Opinion: Attacking women’s health is bad for Georgia on many levels

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Last Friday the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark court case that enshrined a nationwide right to an abortion. For nearly 50 years, generations of Americans have been protected by this right, allowing them to make personal decisions about their own health care.

The irony of the Supreme Court decision is that while conservatives have won the day ideologically, the conservative, Republican-run states like Georgia with harsh anti-abortion laws on the books are most likely to be terribly damaged by this ruling.

In 2019, Georgia Republicans passed Georgia House Bill 481, also known as the Heartbeat Bill, which would have banned abortion after six weeks. The U.S. District Court initially overturned this law in 2020, but with the recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning Roe, legal scholars fear that the law will in fact soon go into effect.

Credit: Nathan Posner

Credit: Nathan Posner

This law, if allowed to go into effect, will have disastrous implications for Georgia’s future. Not only will women face a devastating loss of access to lifesaving medical procedures, but Georgia should not underestimate the longer-term economic implications of this legislation. The Governor and the Georgia General Assembly would be well advised to repeal this law swiftly

Like many laws around this country, HB481 criminalizes women who have abortions and the medical professionals who provide them. But even beyond this, HB481 establishes a six-week embryo as having the same legal status as a “natural person.” This legal recognition means that threats to or unintended loss of the embryo may also carry criminal charges or investigation for criminal activity - as though it were a person. We have already seen this type of law play out in states like Texas and Oklahoma, where prosecutors have charged women who have suffered miscarriages with murder. In October, a 21-year-old in Oklahoma was sentenced to four years in state prison after being found guilty of manslaughter after having a miscarriage. In the hands of an overzealous right-wing prosecutor, it’s not hard to imagine how a law like HB481 could turn into a nightmare for women.

Additionally, people who need abortion-related services to save their lives will not be able to get the care they need. Georgia already has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the country. As someone who had a child later in my life, I understand how dangerous a high-risk pregnancy can be. No person carrying a child should be afraid that their life will be in danger — either because they may not get the life-saving care they need or because they might need to get life-saving care and then be criminally charged for it.

While HB481 does allow abortions where the life of the mother is endangered or in cases of rape, when the victim reports the crime to the police, the likelihood of medical professionals being willing to perform any abortions in a state where they could face criminal charges for murder is vanishingly small.

The political, economic, and social implications of having a law like this on the books are quite grave. Women without the ability to travel easily or find information will, of course, bear the brunt of this law: forced into childbirth regardless of the impact on their health or life and without consideration for their economic capacity to care for a child. Almost certainly, maternal mortality and child poverty will spike.

But let’s also think of the implications for Georgia as a leader in innovation, media and manufacturing. My sister lives in Boston and has four talented daughters. She has told me in no uncertain terms, that she would never allow her daughters to go to college in a state where they could face criminal prosecution for murder if they had an early-stage abortion — or face manslaughter charges for a miscarriage. I can’t imagine she is alone in such a calculation.

Consider many of us older, professional women: I love Georgia and the opportunities and community I have found here, but even I would have reservations about living in a state where I could be forced to carry a very dangerous, high-risk pregnancy to term - or be tried for murder. It is no accident that the Governor of New Jersey wrote a letter to business executives urging them to consider leaving states with harsh anti-choice laws or risk losing many of the women who work for them.

Georgia Republicans are like the dog that caught the car. Yes, they have won a certain kind of victory, but now they face the dangerous consequences of their appalling policy choices. They must immediately repeal HB481 and start over with legislation that protects women’s reproductive rights. This is about life and death for women; this is about the long-term economic viability of this state.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee, represents Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.