Image Courtesy of Steve Rhodes via Flickr Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)
In the past two weeks, Georgia and Alabama passed two of the most dangerous and restrictive anti-abortion bills in the country.
The United States is currently seeing an onslaught of shocking and unconstitutional anti-abortion legislation. Republican lawmakers and anti-choice activists across the country are pushing their regressive policies at a state level in the hopes of challenging abortion rights nationally. Lawmakers in states like Georgia and Alabama are taking every measure to ensure they get rid of access to safe and legal abortions. They want these bills to be contested. They want them to be taken to the Supreme Court. And in the end, they want the constitutional protection of abortion removed.
On May 7, Georgia’s Governor signed one of the most prohibitive abortion bills in the country. Not new to Republican lawmakers, this bill, dubbed “the heartbeat bill,” effectively bans abortions performed after six weeks. This is when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected, and before most people would even learn they are pregnant.
The bill, which would become law in January 2020, would charge doctors who perform abortions with up to ten years in prison. Similar bills have been signed in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio, and pose dangerous implications for healthcare and reproductive rights across the country. Some of these states have versions of the heartbeat bill going into effect as soon as July 2019. This legislation is modeled off of proposals by Faith2Action, an anti-reproductive justice activist group that drafts anti-abortion legislation.
Faith2Action creates their proposals based off of the assessment that the presence of a heartbeat should dictate “personhood.” The heartbeat bill designates unborn fetuses as “persons”– it assigns them the accompanying legal rights and status. This opens up avenues to criminalize those who seek abortions. This will not stop abortions from being performed in the state, but will merely ensure that they are performed in dangerous conditions, putting people’s lives at risk. The bill could allow for the prosecution of someone who chooses to get an abortion, or even someone who miscarries if lawmakers decide that the miscarriage was “self-induced.”
In addition, the newest revision to Georgia’s bill does not have any limitations for cases of death or serious harm to the person carrying the fetus, or in cases of rape or incest. Georgia is taking a no-holds-barred approach in order to make a statement, and to get rid of reproductive choice.
Other states have begun long legal battles to overturn these bills, and Georgia will likely soon follow. The American Civil Liberties Union has stated a plan to challenge the bill in court.
Fifteen other states have proposed bills not unlike the “heartbeat bill.” These regressive anti-reproductive justice politics are a trend that is not likely to stop in Georgia. We are seeing an influx of these unconstitutional bills designed to invoke outrage and designed to be contested in court. Georgia is by no means the first to introduce a “heartbeat bill,” and they likely won’t be the last.
A similar bill was struck down in Iowa in January 22. Another was passed in North Dakota, only to be later struck down on a federal level. The Supreme Court deemed these bills which impede on someone’s right to get an abortion unconstitutional in the landmark Jane Roe, et al. v. Henry Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County case, or Roe v. Wade, but this has not stopped them from being continually proposed by Republican lawmakers.
Politicians are continuing to push for these regressive and restrictive bills in the hopes of challenging and overturning Roe v. Wade, and barring access to safe and legal abortions across the country.
On May 14, Alabama passed what is likely the most drastic and intentionally inflammatory bill to date. House Bill 314, “The Human Life Protection Act” would charge anyone that performs an abortion with up to 99 years or life in prison. The only stated exceptions are for serious health risks. There is no exception for cases of rape or incest. The bill, if not blocked in court, would take effect in six months. It was passed with a 25-6 vote, and was signed into law of Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey.
The bill was likely not created to be implemented, but instead act as a case of political grandstanding to promote outrage. Supporters of the bill recognize its unconstitutionality. It was made to be challenged. Alabama is not only trying to remove abortion rights in their state, but challenge abortion rights at a federal level by having the bill taken all the way up to the Supreme Court.
While Alabama lawmakers will likely attempt to pass a similar bill in the future, they know that they are intentionally creating legislation that is unconstitutional. These tactics of using harmful anti-abortion policies are a dangerous game of political chess.
The fact that these particular bills will likely be blocked does not make them any less terrifying. These states are coming for reproductive rights en masse, and will pass whatever bill it takes to do it. If they succeed in getting Roe v. Wade overturned by the Supreme Court, they would be able to get anti-abortion bills passed and enacted for good. If these lawmakers succeed in overturning a constitutional right to abortion, there will be nothing standing in the way of arresting doctors who perform abortions, people who get abortions, and further criminalizing reproductive rights and necessary healthcare.