Georgia soon could become the third state this year to pass a law banning abortion at six weeks — long before most women even realize they’re pregnant. On March 22, the state Senate passed a so-called “fetal heartbeat bill,” earning rapturous praise from the vehemently anti-abortion Governor Brian Kemp; a week later, it passed the House as well. Governor Kemp has indicated that he intends to sign it when it crosses his desk.
“Georgia values life. We stand up for the innocent and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves,” he tweeted shortly after the bill passed the House on Friday. “I thank these lawmakers for their leadership and applaud their undeniable courage.”
If the bill — known as HB481, or the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act — becomes law, Georgia will join Kentucky and Mississippi in passing some of the most Draconian abortion restrictions in the country; both states have passed six-week bans of their own in recent weeks, though neither has taken effect yet, and both face judicial challenges from civil rights and reproductive-justice organizations.
Even more worryingly, this is far from an isolated incident: According to Yahoo! News, legislatures in more than a dozen states are considering similar provisions —a 63 percent increase from last year. This “gives you a sense of how this is ramping up,” Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute said. “This is part of an unrelenting and sustained attack on abortion rights.”
Below, everything we know about the Georgia bill, and how it fits into a larger attack on reproductive rights in the United States.
The bill would ban all abortions after six weeks.
The LIFE Act would redefine who is considered to be “natural persons” under the law to “include an unborn child.” Giving this status to an embryo allows for the possibility to prosecute women and health-care providers for abortions conducted after a heartbeat is detected – or a month and a half into a pregnancy, when the embryo is about the size of a pomegranate seed. (Georgia already bans abortions after 20 weeks.)
Under the law, physicians performing abortions would be required “to determine the existence of a detectable human heartbeat before performing an abortion,” a process that often requires an invasive transvaginal ultrasound.
The only exceptions are if there is a documented medical emergency, or if a woman is the victim of rape or incest. For the former, a woman must provide a police report about the incident, which means she would be required to involve law enforcement in her personal, medical decision.
Governor Kemp has sworn to sign it into law, but it’s unlikely to take effect immediately.
The bill is now headed to the governor’s desk, and he is expected to sign it into law.
But like in Mississippi and Kentucky, its passage does not necessarily mean that the severe restrictions can be enforced. None of the other six-week bans have been enforced yet because the legislation is unconstitutional, and thus unlikely to survive legal challenges. According to Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel for state policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive rights, all of the “heartbeat bills” are likely to face litigation.
“Perspective is important here,” Smith said. “As with other six week bills, this bill is unconstitutional. It directly counters to the central holdings of Roe v. Wade that the Supreme Court has confirmed numerous times since the original decision, and none of the bills enacted in other states have ever been enforced.”
Indeed, the ACLU has already said it will challenge the law if it takes effect. “If Gov. Kemp signs this abortion ban bill into law, the ACLU has one message: we will see you in court,” said Andrea Young, the group’s executive director, in a statement to AJC.
It’s part of a troubling pattern of states attempting to ban abortion earlier and earlier.
Georgia’s LIFE Act is part of a wider and long-standing agenda to dismantle the protections of reproductive rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade: Anti-abortion lawmakers hope that one such bill will trigger a lawsuit that eventually makes its way to the Supreme Court, which is more likely than ever to rule in their favor now that Kavanaugh is on the bench.
“I think it is clear based on the number and volume of six-week bans that have been introduced in states this year that the states that are hostile to reproductive rights,” Smith explained. “They are hopeful that they will enact a six-week ban, litigation will ensue, the case will get to the Supreme Court, and with this new Supreme Court, that the court will either severely limit or overturn Roe v. Wade.”
“States are passing these laws in an effort to overturn Roe,” Smith continued. “All of these bills and every other restriction that’s been enacted, they’re all part of a very coordinated campaign to reduce access to reproductive rights with a final goal of prohibiting abortion altogether.”