Abortion rights advocates: Shift in GOP abortion stance is not ‘a win’

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks at a press conference June 24 marking two years since Roe v. Wade was overturned. (Seeger Gray / AJC)

Credit: Seeger Gray/AJC

Credit: Seeger Gray/AJC

Former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks at a press conference June 24 marking two years since Roe v. Wade was overturned. (Seeger Gray / AJC)

The recently announced Republican Party platform does not directly call for a nationwide ban on abortion for the first time in nearly four decades, but GOP officials say they will continue pushing states to extend “personhood” rights to embryos and fetuses.

Ahead of the party’s convention in Milwaukee, the Republican National Committee’s platform committee plans to back a Republicans move at Trump’s behest to change how they will oppose abortion — opposing a federal abortion ban and ceding limits to the states. It’s the first time in about 40 years the RNC platform has not called for a constitutional amendment defining “personhood” as beginning at conception, essentially banning abortion nationwide.

Some abortion rights advocates in Georgia say the “change” is superficial. While the “personhood” amendment is no longer part of the platform, the GOP platform still states a belief that fetuses are covered under the 14th Amendment, which says government can’t “deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”

Abortion rights advocates say giving rights to fetuses essentially bans the procedure while also throwing into question the legality of the in vitro fertilization treatment used by many families who are struggling with fertility.

The IVF process includes fertilizing an egg that can either be placed directly in the uterus or be frozen for future use. Unused embryos are often discarded, given to other people seeking children or donated to science.

Kaitlan Darby, spokeswoman with Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the GOP platform continues to support banning abortions in Georgia and across the country because giving embryos “personhood” rights would make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy.

“I don’t think the RNC’s platform change on abortion should be considered a win,” she said. “It’s a bare minimum statement on their part. People across the nation should have access to their bodies to determine what health care is right for them.”

A constant point of dissension between anti-abortion advocates and abortion rights advocates is when life begins. Many anti-abortion advocates believe life begins at conception, or at least once a fetus has developed some in the womb. Many abortion rights advocates don’t weigh in on when life begins but say it should be up to a woman and her doctor to determine the best care for anyone who is pregnant.

In Georgia, Republican legislative leaders have vowed to protect access to IVF treatment and stand behind the 2019 law that bans most abortions once a medical professional can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant. Democrats proposed legislation last year that would have ensured IVF remained legal, but it received no traction in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

Georgia’s law also granted legal rights to embryos — often referred to as “personhood.” However, it specified that the embryo or fetus is an “unborn child” only when it is “carried in the womb.”

An Alabama Supreme Court opinion earlier this year sent the IVF industry into confusion when it ruled that embryos created using the process were “extrauterine children,” granting embryos the same rights as any other child in that state.

According to that decision, if embryos are destroyed, it would be considered the “wrongful death of a minor.” Alabama has since enacted a law that extends legal protections to fertility clinics if embryos are harmed.

Georgia Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Jason Anavitarte, R-Dallas, told the hosts of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Politically Georgia” on Tuesday’s show that Republicans are still processing the slight shift in the party’s platform regarding abortion.

“I think we’ve made our position very clear in terms of where we stand,” Anavitarte said. “But I can’t guess in terms of what’s going to be the ripple effect (of the national platform shift). I know there’s a lot of chatter out there, but we’ll see over the next few days and going into the convention where leaders land on it.”

The RNC policy document sticks to the party’s long-standing principle that the Constitution extends rights to fetuses, but it removes language maintaining support for an “amendment to the Constitution and legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to children before birth,” a passage in the party platform first included in 1984.

It asserts, “We believe that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees that no person can be denied life or liberty without due process.” The document also noted “that the states are, therefore, free to pass laws protecting those rights.”

Georgia Right to Life Executive Director Zemmie Fleck said while the RNC may have removed language establishing fetal “personhood” from its platform, her group will continue to back the effort here.

“Georgia Right to Life is steadfastly focused on a biblical worldview, which aligns with protecting all innocent human life from its earliest biological beginning to natural death,” Fleck said. “We firmly believe that a personhood amendment in Georgia and beyond would provide protection, equal justice and equal rights for all innocent life at any stage of development, physical and mental ability, age or race.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.