As the Chair of the Abortion Rights Campaign, I follow most of the ups and downs, highs and lows of the fights for control over our bodies, for women not to be treated like baby-carrying vessels and for the choice, to decide how, when and how many children we have.
I was overjoyed when Ireland changed their constitution to bring in legal abortion, by a citizen’s referendum no less!
But I have been taking in the news of the latest anti-abortion legislation passed in the US state of Georgia through my fingers this week as I became more and more horrified by the nature of the latest exercise in misogyny, dressed up as legislation.
The state of Georgia in the U.S. has passed extremely restrictive and dangerous anti-abortion law which plays fast and loose with Roe v. Wade, testing the US court system while putting lives at risk with a law that is ideology over science, writ large.
The abortion ban, called HB 481, signed into law on Tuesday and due to take effect in 2020, effectively bans abortion outright, declares fetuses to be persons with full legal rights and protections, with 10-30 years jail time for women found guilty of aborting or attempting to abort their pregnancies.
It gets worse! Even women who seek lawful abortions by travelling outside of Georgia state could still be punished. If a Georgia resident plans to travel elsewhere to obtain an abortion, she may be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment. An individual who helps a woman plan her trip to get an out-of-state abortion, or transports her to the clinic, could also be charged with conspiracy.
A woman may not even know she is pregnant at 6 weeks. The bill is misleadingly termed a “heartbeat” bill, and it bans abortions at any stage of pregnancy after the detection of “embryonic or foetal cardiac activity”. But “heartbeat” is a bit of a misnomer since the cardiac activity that is first detected in an embryo is not a heartbeat because there is no heart; what is first observed is the pulsing of cells that could become a heart. At this point in the pregnancy, the foetus has no brain.
Georgia says it’s a state that values life. I find this hard to believe.
Under the new law, it’s possible that Georgia authorities could start treating every miscarriage as a potential homicide, as has happened in El Salvador for example. Prosecutors may interrogate women who miscarry to determine whether they can be held responsible; if they find evidence of culpability, they may charge, detain, and try these women for the death of their fetuses. What?!
This isn’t posturing, since the election of Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, where anti-choice conservatives now hold a five-four majority and can break up or strike down Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision declaring abortion restrictions unconstitutional at any time.
Although the law now qualifies unborn children to be included in certain population-based determination, it is unclear how this works or what that even means, there is certainly no offer of child support or significant financial assistance built into these laws.
Why is Georgia’s law important here?
We know that anti-choice organisations here borrow their strategies from the U.S. and they have been emboldened by President Trump’s stance on abortion since his campaign advocated punishing women when he tweeted in favor of March for Life and referred to ‘executing babies’ last month.
This has the effect of heightening the debate and increasing the stigma of abortion. Actually, one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime and over 90% of the British population support the right of abortion in some form. But information can be scarce, the NHS has to go to pains to point out that abortion doesn’t cause breast cancer nor does it cause depression or affect fertility afterwards.
It gives license to politicians, protestors and anti-choice healthcare professionals to take more control over women’s bodies and could lead to dangerous outcomes. Savita Halappanavar died after being refused an abortion in Ireland, partly because the law was unclear and over-complicated.
Often this leads to salami slicing of rights, that starts off feeling innocuous but become Georgia style.
We have anti-choice organisations who share their names and their aims – ‘life from conception, no exception’ with US groups here, and they gather as March for Life every year in May.
Abortion Rights stands against any rollback of our rights and we are protesting as March for Choice again this year.
We don’t always know if we, or someone we love, will be in the position to need or want an abortion, but we have to be vigilant and protect our law, our access, our health service, and education. And not just for ourselves, but for those in vulnerable situations as well – migrants, young people, poor people. Abortion is health care and it’s a human right.
Kerry Abel, Abortion Rights, Chair