Senate abortion bill continues to stir emotions

She was a 14-year-old ninth-grader at the time.

She said her mother and grandmother were furious that she was pregnant and demanded that she get an abortion.

And there was something else.

“They pressured me into an abortion because my baby was biracial and my grandma didn’t agree with me having a black boyfriend,” Alexandria said in an interview. “I had the abortion, because they said they were gonna kick me out. I didn’t have a choice. I had no place to go.”

It is stories like Alexandria’s that state lawmakers are trying to prevent, though abortion rights advocates say the lawmakers' effort is misguided.

Last month, the Georgia Senate passed SB 529, designed to prevent women from getting abortions because of coercion from doctors, boyfriends, pimps or parents. As part of the process, Alexandria, whose full name the AJC is not using to protect her privacy, recently testified before a House committee about her abortion.

The bill also makes it a misdemeanor to force someone to get an abortion based on the race or gender of the baby.

“Anytime we can limit a choice over someone not keeping a baby over gender or race, we should,” said Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons). “They should not have that choice.”

Williams said that he once taught in China, where he witnessed women getting abortions based on the sex of their child.

While he was not able to cite an incident of it happening in Georgia, he said he didn’t “want it to spread at all.”

“What we are doing is valuing life," Williams said.

Williams brushed off suggestions that with the passage of SB 529, the government is still, in essence, telling a woman what she cannot do -- in this case get an abortion, which was made legal in 1973 under Roe v. Wade.

Opponents of the bill say that incidents of babies being aborted because of race or gender are basically nonexistent and that the GOP-driven bill is an attempt to ban abortions, scare minority communities and win elections.

“There is no data to support anything they say. These bills are misleading, stir up a lot of emotions and don’t offer solutions to high pregnancy rates,” said Leola Reis, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Georgia. “When we want to talk about coming up with solutions for addressing health disparities, these groups are conspicuously absent. The sponsors and the people behind them want to stop all abortions.”

Loretta Ross, the national coordinator for SisterSong, an umbrella organization of women of color groups that work on reproductive health issues, said she doubts the bill can stand up to a legal challenge.

“They are trying to create a new law -- forced coercion -- and I don’t expect it to stand any kind of legal muster,” Ross said. “Coercion is forcing a woman to carry to term a baby that she did not want.”

SB 529 is awaiting a vote in the Georgia House. It passed the Senate 33-14 along party lines on March 26 after more than three hours of heated debate.

But whether it makes it out of the House is still an open debate, said Rep. Keith Heard (D-Athens), the vice chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.

“There has not been any discussion at this time with the speaker on that bill, but there is a lot of concern about it,” Heard said.

The bill’s initial sponsor, Sen. Chip Pearson (R-Dawsonville), who is anti-abortion, said he drafted the legislation to protect black women and to “make sure abortions are rare, uncoerced and not done to promote some type of agenda related to gender or race of the child."

Heard said the black caucus’ main concern about the bill was the assertion that it protects black women. In black communities, abortion opponents have erected billboards that claim that black women are often the deliberate target of abortions.

"That assertion of race and how this is being done, for a lot of the members, it just doesn’t stand good with a lot of them," Heard said. "The method of which someone is trying to inject race into this … I call it playing the race card.”

Blacks make up 30 percent of Georgia’s population, while accounting for 59 percent of the abortions. In 2008, more than 19,000 black women got abortions, compared with 8,523 white women.

While Pearson said proof of coercion would rely on eyewitnesses, Reis said she is not sure that the abortion opponents have sufficiently defined what coercion means.

“They are not looking at the data on why women are facing higher abortion and pregnancy rates,” Reis said. “Women who face multiple barriers to accessing preventive initiatives suffer. If you don’t have, you won’t enjoy good health care.

But Susan Swanson, director of the Augusta Care Pregnancy Center -- a Christian-based agency that advises women against abortions -- said she has met hundreds of girls who have come to her after being forced and threatened to get an abortion.

“I had one girl, six months back, who committed suicide after being forced to get an abortion,” Swanson said. “Our abortion clinics are not giving these girls true options.”

Swanson said when Alexandria went in to get her abortion, it was at a Planned Parenthood clinic across the street from her office.

“It is not like Planned Parenthood gave me any options," Alexandria said. "They patted me on my back and told me that I was doing the right thing.”

Swanson, who brought Alexandria to Atlanta to testify before the House panel, contends that more so than individuals, abortion clinics are the main culprits in the coercion of women and girls.

But Reis said a distraught woman who comes into a clinic is never granted an abortion.

“Women who come in and say they are being forced aren’t going to get an abortion that day,” Reis said. “They are not going to get an abortion if they say they are getting an abortion against their will.”

Four years after her abortion, Alexandria is a changed person. She said the situation spun her into a depression. She never finished high school, and she lost a second baby to a miscarriage.

“I begged my momma not to make me get an abortion,” Alexandria said. “I feel like, I took an innocent life, but God forgives you for your sins. I am OK now that I have gotten to talk to people about it. It is a lot easier for me to share my story, knowing that I am helping other guys.”

In about a month, Alexandria will have a new story to tell. She is now eight months pregnant and living with her current boyfriend.

The baby girl will be biracial.

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