The Georgia General Assembly recently made the mistake of outlawing abortion upon the detection of a fetal heartbeat by passing House Bill 481. Since heartbeats can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, Georgians could be barred from terminating their pregnancy before they even know they are pregnant. H.B. 481 would lead some Georgians to have “forced pregnanc[ies],” in the words of former Georgia House Minority Leader and former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp intends to sign H.B. 481, but doing so would fail his constituents.
H.B. 481 would exacerbate the ongoing state health-care crisis that Kemp pledged to resolve during his campaign. The crisis is rooted in a doctor shortage: 40 percent of Georgia’s counties had no pediatricians in 2018, while almost half had no OB-GYNs. The state’s inadequate health-care system correlates with poor health outcomes, as Georgia’s infant mortality rate increased from 0.65 percent in 2014 to 0.76 percent in 2018. This puts the state 0.17 percent above the national average.
Kemp explained that he appreciated H.B. 481’s passage since lawmakers who voted for the legislation were “protecting the vulnerable.” In reality, the law would harm some of Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens.
The health-care crisis isn’t equally distributed across the state, as it affects poor, minority and rural communities the most. Unfortunately, these groups would bear most of the burden of H.B. 481. Banning abortion at the six-week mark would disproportionately impact poor women of color, Assistant Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics Tiffany Hailstorks told the Wheel. Hailstorks said that because these women lack the means to access contraception or abortion in Georgia or in other states, the bill’s restrictions could force them into unwanted pregnancies or illegal, dangerous abortion procedures.
The ban could also worsen Georgia’s doctor shortage. The passage of H.B. 481 would discourage relevant medical training and cause a “ripple effect,” deterring medical students from applying to train or work in the state, according to Assistant Professor of Gynecology and Obstetrics Megan Lawley. H.B. 481 would make it difficult to train OB-GYNs in reproductive health-care procedures required by some medical residency programs. The bill’s restrictions would complicate training on abortion procedures by reducing the amount of procedures that could occur in-state, said Lawley. As Georgia already struggles to attract and retain doctors for its health-care facilities, H.B. 481 would protract the issue while complicating future efforts to address Georgia’s health-care crisis.
In addition to its negative impact on the state’s health-care industry, H.B. 481 could also torpedo Georgia’s growing film industry. Actress Alyssa Milano sent a letter to Kemp and Georgia House Speaker David Ralston threatening a boycott of the state in the event that the bill is signed into law. Fifty actors, including prominent figures such as Don Cheadle and Sarah Silverman, signed Milano’s letter. Kemp should take their threats seriously, as the film industry contributed $2.7 billion in direct spending to the state’s economy in 2018. If these Hollywood actors follow through on their pledge to boycott, the industry’s employees and Georgia’s economy would suffer for Republicans’ political stunt. Conservatives across the country are currently passing abortion restrictions in an apparent attempt to challenge Roe v. Wade now that anti-Roe Justice Brett Kavanaugh is on the Court.
If Kemp signs H.B. 481, Georgians should still hold out hope that federal courts overturn the bill since it is unconstitutional as written. The law violates the “undue burden” standard set by the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which prohibits states from passing laws that significantly restrict a woman’s access to abortion prior to viability, or around 22 weeks into pregnancy. Adjunct Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Morrison told the Wheel that “lower federal courts applying current precedent should consistently strike down these types of laws,” a claim that is supported by current legal challenges to another fetal heartbeat bill passed in Kentucky. A federal judge temporarily blocked the Kentucky law passed earlier this month to evaluate its constitutionality. H.B. 481 could be stalled by similar legal proceedings, but even if the law is overturned, its signing would stain the state’s image.
But it shouldn’t take intervention from the courts to stop the over-regulation of abortion. Kemp must consider the consequences that H.B. 481 and future abortion laws would carry for Georgians, the state’s health-care system and its economy before signing them. We must not allow craven politicians to roll back the clock on the right to abortion and return Georgia to a darker period in American history.
The Editorial Board is composed of Zach Ball, Jacob Busch, Ryan Fan, Andrew Kliewer, Madeline Lutwyche, Boris Niyonzima, Omar Obregon-Cuebas, Shreya Pabbaraju, Madison Stephens and Kimia Tabatabaei.