reinstate House Bill 481, also known as the “heartbeat bill,” which would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy (two weeks or less after a missed period), before the vast majority of women are even aware they are pregnant.

Once this law is enacted, anyone in need of an abortion past six weeks would be forced to drive to Florida, where abortion is now illegal past 15 weeks, upon which people in Georgia would have to drive to North Carolina, one of the only states in the Southeast where abortion is likely to remain legal up until 20 weeks or the point of fetal viability.

While I am fortunate enough to have the resources to travel to obtain reproductive care, should I ever need it, countless others cannot say the same. The issue of abortion being returned to the states is an equity problem.

When the court made its original ruling in Roe v. Wade, it expressly stated that states could not impose restrictions that created an “undue burden” on people seeking an abortion. Having to travel to obtain basic reproductive care is exactly that — an undue burden. And moreover, the ability to bypass this burden depends largely on socioeconomic status: Do you have the disposable income to travel to another state to obtain care and do you have a job and a boss that allow you to easily call out of work with little prior notice?

For too many people, the answer to these questions is no, especially for other college students who are enrolled in school full time and for whom an unexpected pregnancy would already be an embarrassing experience at best, if not traumatic, in the instance that the pregnancy resulted from rape.

As a female student in Greek life at a large university, rape is a real top of mind concern for me. The trial of Brock Turner permeated the news cycle when I was only 13. My mom dragged me to the local dojo adamant that I attend multiple physical self-defense classes before sending me off to college for a reason.

Women aged 18-24 enrolled in college are three times as likely to experience rape or sexual assault. Twenty-six percent of female undergraduate students will experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation.

I and other young women have heard these statistics countless times, and so we now repeat the related mantras: “Don’t go to the bathroom alone,” “Cover your drink,” “Meet him in a public place,” “Text me when you get home safe,” “Deadbolt your door at night.”

We follow dozens of spoken and unspoken rules, never going anywhere alone, all in hopes of mitigating the risk of being sexually violated, all while knowing that it could still happen in spite of our best efforts to stop it.

And while Georgia’s proposed legislation does include an exception for victims of rape, only 20% of female student victims will even report it to law enforcement.

The thought of becoming pregnant from rape is sickening. However, the idea that the state of Georgia only recognizes my body as mine after it has been violated by someone else is arguably worse. Our right to bodily autonomy should be unconditional because our right to self-determination depends on it. I and millions of other students across the country are studying in pursuit of our future goals, goals that would be severely hindered by unwanted pregnancy and forced birth.

Pregnancy is a life-altering endeavor, one which can have adverse mental and physical health outcomes. It is our fundamental right to decide when to undertake the endeavor that is pregnancy, because we must be able to consent to its associated risks and effects.

By returning the issue of abortion to the states, and because of the legislation the states have set out to enact, millions of people, young people especially, have been stripped of that fundamental human right. And we do not consent to any of it.

Student Katy Gates, the author of this guest column, attends the University of Georgia.