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Local News

Georgia’s Sword of Damocles: HB 481 Could Sever Abortion Rights

Credit: iStock

Parker Wallis

House Bill 481, also called the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, is a 10-page bill that was passed in 2019 and almost immediately blocked by a federal judge who claimed the law violated the precedent of Roe v. Wade; now it’s heading to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and threatens to restrict abortion rights across the state, if reinstated.

Currently, Georgia permits abortions within 20 weeks of pregnancy with no limitations and abortions after 20 weeks in cases where a physician, for example, determines the pregnancy as medically futile or the procedure necessary for the life and health of the mother.

Georgia allows both surgical and medical abortions, the latter of which can take place up to 10 weeks into the pregnancy and, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, makes up “roughly half of abortions at eight weeks gestation or less.” Surgical abortions are the primary method for more advanced pregnancies and require an in-person visit.

Since Roe v. Wade’s precedent was the primary legal argument preventing HB 481’s implementation, all access is subject to change if the appeal is recognized by the court and the legislation becomes law again.

The bill reads eerily similar to Texas’ heartbeat law, criminalizing most abortions after approximately 6 weeks into pregnancy (before most people know they are pregnant), prohibiting the procedure if the physician makes “a determination of the presence of a detectable human heartbeat” (defined as “embryonic or fetal cardiac activity”), updating reporting requirements for physicians who perform abortions, and punishing offenders with 1 to 10 years in prison.

Lauren Frazier, the director of communications and marketing for Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, stresses the importance to note that fetal cardiac activity can be detected as early as four weeks, meaning that the language of HB 481 could make medically safe abortions impossible before 6 weeks as well.

Pro-choice advocates have been vocal about their disdain for this piece of legislation, such as Georgia’s Democratic nominee for governor, Stacey Abrams, who described HB 481 as dangerous and the Supreme Court’s decision as “mean-spirited.”

Abrams said in a statement that she will “veto any legislation that further restricts abortion rights” as governor and “will work to ensure equity in access and family planning, increase availability of Plan B and emergency contraception, expand Medicaid to support low-income women, and invest in critical maternal health care.”

Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, also voices her concern, especially in a state where Black women are disproportionately more likely to die from pregnancy-related conditions and have less access to quality medical care than white women.

Monica Simpson, the executive director of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective (the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the 2019 law), asserts that the deliberate roll back on abortion rights is a prime example of white supremacy in America.

“This is not just about abortion. These attacks are about their desire to stay in power,” Simpson said. “Folks are realizing that all of our social justice movements – voting rights, environmental justice, economic justice, racial justice, Queer & Trans liberation, disability justice – are inextricably linked to Reproductive Justice.”

Frazier reassures Georgia residents that under current state law “if you need to access abortion care in our state, you can still access abortion care” but also warns everyone to be vigilant with their healthcare.

“Abortion will still be available in the State of Georgia,” said Frazier, “but your window for accessing care is severely shortened so it’s important that you act as soon as possible.”