Georgia expands some benefits in shadow of abortion restrictions

The policies, mostly passed since the legislature accepted Georgia's abortion law in 2019, have united activists and lawmakers on both sides of the abortion debate. (Natrice Miller/

The policies, mostly passed since the legislature accepted Georgia's abortion law in 2019, have united activists and lawmakers on both sides of the abortion debate. (Natrice Miller/

When the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for Georgia to restrict abortion last year, anti-abortion activists heralded the victory, and then doubled down on their other goal: further expanding benefits for new moms and children.

Starting July 1, low-income pregnant women are now able to enroll in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, more commonly known as welfare benefits, for the first time. This new policy builds on what anti-abortion activists say they see as part of a “pro-life” agenda, including increased tax credits for adopting a child from foster care, implementing paid parental leave for state workers, and expanding Medicaid coverage for new moms.

“If the people in my party claim to be pro-life, then I want to see them be pro-life from A to Z. Not just anti-abortion ... but what after that?’” state Senate Majority Whip Randy Robertson, a Cataula Republican, said in an interview.

Georgia’s law, which bans most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, originally passed in 2019, but wasn’t enacted until last year. In light of the bill’s initial passage, lawmakers expanded a number of benefits geared toward supporting pregnant women and foster children.

Over the past few weeks, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution collected data from state agencies on a number of these policies, and found varying results: some policies are starting to be used widely, while others less so. For a number of laws, the precise impact cannot be determined because of a lack of reporting requirements.

Among the findings:

  • Parents employed by the state are taking advantage of a paid leave program for new parents, enacted in July 2021. Since that time, at least 1,242 people have used the program, according to the Georgia Department of Administrative Services.
  • A law lowered the age that a single person can adopt a child from 25 years old to 21 years old. Since fiscal year 2022, there are 30 adoptive home placements where the oldest caretaker was 24 years old or younger, according to the Department of Human Services.
  • Georgia expanded Medicaid coverage of postpartum care for pregnant women from six months to one year. The number of new moms on Medicaid is roughly unchanged, although recipients are now eligible for this care for a longer time.

The impacts of other policies are far trickier to pin down.

It’s unknown exactly how many women will take advantage of enrolling in welfare, or TANF, since that law took effect just a few weeks ago. Representatives from the Department of Human Services haven’t said how many people will be newly eligible for TANF, while critics of the bill say it would likely only apply to a few hundred women.

In 2021, the legislature passed a bill increasing tax credits for the adoption of a foster child from $2,000 to $6,000 for the first five years of the adoption. The goal was to incentivize more adoptions by easing the costs to take care of a child.

Data obtained from the Department of Revenue shows adoptions may have remained stagnant. A roughly equal number of tax filers claimed the $2,000 or $6,000 credit in 2022 to the number that claimed the $2,000 when it was the only one available in 2020. The 2022 numbers may rise, as extensions have been granted for 2022 tax filers until October, but it appears for now that while those adopting new children are taking advantage of the extra cash, it hasn’t created a new wave of people adopting.

Georgia’s abortion law itself seeks to extend aid to parents expecting a child by permitting them to claim a fetus with fetal cardiac activity as a dependent on their tax returns.

How many people are doing that though is unclear. The section of a tax return where one can claim an unborn dependent is also where other exemptions were directed to be filed, making it difficult to quickly know how many people are benefiting from it and how much the state is paying.

The Department of Revenue said they expect to determine the number of unborn dependent claimers by early next year.

Another bill waived college tuition and fees for foster and adopted children who enroll in a public institution, so long as they remain in good academic standing. But the University System of Georgia doesn’t track how many students are attending their institutions through this program.

The goal of expanded benefits has had the unusual effect of aligning state Republicans and Democrats, who have fought bitterly on the issue of abortion.

For Alicia Stallworth, Southeast Campaigns Director for NARAL Pro-Choice Georgia, working with Republicans on some of these laws was an easy decision, even if the same lawmakers oppose her organization’s core mission of expanding abortion access.

“We’re talking about people being able to go to the doctor, people being able to not have to worry about, ‘ok, am I going to be able to buy my baby Pampers?,’” she said about the Medicaid expansion. “If you’re willing to help us progress in a way that is effective and it’s going to help the people of Georgia, we welcome anybody to the table.”

However, groups advocating for abortion access emphasize that Georgia has a frail safety net, and that a safety net where abortion is restricted is not a robust one.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion advocates say there’s also more to do.

Claire Bartlett, executive director of the Georgia Life Alliance, said she expects her organization to continue to focus on improving services for kids and young mothers as part of their agenda.

“These (policies) are what help build a family, and family is the fabric of society,” said Bartlett, adding later that “it really does center on building a culture of life in Georgia.”

State Rep. Houston Gaines, a Republican from Athens, said there are many areas he’d like to look at, such as reforming foster care laws, improving literacy rates for young kids, and investing in mental health services for parents and children.

“Georgia is a pro-life state. Certainly, we passed the Heartbeat Bill - and in order to embrace a culture of life, we’ve also passed meaningful legislation to empower families,” Gaines said in a statement. “Georgia is going to continue to lead in supporting young families - and I recognize we have more work to do to continue fostering a culture of life and supporting mothers and families.”

Robertson, the state senator, said there are more things the legislature can do regarding foster care and adoption. He expects proposals from a Senate study committee exploring the issue this year.

But as a self-proclaimed supporter of small government, he also has limits on how far he’ll go. Robertson said he hopes to work with businesses to get them to take their own action on child care issues for working parents, but he doesn’t want the state to mandate anything in a law.

“I don’t want to expand government services per se,” Robertson said. “We are a big, clunky machine, trying to address very finite issues. For us to be successful doing that, we have to have partners from the community.”