On Friday, March 29, Georgia became the most recent state to pass a measure that could seriously restrict women's access to abortion. So, what's in Georgia's abortion bill? Well, it involves eliminating abortion access at a very early stage, which could leave a devastating impact on the future of the state's reproductive health — and have some unintended effects. Here's a full (and chilling) rundown.
On Friday, March 29, Georgia lawmakers passed HB481, or the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, which would prohibit abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected by a physician, except in cases of rape or incest. The bill has been supported by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who has until May 12 to sign the bill into law. According to The New York Times, fetal heartbeats occur around six weeks of a woman's pregnancy — a point at which someone might not even be aware that they're pregnant. Therefore, if patients attempt to obtain an abortion at or after six weeks of pregnancy, providers would be legally bound to turn them away.
"HB481 is a bill that we have seen either proposed or in some cases passed in other states," Fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health and Ohio family medicine physician Dr. Natalie Hinchcliffe tells Elite Daily in an interview. She notes that the Georgia bill would be a de facto ban on abortion. "This specific measure in Georgia is particularly harmful because this is before most people know they're pregnant," she says. "This is ultimately a ban on abortion."
On March 29, Gov. Kemp took to Twitter to applaud state lawmakers in putting HB481 into action. He wrote,
Georgia values life. We stand up for the innocent and speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. The legislature’s bold action reaffirms our priorities and who we are as a state. I thank these lawmakers for their leadership and applaud their undeniable courage. #gapol
The six-week limit may put abortion out of reach for some pregnant people, even those who are aware of their pregnancy. Georgia currently requires a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion, and doctors are required to tell patients the risks of obtaining an abortion, the estimated gestational age of the fetus, and the risks of bringing the child to full-term. In addition, Georgia has a number of provider restrictions that could delay abortion access even further. In order to obtain an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy, the procedure must be done at a hospital or surgical center and only physicians are allowed to do the procedure, creating a bottleneck in terms of providers.
That's if they can access a clinic. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are some 5.3 million women in Georgia. However, NARAL Pro-Choice Georgia reports that there are only 28 facilities that provide abortions within the state, 17 of which are actual clinics. However, rural areas in Georgia, such as Webster County, often have no OB-GYN or reproductive health provider within the area. Some 96 percent of counties in the state had no abortion provider at all in 2014, per the organization.
"When patients find out that they're pregnant they have to make an appointment at an abortion clinic, but for someone whose in a low-access area where they don't have or are very far from an abortion clinic, they're going to have a lot of difficulty getting to that first appointment," Dr. Hinchcliffe says. "Then keep in mind that's not their only appointment. They have to do the 24-hour wait. So even if a patient found out that they were pregnant at five weeks, the likelihood that they could get in for an abortion before they reach the six week mark is very challenging."
The bill could have a ripple effect across the state, as well. "Loss of reproductive autonomy will affect everyone," Dr. Hinchcliffe says. "It affects the family system and community. This is a part of a very large movement to eliminate access to abortion on a state level and it's clearly out of touch with America's values."
To boot, as of 2018, Georgia has one of the worst maternal death rates in the United States, and according to America's Health Rankings, it's only getting worse. In 2016, there were 39 deaths per 100,000 live births. Fast forward to 2018, that number has increased to 48. In 2018, the state received a "D" for reproductive health from The Population Institute Organization, in large part thanks to its maternal mortality rate.
The statistics point to a huge problem within the health care system, and HB481 passing could impact those rates even further. "I absolutely anticipate that we could see an increase in infant and maternal mortality rates related to increasing bans or completely banning abortion," Dr. Hinchcliffe says. "Spacing pregnancies is one of the ways to reduce infant and maternal mortality, but how can you effectively space pregnancies if you cannot control your reproductive autonomy?"
In a press call hosted by reproductive rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America, Dr. Atsuko Koyama, a Georgia pediatrician and Fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health, discussed the problem of reproductive health care in the state, noting that Georgia's infant mortality rate is 7.6 deaths per 1,000 live births, which is higher than the national average of 5.8 deaths per 1,000 births, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"Abortion in the first trimester is one of the safest procedures for women," Dr. Koyama says. "Being able to access care earlier is an important point."
While the community effects are undeniable, some communities will be hit harder than others. According to both Dr. Hinchcliffe and Dr. Koyoma, HB481 will leave a devastating impact on the general population of women within Georgia, but especially women of color, low-income residents, and LGBTQ individuals.
"This is especially harmful to women of color, low-income people, people capable of pregnancy that are a part of the LGBTQ community, people who have lower access to health care," Dr. Hinchcliffe says. For residents in rural, lower-income communities, which mainly consist of residents of color, finding a nearby clinic is difficult given the lack of providers within the state. For low-income residents, requesting off work or finding childcare to schedule an appointment could prove to be an economic risk. In addition, for members of the LGBTQ+ community who are capable of getting pregnant, they could face discrimination while seeking medical care.
The Georgia bill is part of a nationwide trend. In recent months, fetal heartbeat bills have gained traction in numerous states: Mississippi passed a fetal heartbeat measure on March 11 while Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee and Texas have also made efforts to put similar measures into effect, and are reportedly expected to approve the bills this year. However, other states have attempted to pass this measure in recent months, but weren't so successful. Judges in Iowa and North Dakota deemed the fetal heartbeat bill "unconstitutional" when lawmakers attempted to put this bill into action.
There may even be financial implications for the state, which is one of the top destinations for film production. Hollywood stars such as Alyssa Milano, Alec Baldwin, Amy Schumer, Ben Stiller, and more sent an open letter to Gov. Kemp on Friday, March 29, stating that they will cease business with Georgia if this bill passes. If you're not a celebrity but you still want to speak out, calling local representatives and legislators is another way to make sure concerned residents' voices are heard, and is a powerful tool in protesting this measure. Not sure who your local representative is? Georgia's House of Representatives website has them listed on its website.
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